ENTREPRENEURS AHEAD OF TIME

Colton James: Entrepreneurs Ahead of their Time

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Two 23-year-olds, Vincenzo Marchesini and Christopher Lowndes, are taking the world by storm with their start-up Colton James Timepieces. Recognising a gap in the local market for simply designed yet stylish watches - made from quality materials and at an affordable price - the duo embarked on a quest to create the perfect watch and ended up with a highly successful international business. In the last three months alone, Colton James Timepieces has seen international sales grow by over 400% and local sales by 900%. 

Lowndes and Marchesini were brought together by their mutual appreciation for watches while studying engineering at the University of Cape Town.  At the time, Lowndes was creating inexpensive timepieces, with a view to marketing them and asked Marchesini to review some of his samples.

“I made the decision to partner with Christopher because of his drive for and seriousness about the business, even at the age of 20, which had seen him already sourcing and engaging with international suppliers and having samples shipped to South Africa,” shares  Marchesini.

The combination of Marchesini’s graphic design skills and Lowndes’ marketing mastery, led to the   formulation of a unique product (reasonably priced, quality timepieces with interchangeable straps) and a brand that has history and ingenuity at its heart.

Many in the jewellery and watch industry warned the pair that the market was in a poor state and had been on a downhill for several years. Fortunately, Marchesini had analysed the markets and found that although the luxury watch market was indeed in a downfall, the fashion watch market was on a climb.

In 2016 the business was registered and, soon after, the duo began marketing on Facebook and Instagram - the preferred platforms of the brand’s target market.  

In mid-2017, Colton James was launched on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. Lowndes and Marchesini were cautioned by crowdfunding professionals that crowdfunding would not be appropriate for a fashion brand and that any campaign using the platform has a 9.8% chance of success, with the fashion brands sector having a considerably lower success rate. However, the young entrepreneurs were undeterred and reached their funded goal in just 10 days (other businesses usually only reach this after two months).

This achievement was driven purely organically by word of mouth from the duo’s friends, family and social media followers. Lowndes believes that they beat the odds because of the quality and interchangeability element of the product, which backers could see for themselves using the watch builder on the Colton James website.

Prior to the Indiegogo exercise, Colton James had 80,000 Facebook followers and 10,000 on Instagram. Now, the brand’s Facebook following stands at 278,000 and Instagram at 87,000. The impact of this has been demand for the product from customers all over the world as far flung as Australia, the United States, Germany, India and Taiwan. In fact, so impressed have clients been that word has reached major retailers in some of these countries who, in turn, have approached Marchesini and Lowndes to stock Colton James’ watches in their stores.

Locally, The Foschini Group decided to supply selected American Swiss and Prime Time stores with product, based solely on Marchesini’s renders. Other businesses and individuals wanting to invest have also made contact with the entrepreneurs. “This just proves that if you have something that you are passionate about and you put it out there, finding funding and support can be done,” says Lowndes.

The duo credit the success they have enjoyed so far to taking their time to thoroughly research the market and investigate potential suppliers and manufacturers – even investing in trips overseas to attend trade shows, interview exhibitors and visit factories to ensure their competence. (All this while working long hours to complete their final year theses AND starting up the business.)

Their advice for other young entrepreneurs when seeking a business partner is to find someone who is equally as passionate about the product and business as they are and who possesses any skills they themselves might lack. “Choose your affiliates, from partners to suppliers, very carefully as they can make or break your business,” adds Marchesini.

Looking to the future, Lowndes and Marchesini plan to expand the Colton James strap collection and continue sating the appetites of South Africans for this type of product, whilst simultaneously growing their presence in retail stores around the world.

“One of the biggest business lessons we have learnt so far is that if you are persistent, passionate, work hard and have a good product, you will succeed,” concludes Marchesini.

For more information on Colton James or to purchase timepieces, visit https://coltonjameswatch.com.

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