Off The Cuff: So, who is your customer? Who is a Kobold guy?
Mike Kobold: He is someone who has an affinity for finely made products – shoes, cigars, cars, etc. Of course, he is also someone who has an affinity for watches regardless of his career. I say that because many of our watches are tool watches, they are meant to be used in challenging and difficult situations. But they are also beautiful and elegant pieces of horological art. (The new Soarway GMT is pictured above)
Though I am not going to go into too much detail about specific demographics, one group we do market to encompasses military/police/protective services.
Since our watches are not inexpensive – and I can touch on that in a minute – we do want to attract people who can afford them. Active service military or police tend to be younger guys with disposable income and, equally important, they want a distinctive best-of-class product that’s going to perform. At the other end of the spectrum are retired military; their kids are out of the house and they now have the chance to indulge in their own interests.
Mike Kobold, Founder
What I don’t want is someone who really can’t afford to purchase a Kobold at this time and who may then regret their decision because of other more important things they should be addressing. That’s a bad call for the customer and for Kobold because we now have someone with buyer’s remorse and potentially a watch that has moved to the secondary market.
OTC: What about the used watch, or “secondary” market? What is your feeling about that?
MK: You know, generally speaking I don’t think about it too much because that’s not where our focus is – we don’t create watches for the secondary market, we want someone to buy a Kobold watch because they want to keep it and use it. However, the secondary market does provide a point of entry for some people who cannot afford our watches at full price and that’s important too. I hope that should someone buy one of our watches through that channel, their next Kobold will come from us.
Watches are so personal and for many collectors, knowing that they picked out a specific watch and were involved in the acquisition from start to finish makes a huge difference to them. But however it happens, we want all Kobold owners to have the same feeling of being part of a special community. That’s key to any successful brand.
OTC: In some of the watch forums and chat rooms, I have seen negative comments about pricing – basically that you charge too much for your watches. Is that a fair complaint?
MK: Our watches are not inexpensive and I’m certainly not apologizing for that. But I think people need to remember that watch making is an expensive business and we are still a very small company. I’m a very frugal guy – I still live in the same one-bedroom apartment I’ve had since college, I drive a pre-owned car and am constantly reinvesting back into the business. The sub $1,000 watch market is like 90% of the overall market which means that all the high-end tool and luxury watches out there are all fighting for the same 10% market share.
The Phantom – a military favorite
The Spirit of America
That means constant development and constant marketing and those two things cost a lot of money. Remember too that the lag time for a new watch, from conception to retail can run anywhere from 6 months to two years. Production costs and overhead increases affect every business and we are no different – so yes, that gets reflected in the retail cost of our watches. Every year we offer a new model at a reduced price to say thank you to our current and new customers – it does cost us real money in the form of lost revenue, but honestly that’s immaterial because the point is to continue and build the Kobold community.
OTC: What about the production limit of 2,500 units per watch model – where did that come from?
MK: It came from the business plan I drafted for my MBA project; that’s actually when Kobold Watch was founded. I chose to cap watch production at 2,500 units per model because at that time it was a figure I never thought I would reach – an arbitrary number. Now it defines the unique nature of every Kobold watch and I have no plans to change it.
OTC: When I think of your brand, I see some guy parachuting into the wilderness to study extinct botany or something equally exotic. So what’s next for Kobold Watch – how do you plan to build on the brand?
MK: Well, you can tell your readers that right now I’m looking at the designs for a new chronograph – 40mm. They can expect to see it in a year or so. It’s a great looking watch. That’s one of the things I love about watches – the emotional value they have for so many people. Certainly building on the brand’s message – “Embrace Adventure” – is something I want to continue. Whatever that adventure is, Kobold can be part of it; whether you are exploring Antarctica, excavating Mayan ruins or just living your life, our watches are up to the task.
A Polar Surveyor in action
We’ll be rolling out new models on a pretty regular basis, still a 2,500 unit maximum and it’s amazing how that is no longer such a large number. I’m also working on a book – that’s still in the development phase and it’s something I am very excited about.
There are many medium and short term projects that will help expand the brand but also keep it involved in the lives of the serious adventurers who rely on and support Kobold Watch. One project I am very dedicated to and will likely take a very long time to accomplish is the development of a 100% American automatic military watch. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen all wear watches that are made in other countries – good watches to be sure – but not American.
I want this country to be a leader again in fine horology and that will take a long time to accomplish because it involves rebuilding an entire industry that have been absent from the American landscape for more than 40 years. Still, that’s my big long term goal.
OTC: Mike, thanks very much for taking the time to speak with me and for giving Off The Cuff’s readers across the world a better understanding of your great brand – and your great watches.