A British entrepreneur’s guide to making it in Manhattan

Andrew Jennings, co-founder of fast-growing British watchmaker Larsson & Jennings, shares four key learnings from opening stores in New York

Larsson and Jennings is a contemporary British watchmaker with over 30 employees and over 100 points of sale globally.

Its double digit growth in recent years led to the need to expanding its portfolio of stores. Here, co-founder Andrew Jennings, shares what he learnt when the company opened its first USA standalone store in 2015.

“New York is one of the world’s most prominent shopping destinations and as such was an obvious choice for us embarking on our international expansion journey.

The opening of our stores on Prince Street in New York’s Soho district and a second to come on Bleecker Street this summer, has not been without challenges, but with clear rewards as a growth opportunity.

During the unanticipated lengthy process of bringing our overseas vision for the business to life, we learned some valuable lessons that I’m happy to share with fellow entrepreneurs looking to break into the US retail arena.

1. Understand your market 

Before expanding into any overseas market it’s important to gather as much local consumer insight as possible.

In the USA we monitored closely where we were generating online traffic and sales through our e-commerce site, giving us the assurance that there was significant consumer appetite for our product before opening.

Expanding overseas is undoubtedly a risk, and you don’t want to diminish the success you’ve achieved in your home market with an underperformance in a new market, so evidence-based decision making is vital.

2. Get on the ground

Visiting, investigating and making connections in your proposed new business destination is key to gaining the insights you need to run a business successfully overseas.

Just like in your home country where you know that person who can turn something around at the last minute, or a friend who is a great source of honest advice, it’s important to work towards gaining these kinds of connections in your new market.

A great way to do this is to attend industry events. For example, we’ve attended many Fashion Weeks overseas and met a variety of interesting and experienced people who have shared insights that have helped to shape the business.

For example, Wen Zhou, chief executive at Philip Lim, is someone I met through networking within the industry and is today a trusted confidante of mine and has been extremely helpful in sharing her knowledge of retailing overseas.

3. Test the waters

Once you’re confident you’ve gathered a good understanding of your market and established connections on the ground, it’s time to test the waters.

We set up a series of concept spaces at industry events across the globe, including London Collections Men and CIFF Copenhagen International Fashion Fair, to do this.

These spaces enabled us to raise the profile of our brand amongst our peers and also give influencers the chance to see and try on our product, often resulting in important engagement through social media.

Through this concept space activation we were able to gauge both consumer and industry appetite for our product at relatively little cost to the business. This was crucial in helping us to make a more informed decision as to where to open our first own-brand store abroad.

4. It takes time

After setting our sights on New York, we quickly identified a space we wanted to lease and almost immediately our thoughts turned to an action plan for all of the elements we needed to bring together to create a presence in the city.

For example, our store in London’s Covent Garden has a unique minimal aesthetic, which has proved popular and engaging with shoppers, and we were keen to replicate this exactly in every retail space we open to demonstrate a clear and consistent brand identity.

When opening a shop or office overseas I would factor in large amounts of contingency time. Our opening in New York was delayed by more than six months due to logistical issues including finalising property contracts as non US residents.

This was time we hadn’t accounted for, meaning we missed out on projected sales and vital consumer engagement time.

We’ve also found recruitment overseas to be particularly challenging. In the UK we’ve hired staff based on recommendations or by bringing in people who we knew already within the industry. However, in an unfamiliar territory we needed to rely on external recruiters to source appropriate candidates for us.

I personally found it difficult to trust someone else’s opinion about potential employees who could really represent Larsson & Jennings, and that were demonstrating real passion for the brand that would last in the long-run.

I can imagine this is a challenge my peers will also struggle with as being an entrepreneur and building a powerful brand is very much about applying a personal vision.

When the time comes to grow, there simply isn’t time to continue to make every single ‘people’ decision yourself. But, you can make sure you provide a clear brief to those that will be acting on your behalf in new markets to ensure that vision doesn’t become diluted and distinct from its origins.

Andrew Jennings is the co-founder and CEO of Larrson & Jennings.

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