Spotlight on Bramwell Brown Clocks
I want to thank Katie @comedowntothewoodsfor introducing me to these clocks from Bramwell Brown. These are more than just clocks though, you see they also are barometers that tell you what the weather is going to be like, all wrapped up in a very cool package. Look at how beautiful the cut-out weather pieces are? When you switch the barometer on, the pieces whir around at the bottom to find the right weather for the day; my kids absolutely loved this, and readily rush down in the morning to tell me what the clock says the day is going to be like. Isn't it great to have something that not only looks brilliant in any home, but which brings the kids into the mix too?!
You can find out more about Bramwell Brown Clocks here:
Bramwell Brown was founded by combining a nostalgia for curious mechanical objects with highly innovative British design. Our clocks are totally unique in the world yet complementary to the modern home or place of work.
Rob and Sarah are a brother and sister team, London-based but proud of their Lancashire roots.
Everybody has their own particular childhood memories, and one of theirs is of their Dad who would habitually wind the grandfather clock on a Sunday evening, or tap on the barometer in the hall to check for a weather forecast. As a result, they had - and still have (!) - an affection for old clock mechanics and curious analogue time-pieces. Who doesn’t find spinning cogs and whizzing parts intriguing?!
After a failed search to find a mechanical barometer that held any appeal for use in their own homes, Rob and Sarah had the idea to reinvent one that would be more contemporary but yet still analogue, and simply a bit more exciting!
Soon after they found themselves at the kitchen table surrounded by card, split pins and sellotape, building what was a very basic and flimsy initial prototype.
Far more technical prototypes ensued once they had found some expert (and long suffering!) engineering help, and the designs gradually evolved into the 'mechanically animated clocks' - or 'Mechanimated Clocks' - launched in 2015.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
It was the simple product design idea that no one had re-invented the traditional Barometer for over 100 years. There weren’t any available that were more exciting than a needle moving back and forth to different weather forecasts when the air pressure rose and fell. So, with a design idea and plenty of research we decided to give it a go!
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
It was definitely a ‘kitchen table’ business for a considerable amount of time. The research, the initial prototypes, the search for development partners, the feasibility decisions were all done whilst Sarah and I were doing other jobs. It took us two and a half years, increasing our confidence that we had a suitable creation at each step, until we knew we had a first product good enough to launch. We were petrified someone would steal the idea and develop it before we applied for any patents or settled on our first design. So, it was quite a relief to finally launch what we thought was good both mechanically and commercially!
3. How did you fund your business?
We’ve basically used personal savings and begged or borrowed for all of our funding to date. The main expense being the mechanical development process, tooling for some of our designed parts and then the cost of ordering the pieces required to assemble our first ever batch of clocks. Then we finally had cash flow and we’ve been trying our best to make the business self-sufficient and profitable ever since.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
You can get advice from everywhere and anywhere when you’re a start-up. However, the real issue is getting advice that’s taking you in the best direction and is worth its salt. You almost have to take your gut feeling along with the best nuggets from everyone and then be 100% prepared to change direction completely when the market reacts to your offer. You think you have it all sussed out and everyone’s going to love what you do and then you have to change tact… It’s tough to realign your plans at those points.
5. What help was missing for you?
For us, we’ve always appreciated reading about or meeting with people involved in the standard story of: ‘Think of a product idea’, ‘Design it’, ‘Launch it’, ‘Have it made’ and ‘Grow’. The issue has been finding companies that have enough cross-over with our clocks as we’re really quite niche with our business being a mix of intellectual property, manufacturing and homeware and retail trends. We also didn’t really know what our business would become or what it would look like in 6 months, let alone several years. So, we had a myriad of companies to compare our future to, not knowing if that’s where the market would take us. I certainly didn’t really know that we would be as heavily into ecommerce and also café culture as we are right now!
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
The big issue for us in year one of trading almost broke us completely. The company that helped design the mechanics of our clocks and source the initial parts had also offered to assemble the first batch. This was a very good thing for us because, as a new invention, any early design feedback could then be put straight back into the product assembly. However, after a rush of initial orders, our partners’ sort of ‘cottage industry’ setup just couldn’t take it and they pulled out. With hind sight, it was never sustainable to manufacture the product in anything longer than the short term but the suggestions were that the real unit cost of assembling the clocks was as much as 4 times what we currently had planned. We thought we were doomed.
However, after a lot of sleepless nights and stress and advice from anyone who would listen to us, we agreed to tell everyone that we had to shut whilst we moved premises. We set up a waiting list, battened down the hatches and started a new search for a business partner with more scope to help us grow. Again, with hindsight, this seems such a straight forward decision now but it took us a long time to take our eyes completely off our initial set up and take a leap to something new whilst we had orders still coming in the door and a growing business on our hands.
7. What have you learnt?
Where to start?! Some key things would be that as a product business, you’re only as good as the quality of your suppliers and finished goods. Meticulous attention to detail and testing therefore really pays off. Secondly, as said above, there is a huge amount of help and advice available out there and that others working in business, despite often being really busy themselves, are often very happy to offer their thoughts based on the lessons they’ve learnt. Finally, that your company story can be an incredibly powerful tool.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Product is everything. Get it right and everything else will fall into place.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
We love hearing reactions from customers about how much their clocks mean to them. Some of the testimonials are, literally, mind-blowing. We’re always amazed at how a clock can affect the family life of a happy home so much. It’s always so gorgeous to hear.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
Some days of the year it’s 9.5 out of 10. Whilst much of the time it’s not so much ‘hard’ but challenging and rewarding. It can be a real rollercoaster of emotions even in a single week.
Nicola Says "whenever small companies are pitching to me for investment I always suggest that they have a story to tell, and they tell it well, that it's so important for us to understand their journey and this is something Rob brings out here in the answers to his questions. People love to hear the story behind a good business and this one has a lovely story grounded in Rob and Sarah's own upbringing. Quality of product is key, get it right and the rest will follow, assuming of course you know you have a market, get it wrong and you turn off customers before you even start. Good testimonials will drive others to you!
Hear how getting the right partners is so important, having someone key pull out in your first year, can doom your business, Rob and Sarah had a torrent time, but re-grouped and have come back fighting, which shows the right strength of character for running your own business.
I've said it many times before but getting the right advice is key "You can get advice from everywhere and anywhere when you’re a start-up. However, the real issue is getting advice that’s taking you in the best direction and is worth its salt." says Rob
Thanks Rob and Sarah for sharing your journey with me.
The Girl with The Green Sofa