A few years back, Dutch entrepreneur and watch enthusiast Tom van Wijlick decided to relaunch an old watchmaking name: Lebois & Co. What started as a one-off project founded on Kickstarter quickly moved to the next level with multiple relaunch (here and here) editions. Today, Lebois & Co. is what we could call a “microbrand” and we wanted to talk with Tom van Wijlick about two important topics. First is the launch of a new watch, the Venturist, which you’ll get a sneak preview of in this interview and will soon be reviewed on MONOCHROME. Second is the introduction of a new (and truly interesting) business model, where clients and watch enthusiasts will have the opportunity to become a shareholder of the company… Let’s hear all the details.
What is your first horological memory?
The very first horological memory I have dates back to 1987 when I got my first Swatch (navigator), which I actually still have. I really loved it. In school, Swatch watches were hot at that time. I also remember the time Swatch Pop timepieces were popular, although I never owned one. Over time I bought several more Swatch watches including a James Bond edition.
What brought you to Lebois & Co?
I started trading Swiss made mechanical watches in 2011 and (co-)founded both single and multi-brand online luxury watch boutiques from 2012 to 2014. During that time, I met with several great independent watch brands and it was then that I realized that I wanted to be on the other side of the table; I wanted to start my own watch brand. While looking for inspiration with my wife Eveline we came across a photo of a gorgeous vintage watch that was auctioned at Christie’s. The watch was a Lebois & Co. chronograph. We were struck by the beauty of the watch so I printed the photo and stuck it to our fridge. Then we started our research of this unfamiliar brand and their former owners. The rest is history…
Who is behind the brand?
Being a microbrand and a start-up, our team is still quite small so we tend to work with independent contractors mainly. I am assisted by a designer and at this very moment we are figuring out how to form our future sales team.
How has the journey been so far?
To phrase it in one word: interesting. The great thing about Lebois & Co. is that we are pioneering. Nothing is set in stone. We can be innovative in our products, marketing and sales. For instance: we are working on a click-and-mortar concept; an omnichannel concept that will allow customers to check the availability of their favourite watch at their local retailer or purchase online and arrange local pickup. This also means that we must allow ourselves to make mistakes. The latter is not always easy but we’ll get there.
You’re starting to offer clients the opportunity of becoming a shareholder. What do you want to achieve with this?
From a business perspective we need funds to execute our business plan and by doing it this way, we hope to get great ambassadors for the company and the Lebois & Co. brand. In return, we offer benefits to our shareholders such as discounts on future watches and even free watches or a seat on the advisory board. Of course, this is up to the shareholders. They can be as involved as they want.
How do you deal with your shareholders? What is the relationship with them?
First of all, the level of investment decides the formal level of involvement of the shareholder. While the formal guidelines are yet to be finalized, we notice that of the shareholders that are already on board there are some that want to help us with the expertise and knowledge they have. I believe in these kinds of collaborations since both parties have the same goal here; a more successful Lebois & Co. would benefit both of them.
What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for Lebois & Co.?
Being the microbrand Lebois & Co. still is, it comes with the disadvantage that we cannot launch as many watches and as many marketing campaigns as the big brands. However, this does not mean that we cannot offer watches with similar quality, which we prove with the new Venturist. Also, I think a customer will get a watch that is more unique since it will not be seen on everyone’s wrist. A small watch brand also has the benefit that the client’s relationship with the brand can be closer.
What is the future of Lebois & Co.?
I would say – exciting! But seriously, there is still a lot that has to be done but I am convinced that our hard work and perseverance will get us where we want to be. Our goal: we want to introduce more products as alternatives for those of the established order of luxury watch brands by combining the best practices of horology and information technology.
If there was only one Lebois, which would be on your wrist?
Oh boy, that is a tough one! I hope that I will never have to make that choice! Of course, I have all the variants of the Avantgarde and there are also some vintage Lebois & Co. timepieces I wear occasionally. Currently, I am wearing number 079/100 (my birth year) of the Avantgarde date – 3rd re-launch edition (black dial, cognac brown strap) almost every day. I really love it. However, as soon as the Venturist is ready I will definitively be wearing that one for a while. So, to answer your question; since I am so excited about our newest watch, I would say the Venturist (but meanwhile I would hope to be able to keep my other watches).
Soon on MONOCHROME, we’ll have a hands-on look at Lebois & Co. new watch, the Venturist – so stay tuned.