Spotlight on Newgate World
Today's Spotlight is with Jim and Chloe founders of Newgate World. They have created an iconic, leading brand based around British Design of British Heritage Clocks and most recently, watches. It's a fascinating story starting when Jim was kicked out of art college, and has taken a few twists and turns along the way something that will no doubt resonate with other creative business start-ups.
For me, it is always great to feature a brand that has been around a while, that can tell the "growth story" not just the "start up" story as both are not without their challenges. In this case, what do you do when you suddenly get a huge order and there are only two of you. When is the right time to expand and how do you cope with the peaks and troughs until you do?
Please read on to find out about a partnership that started young and has grown to the great brand it is today.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
Jim and I were set up on a blind date when we were just teenagers. We hit it off immediately and after Jim got kicked out of art school we started planning ways in which we could create a business together. We were very, very young, and probably very naïve, but the ambition was to make money and get out there and travel the world.
Both sets of our parents were antique dealers, so initially we were scouring antique and flea markets for decorative picture frames to frame and sell Jim’s paintings. We bought a picture framing machine from Manchester, and by chance we hit upon the idea of incorporating clock movements into the artworks to make quirky timepieces.
Jim’s brother convinced us to exhibit at our first tradeshow and as fortune had it, the Harrod’s clock buyer visited our stand and fell in love with our prototype designs. We had our first big order, and ‘Newgate’ snowballed from there.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
We began making our first clock orders in the one-bedroom flat Jim and I were renting at the time. The flat overlooked the old town gate – ‘New Gate’ – and the name stuck.
Both of us had day jobs too – we worked in a shop earning £20 a day – and at night time we would go back to our flat, make our clocks by hand and ship them out. We did that for about 18 months and then we had to give up our day jobs to concentrate on Newgate.
3. How did you fund your business?
Jim sold his 21st birthday present - his much-loved blue Mini Moke car - to enable us to buy the picture framing equipment we initially used to make our clock dials and to fund that very first trade show.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
When we first started out making clocks, there were very few other people doing anything creative within the clock industry. Wall clocks were very functional, and we started doing something very decorative which really appealed to the homeware market. It wasn’t smooth sailing from day one. There were times when we would look at each other and ask, “Should we just drop this and get proper jobs?”. We caught a few lucky breaks, and invested a lot of hard work and determination. And suddenly we started to do really, really well. Then the problem became finding the manpower to keep up with orders.
A pivotal moment came when we accepted a huge order from the US. We had been waiting all day for some components to come in from Italy. They turned up at the last hour and the container was waiting to ship. We begged all of our friends and family to come and help us assemble the clocks and package the order. It was a bit of a nightmare, and no-one slept that night, but we did it. It made us realise that we needed to start thinking about hiring our own team to help us to move the business to the next level.
5. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
Not long after we had celebrated completing that huge US order in time, disaster struck. Because we had packed and shipped the clocks so soon after assembly, the glue hadn’t had time to set and dry properly and the dials were beginning to peel. It was a pivotal moment for us. We had to decide whether we going to throw in the towel and find something easier to do, or if we were going to grow up and commit to the business seriously by facing up to the music and dealing with the issue. It was a huge turning point and a massive learning curve, but we faced it head on, dealt with it and came through the other side much the better for it.
6. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Be prepared to work harder than you could ever have imagined.
7. And what do you enjoy the most?
There is always the buzz that comes from walking into someone’s home, or restaurant or hotel, and seeing a clock that we’ve designed and made hanging on the wall.
Since we launched the Newgate watch brand it’s even more exciting to see people out and about wearing our watches on their wrists.
8. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
We still absolutely love the creative process of designing and manufacturing and are brimming with as many ideas as we were when we were teenagers.
As Newgate’s creative director and chief-designer, Jim is passionate about designing the very best quality product we possible can whilst ensuring the design remains affordable so as many people can enjoy it as possible.
However, once the business expands as rapidly as Newgate has, as Managing Directors you get pulled in so many other directions too, and you have to don a lot of caps – from overseeing finance, shipping and HR to supply chain meetings. We like to stay as involved as possible in all aspects of the business – so it can mean it’s hard to switch off. We often find we’re discussing work until the early hours at home – but, we love it, so we wouldn’t really want it any other way.
The Girl with The Green Sofa