The Entrepreneur: Andrew Jennings, Larsson & Jennings
In four years, Jennings has built an £8m watch business. Here are his lessons learnt from managing staff, expanding to NY, and getting manufacturers
Founder: Andrew Jennings
Company: Larsson & Jennings
Description in one line: Swiss made watch brand that re-imagines classic design through contemporary craftsmanship and style
Turnover: More than £8.5m
12 month target: £17m
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:
- We started as an independent online-only watchmaker, something quite unique at the time.
- We have grown organically and taken no outside investment.
- We are an ambitious company with a confident and sustainable growth vision. We opened our second retail store in New York and have another in the planning.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
After only four years, we now sell one watch every four minutes and we have built an awesome, young and dynamic team.
What numbers do you look at every day in your business?
For a fast growing business like ours everything centres on cashflow – so this is a figure I check each day. We are continually looking to re-invest in growing and developing our team, investing in our network of sales opportunities and scaling up our infrastructure.
It’s important that our cashflow remains healthy to allow us do all these things, when we want to do them. I’m also constantly aware of new designs and trends in the watch industry and wider fashion industry.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We have ambitious international growth plans with one overseas store already open in New York and another planned for later this year.
We’re also already working with select retail partners across the globe, in countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Kuwait and USA, as well as selling direct to more than 120 different countries last year.
Going forward, we’re planning to continue our expansion overseas with more proprietary stores and partnerships with retailers who we think really fit with our brand.
Describe your growth funding path:
The business was founded with my savings, as much personal finance as I was comfortable leveraging, and a business partner who is no longer involved. Since then we have grown organically, taking no outside investment.
Key to this has been the success of our website, which has helped to generate tremendous sales during the last four years and was the engine of our growth before we opened our first retail store in London in 2014.
Alongside this we have also received tremendous support from our trade partners. We are thrilled to be supported by venerable stores such as Matches, Net-A-Porter, Liberty, Voo, De Bijenkorf, Nk Boutique, Incu, Lane Crawford, Holt Renfrew, Fabric, Selfridges, Illum, End Clothing, Harvey Nichols, Harrods, Zane, Otte, and Nordstrom.
So the business has three engines now: sales in our retail stores, this new network of partner retailers and our e-commerce website.
What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?
Instagram. We were an early adopter of the platform, founding in the same year, and have used it to great effect in developing our brand identity. It’s also been a great inlet to an extremely fast growing and loyal customer base.
Where would you like your business to be in three years?
Our aim is for the business to continue to grow across all markets. There’s no end goal or ultimate aim for the next three years, we’re simply working to produce the best product possible whilst maintaining our strong sense of brand identity. We’re confident that this approach can lead to a continued increase in sales and greater opportunities for Larsson & Jennings across the globe.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?
For 12 months I was juggling a full time job and running all the start-up aspects of Larsson & Jennings – from watch and web design and build to fulfilment and customer service.
What was your biggest business mistake?
Underestimating the time things can take when operating overseas. As I look to expand into new markets, with a new store in New York and plans to open retail outlets in the Far East soon, I’ve learnt there’s a lot of truth in the old adage that people are a company’s best asset.
You need to surround yourself with people that share your vision, but who can also inspire you. Doing that is a lot easier in your home country where you can identify talent among established personal and professional networks. Finding people who you can trust to keep the best interest of your business at heart is much harder in less familiar territories.
In New York we initially struggled to find the right people and have had to invest a lot of time interviewing people, in order to make sure they really fit with the brand. We’ve now got a great team on board and I’m pleased with the way our store is performing; however finding these people did take significantly longer than I had first envisaged.
Larsson & Jennings is also a young business in spirit as I started the company in my twenties and chose to work largely with my contemporaries. While our youthful energy is a strength in allowing us to connect with our customer base, it’s important we recognise that it is also a weakness in terms of lack of prior experience.
For that reason I have since created an advisory board of more established industry peers who I can call upon for advice and to bounce ideas around with. They’ve been there and done it already and I can ask them to be honest with me.
Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:
Employment regulations in the UK.
What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
Lack of focus – you need to focus on delivering a quality product and experience to your customers and the rest will follow.
How will your market look in three years?
Within the watch industry smart watches will become increasingly important, as people demand more from their products beyond telling the time.
A wider trend which we’re also noticing across everything from fashion to food is that consumers are increasingly aware of provenance. They want to know where the products they are buying are from and in what conditions they are being produced.
All our watches are fully Swiss Made and our leather comes from tanneries in England and Sweden before being hand-stitched in Italy. You can tell that our customers appreciate this quality-focused approach and demonstrating this puts their mind at rest during the purchase process.
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
Your network is everything. Also don’t be afraid to make mistakes; the road to success begins with failure as long as you open yourself up to learning from those experiences.
Vintage watches and fast cars.
Executive education or learn it on the job?
Learn on the job – vision, passion and hard-work alone can take you a long way.
What would make you a better leader?
I’ve always liked to be as hands-on as possible when it comes to the business, being involved in every element from design and sourcing materials to interviewing new members of staff and visiting partner retailers.
However, over time I’ve learnt that stepping back and placing trust in my team can save a lot of time and make me, and the business as a whole, operate more efficiently. Being able to take a more holistic view of the business and place greater responsibility in the hands of others will make me a better leader and is something I’ve already started working on.
What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?
When I first started the business I was so excited to get the product to market that we worked with a factory in China to produce samples but they didn’t deliver the kind of quality we were looking for.
As a result we had to quickly forge connections in Switzerland, where all of our watches are now made. Although I don’t regret the decision to go with a Chinese supplier for initial samples, I wish I’d had more patience and taken the time to forge relationships with Swiss manufacturers earlier on.
One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.