Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan and Andrew Beltran.
Ryan and Andrew, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
After graduating from the University of Oregon in 2011, I moved to Guangzhou, China to start a consumer products brand. Nine months later (I spent 3 years there total), I had the idea for Original Grain, a watch made from a combination of wood and steel (inspired in a lot of ways from my roots growing up in the Pacific Northwest).
With the help of my brother Andrew’s (co-founder) small investment we were able to produce an initial run of watches and decided to launch on Kickstarter in 2013. Raising $390,000 in just 30 days, we were the 3rd most funded fashion campaign at the time. We’ve had two successful Kickstarter’s, raising more than $800,000 between them.
(As a side note, my brother was returning from a deployment in the Marine Corps and stopped in Hong Kong, which is where I showed him the watches for the first time. Without any hesitation we decided to start the company!)
In 2015 we decided to partner with veteran San Diego entrepreneurs James Brennan and Paul Buss, who have a track record of building and selling companies. Over the last 5 years, we’ve grown to become the leader in our niche, marketing our brand online and driving sales through our website originalgrain.com.
Our greatest differentiator has been the use of reclaimed wood. What we’ve learned is that although the mix of exotic hardwood (i.e. rosewood, ebony, etc) and stainless steel is intriguing, using wood that tells a story is by far our greatest competitive advantage.
Examples include reclaimed Kentucky bourbon barrels and German beer barrels (50,000+ watches sold between these two styles).
Recently, our most exciting project has been licensed products with the MLB. In May we launched two separate watches with the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs, made with reclaimed stadium seats from Original 1923 Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field respectively.
A more premium limited edition product, these collaborations have been a home run (pun intended) helping drive awareness for the brand. We also partnered with the 2017 NBA champion Golden State Warriors, making watches with wood from their home court that season. It’s exciting, because the possibilities are endless!
Has it been a smooth road?
Like any startup, there is no blueprint for success. Every day is a challenge to continue your growth and find new channels to market/sell your product. The landscape changes quickly and what worked yesterday doesn’t mean it is going to work today.
As a digitally native company, we’ve had the luxury of a short cash cycle, allowing us to re-invest quickly and grow our brand. At scale, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the same rate of growth, and it’s more important than ever to stay engaged with your customers.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Original Grain story. Tell us more about the business.
We are known as the premier maker of wood and steel watches. And over the last 5 years have become the leader in our niche. As I mentioned in one of the earlier responses, the thing that has helped set us apart from other watch companies is our ability to tell a story with the materials used.
Rather than just a stainless steel mold, we’re using a combination of steel and reclaimed wood. And the beautiful thing about wood is the fact that it’s natural. No piece is going to be the exact same as the next, meaning no watch is ever the same.
Our best-selling watches all feature some sort of reclaimed story. For example, our top seller is made with authentic bourbon barrels that we source directly from Kentucky. And another style is made with reclaimed beer barrels. This has helped us secure licenses with world-class organizations like Jim Beam and the New York Yankees (watches made with original 1923 Yankee Stadium chairs).
Beyond the product, my brother and I are most proud of our commitment to the environment and giving back. Though our partnership with Trees for the Future, we plant one tree for every watch sold. This was important to us from the beginning and is a staple of the brand. To date, we have planted nearly 500,000 trees.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The watch industry is very polarizing in terms of price. Watches can range from $15 to $100,000 (or more.) Very few industries have that much elasticity.
What I’ve seen in general is consumer product brands focusing their efforts on e-commerce rather than brick and mortar strategies, and the same goes for watches. Watch companies are focusing on the direct to consumer model and the sweet spot is the $500 or less. I believe that there will be a shift from an e-commerce only strategy to a healthy mix of direct to consumer and a retail presence.
And retail as a whole is going to shift from a place for people to simply shop (aka your typical mall in America) to one that is more experiential. People want to “experience” a brand…and they will pay more for a brand that makes them a feel a certain way. And some of that retail strategy will consist of stores owned by the brand itself.
The ones that will survive are those who have the depth to their brand. Sure, companies have been able to grow their sales through digital marketing, but it’s those who have built a loyal following that will make it out.
- Our core watch collection ranges from $169 to $500 with limited edition options ranging from $1,000 to $12,500
- Address: 1205 J Street Suite J San Diego, CA 92101
- Website: https://www.originalgrain.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/originalgrain/