"Cool" is a pretty elusive quality. If you have to say your product is cool, it’s not. That’s what poet Archibald MacLeish was getting at when he wrote, “A poem should not mean/But be.”
Marketing cool products without going over the edge and becoming very uncool is a slippery slope for any business, especially one that specializes in selling something as functional as timepieces.
RumbaTime has nailed cool with a line of fashion-forward watches that are cool without becoming too cool for school. And, yes, they tell time, as well.
The company was launched in late 2009 by three close friends who had attended Emory University together in Atlanta: Drew Deters, Jay Harington and Joe Anto.
All three tested the waters of other careers before launching their partnership. Deters was a professional cyclist and worked in finance, Anto worked at a successful hedge fund, and Harrington ran his family’s fashion retail store in Naples, Fla.
“We connected in the most serious way when we all moved to New York City,” said Hartington.
“We’ve all been watch enthusiasts all of our adult lives,” Anto told BusinessNewsDaily. “We wanted to create a brand that people related to. We wanted something that was different from what’s out there. We wanted to introduce silicon watches to the U.S. market. We originally saw them in Asia, primarily Korea.”
The result was a line of water-resistant, unisex digital and analog watches with silicon cases and bands designed for people with on-the-go lifestyles. They range in price from the $14 Original Collection watches to the $175 aspirational Mercer chronographs. Fashionistas wear them alone or stacked together.
The trio opted for a silicon design because of its durability, ease of cleaning and ability to mimic the feel of human skin. Silicon also has a chameleon ability to accurately reproduce every Pantone shade under the sun, said Hartington.
“Our watch is pretty minimalist in its design,” he said. “We wanted more than functionality; we wanted something more playful.”
By the end of 2010, the privately held company had launched over 15 styles and made its products available in more than 2,000 outlets of stores such as Sports Authority and Lord & Taylor, as well as on the Web. After selling more than 200,000 watches and pulling in $2.3 million in revenue, RumbaTime expects to triple its business in 2011.
“Our focus is the sub-$80 price point,” Hartington said. “The Mercer is the Rolls-Royce of our collection. For everything we do and every model we have, we start with the retail price and work backwards. We try to offer the best product for the best price that can hit different consumers.”
Though all the designs are done in-house, the partners run a very lean organization, farming out functions such as accounting, manufacturing and fulfillment.
“One thing we’ve done very well is outsource all the non-core functions," said Anto. “The advantage of being small is that we can do what we want to do quickly.”
The founders learned early on that there is a learning curve with outsourcing, particularly when your manufacturing is being done halfway round the world in China. There were quality issues at the outset.
“We were flying blind,” said Hartington. “Our first production run was crap. We probably still have them. Luckily it wasn’t a very large run.”
What the partners discovered is that nothing takes the place of having boots on the ground. They now work with local sourcing agents, who help match them with appropriate manufacturers for all their product lines. They also personally inspect potential factories and insist on meeting new manufacturing partners face to face. It’s all about doing work on the front end, said Anto.
From day one, social media have been an integral component of RumbaTime’s marketing and customer care, with particular focuses on word of mouth, Facebook, email , charity events and meeting the press. The founders are religious about responding quickly to every comment made in the online world.
“We made a decision early on that social media would be a huge part of our business,” said Hartington. “We focus in a way that other brands don’t.”
RumbaTime now has north of 34,000 fans on Facebook.
“We’ve seen a good percentage of conversion of sales coming from Facebook,” Hartington said. “It’s become a massive analytical marketing tool.”
The list of charities that RumbaTime supports is as long as its line of watches, and includes the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City and Toys for Tots.
They follow the model of Lance Armstrong and his involvement with the LIVESTRONG Foundation, said Hartington. They are able to raise money for causes they feel passionate about while making sure the right people are educated about them and can see their products in stores.
The high-profile charitable activities make RumbaTime and its products a celebrity magnet, attracting boldface fans such as AnnaLynne McCord, Giuliana Rancic, Jesse McCartney, Adrien Brody, George Lopez, Willow Smith, Snoop Dogg, Carolina Herrera and Richie Rich.
The primary demographic target for RumbaTimes skews young — 13 to 29 — and female — 60 percent.
“We target that demographic because people look to them for fashion focus,” said Hartington. “When you do that, you bring everybody else in. As people start to respond to and identify with our products, we see an opportunity to extend our design sensibility into other areas.”
The secret of RumbaTime’s cool?
“We created a brand that doesn’t intimidate people,” Hartington said.
Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.