Combining his love for music and his passion for watches, the Dutchman is taking both to new heights while marching to his own beat. Recently he stopped in New York where he met with Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan at The Peninsula’s rooftop bar.
ET: How did TW Steel get started?
Jordy Cobelens: My father started designing watches for his own brand in Holland when I was 14. I immediately I had an interest in the business side, selling to my friends, their fathers, uncles and more. From a young age I had a connection with watches but I moved to the music industry because I had done the jeweler visits and assumed the sales rep role – when you’re 17 or 18 that’s just not the most exciting job in the world. I was a hobby DJ and I wanted to take that to a professional level so I started my own record store, which was great experience. I did watches on the side but my focus at the time was on music so I guess you could say I left the watch industry for a little bit.
ET: What brought you back to watches?
Jordy Cobelens: My father and I decided to start a new project together – TW Steel. His brands had done well in Holland but he wanted to slow down a little. He’d done pretty much all he could do in Holland but he didn’t want to travel the world for the work, so he decided to slow down and we launched TW Steel. We saw that big watches had become more popular and said “let’s give it a go.” It was born that simply. In 2005, we launched our four executions, which my father designed and I sold, as a side project to my record store. I remember we got the first order in—1,200 pieces, 300 of each execution—and I started selling them. I had well-known DJs who I gave watches to and a distributor for other brands picked us up and began distributing our watches, which began to sell nicely. But we didn’t even have a brochure or a website. All we had were the pieces themselves and the metal boxes they came in. That was it. After the first sales we saw potential and decided to reach for a little more attention, so we made a display, a catalog and began to look internationally. At that time Lacoste was sold to the Movado Group and one of the guys who lost that license, in Spain, saw our product and liked it so he put it into Spanish stores and the product started selling like crazy. So he informed some of his colleagues and people started hearing about us and in a very short time we went from being in two or three countries to 10, to 20, to 30. It has been a roller coaster ride ever since.
ET: What’s next?
Jordy Cobelens: Growing from a small business we started in the basement my house, TW Steel now has offices all around the world. We are opening our own brand boutiques, and I’m here in New York City to open our U.S. offices. We have grown from a product – it wasn’t even a brand when it first began – and now we have boutiques in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, and we are also in the process of opening seven boutiques in China as we speak. When I do interviews I actually realize how much we have achieved, because when you’re in the middle of it you are always looking forward. To me, we have only scratched the surface.
ET: From a business standpoint, how have the actual numbers grown in recent years?
Jordy Cobelens: We do several hundred thousand pieces per year.
ET: You have also launched Steel Entertainment. What’s the crossover with the watches?
Jordy Cobelens: We decided to launch a new company, Steel Entertainment Group, which is a 360 degree entertainment group for DJs and producers. We have a talent agency, an events and management department, and we also started our own label which we are doing in-house. With TW Steel’s marketing social media expertise, Steel Entertainment Group worked immediately with the other facets of our company. Recently we were at the Winter Music Conference in Miami. We had buses with our DJs playing on top in order to help sell a product but if I did that just to promote an artist or product it wouldn’t make sense because of the up-front expense. With Steel Entertainment Group, however, now both are included in the brand’s campaign, which will consequently accelerate the artists’ careers and our products’ sales. The combination is perfect. These guys are so motivated and passionate and loyal to the brand, and they are constantly tweeting and posting about TW Steel, which is the most powerful marketing tool I could create.
ET: Obviously your father is one of your role models, but is there anyone else you look to for inspiration?
Jordy Cobelens: My role models are people I can’t yet compare myself to. Take Richard Branson, for instance. He created a lifestyle and though TW Steel began as a brand, today it is becoming a lifestyle and everything we do needs to reflect that. When we throw a party it’s different than everyone else’s. When we threw one in New York with Kelly Rowland we had fireworks on the Hudson and everyone was talking about it. If you go on Branson’s airline, it’s a totally different experience than when you fly with other airlines, and that’s what we want with TW Steel. When you come to one of our events, it’s different than what everyone else is doing.
ET: What other areas is TW Steel currently looking to expand into?
Jordy Cobelens: With the network that the TW Steel group enjoys, we’d love to start using some of those existing platforms and start merchandising our Steel Entertainment DJ’s. Once our DJs are going international we can start merchandising them, which I think will be a strong business for us as well. We already have our own stores, a global network and relationships with all the major department chains. It’s definitely one of the first things I want to focus on in the coming years.
ET: Looking forward, where do you see TW Steel in ten years?
Jordy Cobelens: Put simply, I want TW Steel and its affiliations to be part of a truly global lifestyle brand. I want TW Steel to be the No.1 brand in oversized timepieces and I want Steel Entertainment Group to be the biggest and best DJ artst, entertainment and management company in the world. Holland is well known for its DJs—as a country we have 30-40 percent of the world’s top 100 DJs—so I want the Steel brand to be known as an entertainment company. We are currently working on Steel Entertainment Group Brazil, which marks TW Steel’s expansion into South America, which is a massive market for electronic music.
ET: How does TW Steel appeal to the private jet market?
Jordy Cobelens: I believe it’s because we offer something a little bit more fun but with the same luxurious appeal and quality that attracts buyers to the traditional high-end watches on the market. Retailers have told us numerous stories of some of their best customers coming in to purchase another Rolex, for example, but being taken aback by both TW Steel’s bold oversized styling and price point. Yes, they’ll still ultimately be buying the Rolex but they’ll also purchase a few TW Steel’s because they absolutely love the product and the way it looks.
ET: When you’re not working, are there any hobbies or passions that you enjoy?
Jordy Cobelens: I’m always active. I have a lot of things I love to do. I went snowboarding for the first time in many years a few weeks ago. I used to love it when I was younger so it was good to get back into it for a bit. I’m just not the one who goes on a vacation and lies on the bed all day long doing nothing. That’s just not me. I love outdoor activities. I am a certified diver, though I haven’t done it in years. Unfortunately you can’t fly in and do a dive that day or do a dive and fly out the next day because of the pressure, so that keeps me from doing it more often. I also love to take my speed boat and jet skis out in the summer in Amsterdam and just have fun. It doesn’t happen a lot but I enjoy those moments.