An Anglo-Swedish watch brand using Instagram influencers to grow

When Andrew Jennings inherited a Rolex Daytona at ten years of age he knew there was something quite special in his hands. The luxury timepiece is a seminal example in watch history, with versions regularly commanding tens of thousands of pounds.

Fast-forward to 2011 and an older Jennings was of the feeling that there weren’t any decent independent watch brands around – only big boys like Fossil who design and manufacture pieces for the likes of Calvin Klein and Burberry.

He’d done business studies at A Level, and a business management degree at university, but cited a long-standing entrepreneurial drive and inspiration from his business-owning father as the real catalyst for what now takes the form of Larsson & Jennings.

The first half of his company’s name can be attributed to co-founder Joakim Larsson – who left the business two years ago in search of a different challenge. The two started the company five years ago with less than £20,000 in their pockets, and it has grown to a position of turning over £7m – despite only employing around 20 people.

Another interesting element of the story is its less than typical journey of clicks to bricks, rather than the other way round. Starting with as little money as they did, Jennings told us they didn’t really have a choice but to fully embrace online first.

“That isn’t enough to open a store, so we built our online presence and did marketing cheaply,” he said. “When we did have a big enough presence we opened up in London, but that took two and a half years. Our growth in the first two years was all about driving traffic to our websites, as we had no stockists. Then we launched into Liberty and Net-a-porter – becoming the best selling watch brands on those platforms.”

Its first physical store, in Covent Garden, London, was initially a six-month testing site. Realising they were on to a good thing, Jennings extended the lease to five years and hasn’t looked back since.

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His high-quality Swiss-made timepieces have gained cult following in the social media space. With 149,000 followers on Instagram, early demand for the brand’s watches was cultivated by gifting product to “influencers”.

“Not only does the visual nature of Instagram provide a great place for us to really showcase our product, it also helps us to tell our story and build our brand. Many of our posts don’t include a watch at all; they’ll just be of somewhere we are in the world or something we think is cool or interesting that our followers might also be interested in.

“Our Swiss-made watches have an international appeal, so using a global platform like Instagram helps us engage with our worldwide audience.”

Keeping it simple

There is a distinctly organic nature to Larsson & Jennings. Not only has the majority of its marketing been organic efforts like those conducted through Instagram, it has also not taken on any external funding.

Jennings is the only executive at the company, and is firm in his desire to retain control and thing about the long game. “I’m aware that we might need some industry experience in the future, but right know we have a young versatile team who know the business inside out,” he added.

His small team has already taken the brand overseas in a physical presence. A New York-based pop-up was launched in December, with a proper destination soon to open on Bleecker Street in Manhattan shortly.

Jennings likes to use stores as a way of making his business look more established than it necessary is. This is evidenced by opening up in New York far earlier than he did in London, using it as a platform for brand building, recruitment and sales.

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“I really think we’re on the sweet spot for people buying online, £200-300 is accessible. We also have a good exchange and return process, but when you get over that £400-£500 it makes people become more hesitant and it is a challenge.

“We invest in good photography, and are experimenting with CGI videos – which we’ll be testing to see how it conversion rates are impacted.”

Right after our interview with Jennings, he was jetting off to Hong Kong, and then after that to New York – totting up the air miles that seem so crucial to building a brand with global recognition. Premium fashion retailers including Liberty, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Net-a-Porter have played a big part in giving Larsson & Jennings a platform, and Jennings is also soon to be boarding another plane bound for Kuwait to open up in Harvey Nichols there.

“We’re starting to look at Asia more, but there’s lots of legislation there,” Jennings said on the challenges. “It’s not just shipping, but translation and culture. We have a global platform in the form of our website, but we always have to stay on top of that – learning more about a country’s favourite payment option, or shipping preference.”

With online, he said, the number of channels compared to offline is “exponential” – so as a brand it must work closely with its network to ensure accuracy in communications. “The digital landscape gives us a great opportunity to amplify our brand cost effectively, and ensure our customers can engage with us on multiple levels.

“This is the challenge for any luxury brand but we have developed deep relationships with core digital influencers and omni-channel trade partners, who both love the quality and the aesthetic of our product, and therefore understand our modern shift on Swiss-made watches. It is only with this understanding that we can ensure that we maintain that consistency.”

Becoming a fixture in the luxury brand space is no easy feat, but Jennings and his team have made remarkable progress in the company’s first five years. Fusing Swiss design, Swedish and British leather, Italian craftsmanship and a global outlook, who knows what the next five years has in store.

Keen to read more about the luxury market? Check out our Business Class section – fusing in-demand products, big spending entrepreneurs and outrageous demands.

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