Lee Smith, founder of Watchfinder General, has entered his business in to this year’s If We Can You Can competition. Lee talks to BQ about what makes his business different and his plans for the future.
What did you do before setting up your business?
I was a sole trader working as a bookseller. At times I ran a bookshop, exhibited at national book fairs, had a market stall and an online presence.
What inspired you to set up your business?
Having been a watch enthusiast and collector, I was frustrated with the process of finding interesting watches and then trying to buy them from the small manufacturers abroad.
I wanted to give watch buyers access to these niche brands, but with the customer service and shipping that they'd expect from a British company.
What makes this business different?
Often, I am the only retailer in the UK or Europe selling these watches. My stock comes from countries such as Russia, Germany, Belarus, USA, Hong Kong etc. In many cases I'll stock watches that have an important historical significance. For example, I stock the modern remake of Yuri Gagarin's watch – the first watch in space. I source them direct from the factory in Moscow that produced the originals for the Soviet Space program. My business introduces buyers to obscure and interesting watches and makes it simple for them to own one.
What inspired you to enter the If We Can You Can Challenge?
I was encouraged to enter by a friend who I'd told about my business. I'm also looking for feedback and to be more active locally.
Where do you see your business in three years’ time?
There's still a number of important brands I'd like to stock and plenty of room to expand both those brands and the number of models stocked. I've projected that the business will move from year one’s turnover of £65k to around £250k. One important development will be the production of my own microbrand watches.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
Meeting other entrepreneurs. When I first launched the business, I felt very isolated. The constant encouragement from others has been invaluable. Business wise, I always enjoy matching a customer up with the right watch – particularly if it's a gift.
What has been your biggest challenge?
When I started the business, I did it full time with no other source of income. I've found cash flow to be a constant problem. As I've progressed I've taken more control of the financial side of the business and have begun to feel the benefit.
Who/what gave you support or advice?
Friends, family and Natwest's E-Spark program.
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own business?
Whilst you need to start quickly, don't be rash. Don't let your early enthusiasm replace the need for a plan.
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