In this Founder’s Update article, we share a detailed overview of our recent progress in working to grow and improve Vaer. Additionally, we’ll also be providing some updates on our watch release plans for the rest of the year.
What did we achieve in the last 6 months?
We started strong this year. Since January, we’ve primarily invested in 2 key areas:
- Solidifying & refining our core watch lineup.
- Improving our team and our website.
The first priority largely revolves around our long-term goal of ZERO sellouts for core models. This is a complicated goal to achieve because in the world of retail, there’s always a delicate balance between having too little, and too much stock.
One of the most common solutions to resolve this inventory management dilemma is to reduce customer choice. As exemplified in the famous quote by Henry Ford: “A customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it’s black”.
Here at Vaer, we’ve always challenged this manufacturing mentality because a) we’ve always viewed customization as central to our brand ethos, and b) we’ve been eager to compete in nearly every major watch category in the market. For reference, in the last 6 months of 2022, we released 20 new watch models. This would be an ambitious release calendar for any brand, but for a small startup like Vaer it pushed our manufacturing and assembly infrastructure to the very limits.
The upside of our late 2022 effort is that we learned a lot from these new releases (and acquired thousands of new customers). The downside is that we UNDER-ORDERED on many existing watch models, and left many potential purchasers waiting (or even shopping elsewhere) due to sell-outs on our most popular designs.
In the first half of 2023, we decided to take a page out of Henry Ford’s book, and radically simplify our manufacturing process. While we DID continue to sell watches in a variety of colors, and variants, we set a goal to make sure that at least one top-seller, the C5 Tactical Field Watch, never sold out (now available in even more popular C5 Tactical Solar Field). In other words, if you wanted a 10ATM all-black, USA-assembled field watch from Vaer, it would always be available for shipment within 2-days.
Did we succeed in keeping our bestselling watch in stock?
No, we did not.
But we came pretty close.
At the beginning of 2023, we introduced a new inventory purchasing rule where we would allocate 80% of our total manufacturing budget to re-order bestselling models (like the C5 Tactical) leaving only 20% towards new releases (like the A12 Ceremony). In this way, we would have a two-tier product line-up, divided by:
- Core models, that are always available.
- Limited releases, that sell out in a short period.
For the most part, this new inventory strategy has worked well. While the C5 Tactical has fluctuated from in-stock to pre-order a handful of times over the past 6 months (including this current period), new batches have almost always been in assembly at the time of sell-out, meaning that a true sell-out has often only lasted 4-10 days, compared to our historical standard of 4-10 weeks.
And this is an especially big achievement because the C5 Tactical has been on a HISTORIC sales pace. Even though we’re only 6 months into the year, it’s already set the record for the most sales for a single product in a year (in other words, it’s selling at over 2x the pace of a traditional bestseller).
What new watches have we released this year?
While Henry Ford clearly appreciated the manufacturing benefits of a simplified supply chain, he also understood that times are always changing, and any brand that’s not moving forward is going to be left behind. Even with our new 80/20 order allocation rule, we’ve continued to roll out new designs at a rapid pace. Since our last founders update we’ve successfully released the following models:
- A5 Tactical Field USA Automatic
- A5 Atlas Automatics
- A12 Dirty Dozen (version 3)
- A12 Ceremony (version 2)
- D5 Special Forces (with Huckberry)
- G5 Meridian USA GMT
- C5 Solar Field
While each of these releases could warrant its own in-depth write-up, in summary, they each represent an experiment in our continued path for growth and efficiency. While we know that models like the C5 Tactical are effective in attracting new customers, we NEVER want to get categorized in a single niche (even if it’s a winning niche).
In our view, becoming a single-product company is one of the biggest failings of most watch brands, who tend to develop a popular design, and then just kept selling that same design until it slowly goes out of style, and never attempt to deliver additional value to their core customers.
Here at Vaer, our strategy has been to take revenue from quartz models like the C5 and invest in building new, and increasingly aspirational timepieces.
While doing a small batch collaboration with Huckberry on a D5 Diver, or a 50-piece limited run of Swiss Made dress watches for the A12 Ceremony doesn't have a huge impact on annual revenue, it does achieve a sense of “fan service”, and a level of hype and excitement that could never be achieved from a product that is always in stock.
If we’re lucky, we can also turn an experimental release into a future core model.
That’s exactly what happened with the G5 Meridian USA GMT. After a record single day of sales, we quickly transitioned (at least in our minds) this line from being a limited release to being a watch that we ALWAYS need to keep in stock on the website.
How have we improved the Vaer shopping experience?
In addition to our slate of new product launches, we’ve been investing plenty of time and energy into the digital Vaer shopping experience. Since January we have completed the following new sites:
- Full Re-Build of Main Website (May)
- Launch of New Pre-Owned Website (April)
- Launch of New FAQ Website (February)
While we like to consider our core product lineup as timeless, and existing beyond the constant update cycle of modern technology, that same virtue simply does not apply to the ways in which we sell and provide support for our watches. When it comes to our website, and the digital interactions our customers have with our brand, our goal has always been to emulate the very best online retailers in the world (or try our best, given our limited budget).
Our primary website was last updated in 2019, and in that time we’ve grown our monthly revenue by over 10x. We also saw some significant changes to the way in which customers were interacting with our store. Over the past 5 years, we have seen a steady trend toward mobile-first shopping. Today, 3 out of every 4 website visitors arrive to vaerwatches.com on their phone (if you’re reading this email on your phone, then you can probably understand why).
Prioritizing a “mobile-first” experience was a big motivation for the website redesign, but we were also eager to add improved functionalities like videos, comparisons, product recommendations, and stock counts on our product pages.
In addition to the core website redesign, which is the primary channel through which we operate our business, we were able to launch two additional secondary sites (Vaer Pre-Owned & Vaer FAQ) in large part due to the added help of our first two Vaer team hires (Blake and Evan Austin) which is a topic we discussed at length in our last founder's update.
Why has hiring been so critical to our success in the last 6 months?
We (as co-founders) have finally started bringing in full-time team members (outside of assembly, and fulfillment) to help us grow and scale the company and we’re confident that we made the correct decision.
By taking the lead in all forms of customer support and communication, Evan Austin has been able to offload hundreds of hours of work from Ryan’s plate and has slowly helped to develop the internal knowledge base that has formed the backbone of our growing FAQ website.
And in terms of our Pre-Owned website, this is a venture that simply could not have happened without Blake’s management and organization. With its own website, its own inventory and fulfillment system, and its own email marketing list, Vaer Pre-Owned now operates as a profitable business within a business. The fact that it can run smoothly without our everyday involvement is a testament to Blake’s efforts over the past 6 months - and we couldn’t be happier.
Are we hiring more people to join our team?
Yes! In fact, we’ve recently hired two more people to join the team (bringing the grand total to 6).
Our approach has traditionally involved maintaining a lean team for a business of our size and opted instead to operate a complex network of software solutions and freelancers, and when all else fails, simply do everything ourselves.
However, as Blake and Evan Austin have proven, talented people can unlock huge potential.
Since these latest two hires are still in the onboarding process and are currently learning the ropes here at Vaer, we’re going to hold off on introductions for now, but are excited to share more about them in the coming months, once they have a few noteworthy projects under their belts.
One thing that we can share on this topic is that one of the hires came from our direct efforts to hire an existing fan of Vaer onto our team.
We reached out to the community back in April and received dozens of high-quality applications from folks all over the country, and after a sequence of interviews and conversations, settled on a candidate who we hope will be the first of many Vaer advocates turned team members.
What’s on the product release roadmap for the rest of 2023?
Looking ahead, we’re very optimistic about the balance that should be achieved by our 80/20 ordering plan. While we always feel like we have more than enough of our core models, with this batch we think we’ve FINALLY gotten ahead of surges in A5/C5 Tactical and Field Black demand, so once they're in-stock in the coming weeks, they should stay that way from now on.
In the short term, we’re also bringing back some of our most beloved designs in new, and affordable quartz variants, in our opinion these all have the potential to be permanent core models:
- C3/C5 Korean Field (Solar Power)
- C3/C5 Design Navy (Solar Power)
- C3/C5 Dirty Dozen (Ameriquartz)
- S3/S5 Tradition Field (From $159)
- C3 Tactical (Solar 36mm)
The Korean Field is getting a full solar treatment, a new deep-etched caseback, and finally, the option of a 40mm case design. The Design Navy will also be transitioned to solar, with an improved dial design, and high-impact lume that is on the same level as the C5 Tactical.
With the Korean Field and Design Navy moving to solar, we wanted to develop a new watch that could take advantage of the USA-built Ameriquartz movement. We felt that the first-ever quartz version of our iconic Dirty Dozen design would be the perfect fit, and we’re hoping to roll this model out in the late fall.
Additionally, we’re also working on several far more experimental models which include:
- DS5 Diver (Automatic for under $300)
- Dive Case Chronograph
- Field Case Chronograph
These three models are still in the development stage, but we’re optimistic that we can still fit them into our production timelines by the end of 2023. As per usual with major design releases, we will be running a design survey this summer to finalize customer feedback on a wide range of new watches and straps.
What’s been on our wrists?
Reagan: I’ve been working from the UK and Europe over the past month, and with this long-term travel, I was forced to narrow down my watch rotation. Generally, if I’m traveling, I’ll take one solar watch and one automatic. For this trip, I chose the D4 Meridian Solar Diver on our new olive recon strap, as my main outdoors/hiking watch. As a backup, I also brought our new C5 Tactical Field Solar (also because I wanted to test it in the wild). For my automatic, I chose the A3 Atlas Orange on jubilee strap because it’s comfortable, and compact, but also eye-catching thanks to its super-bright dial.
Ryan: I’ve been in the ocean a lot the past few weeks including a recent surf trip to Southern Baja, Mexico. While the D4 Solar has been my go-to surf watch since it was released, lately, I’ve been testing a prototype of our upcoming C3 Korean Field Solar - it's become my new favorite. It’s a familiar design that we’ve had in the lineup for years - the field design is a nice changeup from the diver, the 36mm case is super comfortable on my 6 3/4” wrist, and it's very legible (especially with our lume upgrade). Overall a gorgeous piece, and I get excited every time I put it on- also no worries about timekeeping, winding, or batteries.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article! As usual, feel free to respond with any thoughts or feedback, we’ll try our best to respond in a timely manner.
All the best,
Reagan Cook & Ryan Torres
Ryan and Reagan co-founded Vaer Watches in Venice, California in 2016. As small business owners they handle just about every aspect of the daily operations of the company from watch design and supply chain management, to customer support and photography. Over the years, they've learned a thing or two about watchmaking, online retail, and American sourcing and assembly. If you have a question, comment or correction related to this article you can contact the authors directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.