Retrospective IV: A Year In Review
On April 3rd, 2017, we received our very first order. Here we are a year later, still making watches. In fact, 2018 is turning out to be an even bigger year than we anticipated. Turning one was quite a milestone for us. Since launch day, we’ve learned a ton about the industry and the market, and hope to put our findings to good use during the second year of our business. As we look forward to the next year of our brand’s life, I thought it would be appropriate to take a quick minute to reflect on specific learnings from the past year.
Over the past 12 months, we have dedicated ourselves to our customers. They are and always will be our number one priority. As such, one of the things that our customers deserve is a top quality product. Our decisions on which movement to use reflects our dedication to providing a top quality product at an accessible price point.
Going into this business, we had no experience with STP movements. We took a risk on using them for our first model, and in hindsight, got very lucky with our batch. As our business grew and our watches started going out in the hundreds, we noticed a pattern. During our QC process, our STP failure stack had started to outnumber the NH35A failure stack. Movements can fail our QC procedure at any step of the process for any number of reasons. Going through the movements that didn’t pass QC, we noticed that they all had one of two problems: either the keyless works malfunctioned or the rotor started spinning when the movement was hand-wound. In order to combat this issue, our movements had to be partially disassembled, cleaned, and re-lubricated. It is worth noting that these problems are common among all 2824 movements (ETA, Sellita, Seagull, etc), and not just STP. What we experienced says more about the NH35A than anything else: it is a fantastic design that excels in reliability and durability.
Don’t get me wrong, the STP is a great movement, and the components in the movement are very well made with tight tolerances and superb finishing. But as we discussed in this blog post, assembly is just as important, if not more important than the manufacturing, and the STP is more hit-or-miss in terms of assembly quality.
Given what we have learned about the failure rates of all the movement manufacturers (yes, that includes ETA, Sellita, and Miyota), we decided to add even more complexity to our QC process. The full process now involves a 10 day testing period, disassembly and servicing (if necessary), and regulation. As a microbrand lover myself, I have been hard pressed to find another brand, even up into $1000+ range, that does this type of extensive quality control, because as I said before: our dedication is to our customers and their needs, no matter the cost or time commitment.
We will be taking an indefinite break from STP as we have found their failure rates to be higher than other movement manufacturers in the same price bracket. While we disassemble them and remedy 100% of the issues, we feel that at this early stage of our brand, we need to optimize our time as much as possible, as time spent assembling movements could be spent on improving other aspects of the watch. No matter which movement we use however, they will all go through an extensive quality control and regulation process.
Our latest model, the Retrospect, has not even started shipping, yet we have already learned the issues with how we approached the pre-order process. Luckily for us, we have the kindest and most understanding customer base in the microbrand market, so despite the hurdles, we managed to pull it off. However, if we ever do another pre-order, one thing we would do differently is wait until we have every single variation 100% ready to unveil before announcing it to the world. The lack of professionalism with our first ever pre-order will not happen again.
We also hope to not do a four-month pre-order waiting period in the future as well. There is something about sitting on our customer’s hard-earned cash for an extended period of time that does not feel quite right to us. However, as a brand new business, we don’t have a choice but to continually re-invest in the quality and process, which, for now, makes it difficult to enter full-scale production without the help of pre-orders.
With the delays on the white and black dials, our customers have become frustrated, and so have we. Unfortunately, this is a real part of the business and industry, and as we grow, we will iron out the rough edges and ensure that future execution of pre-orders goes much more smoothly.
One place we have invested in is custom molds. Yes, all brands have to make custom molds, to a degree, but one place we continually see brands cut corners on is in the hands. Having gone through countless catalogues from 15+ watch factories, I cannot think of more than five brands that either custom-made hand molds or at least modified pre-existing ones.
Because there are literally hundreds of hands in different sizes and styles, the general consumer would most likely not be able to tell whether or not the hands are custom made or modified. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find molds that are 100% perfect for any of our designs. Therefore, we have elected to manufacture our own hands for all of our designs so far. However, if I’m being honest, as long as it looks good, it doesn't even matter. Otherwise, spending money for the sake of spending money only means one thing: cost is passed on to consumers for something that has little value to them.
This brings me to a touchy subject: pricing.
There is a saying in the world of marketing, particularly luxury marketing, that goes something like “pricing is the best indicator of quality”. It is a saying I definitely resonate with. Our price reduction to $300 on the Retrospect has been met with some doubt and even unsolicited “business advice” from our followers on social media and readers of this blog. The common consensus seems to be that our prospective customers either do not believe we do all the things we say we do at the price point we are at or cut corners in others aspects of our product. Let me set the record straight here.
We do everything we say we are doing. Our watches are assembled, piece by piece; our movements are regulated and tested over at least 10 days, but usually more; and we would put our product next to a $1000+ watch without any hesitation. So why are we underpricing ourselves?
Our pricing strategy was very intentional. As watch enthusiasts ourselves, we understood coming into this business that it is hard to put our hard-earned money down on a new brand. Even after a year in business, we are still very much a new brand, with only one model out in the market. We have gone out of our way to make sure our customers are 100% satisfied and even covered some repairs that had to be done due to accidental drops or other incidents not covered by our warranty policy. Over the past four months, we have also been investing in traveling to the cities with a high density of customers, prospective customers, or general watch enthusiasts to meet with them.
All of these costs have stacked up. In both mine and Cullen’s personal lives, we have had to make a ton of sacrifices for the business to stay afloat. But this is the cost of building a sustainable brand from the ground up. If we have a misstep, the burden is on us to make it right; not on our customers to forgive and forget. I will reiterate what I mentioned above: our commitment is not to our brand or our watches, but rather, starts with our customers; it just turns out that quality, design, and customer service are the three most important things that they ask for and deserve. As long as we feel that the market trusts us and feels like we are worth their hard-earned money, we will continue to make sure our pieces are priced appropriately, because trust and respect goes both ways.
Quality & Design
As it is in every industry, trends come and go. It is no secret that the market is moving towards smaller-sized designs that can be dressed up or down easily. It seems as though versatility is the key to success now. Although homages were all the rage a few years back, we’ve seen that original designs are becoming more and more prevalent. On a macro level, it seems as though prices of brands are going up. Given these trends that we have noticed and discussed among other brands, we have to react accordingly.
For instance, one of Nodus’ main priorities this year is to not simply just offer smaller watches, but rather offer more selection. In 2017, we offered one watch with many variations. In 2018, we will be offering at least three watches with numerous variations. Each model being put out this year is designed to fulfill a different need, style, and price-point. We were obviously inspired by the Blancpain Bathyscaphe in designing the Trieste. But as we become more comfortable with our design process, the software that we use, and the engineers that we work with, we have decided to move away from derivative designs and more towards our own in-house designs.
In regards to pricing, moving forward, we will price our products according to what we think is fair when taking into account the quality standard and in-house assurance procedures that we have implemented. We will continue to invest in our quality and design. While our prices will reflect improvement in quality and consistency in our product, we are committed to keeping our product reasonably accessible to the market.
Another one of our goals for 2018 is getting more facetime with our customers and the watch enthusiast community. That includes attending events such as Wind-Up, local GTGs, and other industry-specific conventions, but also travelling to cities that have a high concentration of watch enthusiasts. Obviously, so far, we have been prioritizing the cities with a large number of Nodus customers, but fully intend on expanding our scope to cities where that might not necessarily be so. A few cities on the list are San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Atlanta, New York, Boston, Toronto, and San Francisco.
On the surface, it might seem like an unnecessary expenditure, but early on in our venture, we realized that buying a watch is an experience. It seems obvious on the surface, but when the passion becomes the business, it is easy to forget. We want to learn about our customers on a personal level, and figure out what compels them to buy one watch over another. As a future-facing microbrand, all of our products are sold through an online channel. The obvious advantage is being able to “cut out the middleman”(hahahaha) and not dealing with the added expense of brick-and-mortar retail channels, but what many of the incumbent brands have failed to realize is that the whole buying experience has also changed. Our goal is to create analogues and craft an experience for our customers that go beyond simply placing an order and receiving a package in the mail. Do we have a solution? No. Are we working on one? Absolutely. And the only way to achieve what we are setting out to do is to get close to our customers and gain insights by being authentic and getting to know them as people rather than customers. Long story short, we want to be a part of the community, not just a watch seller.
What the Future Holds
While it is exciting to look at our growth over the past 12 months, it is even more exciting looking into the future. We have big plans for year two; we will be releasing not one, not two, but THREE new models (leaving room for a possible fourth). The Trieste was not even chapter one of the Nodus story, but rather, just the prologue. One week into our second year, we have hit the ground running and are full-speed ahead with our plans. We still have a long and winding road ahead of us and while we know we will stumble, we look forward to learning, growing and building even better watches in year two. Let the story begin...
Wesley Kwok is the co-founder/operator at Nodus Watches. He is an entrepreneur by day, watch-geek by night, and a musician in the spaces in between. When he is not working or playing guitar, he can be found seeking out the best craft beer in California, perfecting his brioche bun recipe, or keeping up to date on the latest tech trends.