When it comes to your financial mindset and how you handle money, where did your best habits originate?
Most of us think back to our first business endeavor. For many, it was selling lemonade for a dollar on the corner or girl scout cookies outside the local grocery store, but for R.T. Custer, it all started on his family’s Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania.
Through our first business endeavor, most of us were lucky to merely learn the value of a hard-earned dollar and how to account for profit margins. These are the first baby steps in understanding how to run a business. R.T. learned far more than the basics, however. His great-grandfather taught him and his grandfather everything he knew about sales and marketing, as well as perhaps the most important lesson of all — quality over quantity.
When R.T. and Tyler started Vortic Watch Company, they had the drive and ambition needed to get the company off the ground but inevitably realized a shift in approach was necessary to build profit.
Instead of aiming to sell as many watches as they could, what if selling one per day was more profitable than one thousand? This is the question that changed the direction of Vortic Watch Company, and it can all be traced back to the work ethic ingrained in R.T. at his family Christmas tree farm.
On this episode of What If It Did Work?, R.T. joins host Omar Medrano to talk about Vortic Watch Company and why a shift in direction was necessary for the company’s growth and stability.
The Power of “Made-in-America”
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t immediately think of Rolex or Swiss-made watches when they hear about a watch company — especially a luxury brand. This didn’t stop R.T. and Tyler from pursuing their dream, however. Omar asked why they chose watches when they knew they would have such fierce competition, and R.T. had a great answer.
“From the beginning, we thought we were gonna be the next Swatch. We thought everyone was gonna want one of these pocket watches turned into wristwatches, but it moved a lot slower than we initially thought. Which, honestly, worked out for the best. We've learned so much about running a business and managing people, and now that we've kind of figured it all out … We can leverage the brand we built as the American watch company. That's really what we're after — when you think of American-made watches, hopefully you think of Tyler and me and all the stuff that we're doing.” - R.T. Custer
The goal of Vortic Watch Company was never to push out the biggest players in the watch game but rather to carve out a niche for themselves as the biggest and best American-made luxury watch brand. Just as important as understanding the market for your company is understanding when it’s time to shift course and pursue what makes the most sense.
Shifting Gears and the Seasonality of Business
There are always going to be unpredictabilities when operating in the economy. Whether it’s a global pandemic or market collapse, you really never know what the next day brings for your business. R.T. quotes Tony Robbins to describe the seasonality of running a business and how, when he looks back at his entrepreneurial journey, the hardest times always come just before the best times.
“In business and in the economy in general, there are seasons. In order to get to spring, you have to go through winter, and when I look back on the winters of Vortic Watch Company, [we made it through] because we didn't give up — because we pivoted or figured out a different way to do business.” - R.T. Custer
After several thoughtful meetings between R.T. and Tyler, they began to ask themselves if selling as many watches as possible was the best strategy for the business or if adhering to his great-grandfather’s principle of quality over quantity was a better approach.
“What you have to do as an entrepreneur to get through the winter seasons is just hang on and think, what am I doing right now that's working to make this good, and how do I keep it that way? So, I would say one of the keys to success is just realizing what the business can do and what the business can't do.” - R.T. Custer
Once they realized that they could comfortably make about four hundred watches per year, R.T. & Tyler came up with the Watch of the Day program, where they promote a brand new, unique luxury watch every day at noon MST on the company's social media.
“We [decided] to make one new, one-of-a-kind watch every single day. It comes out at 12 noon mountain time, and when it's sold, it's gone. We had a really good idea in that watch of the day thing, but it came from a winter season where we asked ourselves, how are we gonna scale this business? We had to basically just accept that’s what this business is supposed to do. That pivot has created the spring and summer that we're living in right now, which is sunshine and rainbows — we're making money.” - R.T. Custer
Things don’t always work out according to plan, but sometimes that’s for the best. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to figure out how your business works and what works best for it. Successful businesses don’t come from one great idea and seamlessly produce an exploding stream of income. They require hard work, determination, and the ability to know when to change course.
Seeing Your True Colors in Stressful Times
When life gets unpredictable, you have to adapt. The sit-and-wait mentality has been proven to be ineffective, especially during the pandemic. When life gets tough and new challenges arise, you have to rise and meet those challenges and come up with solutions rather than sitting and waiting for the hard times to pass. If you sit and wait, you’re doomed to stagnancy and failure as the world changes.
As the pandemic struck in 2020, R.T. and Tyler weren’t always sure people would be buying watches. That’s why he joined up with his friend Jim Carter at Fast Foundations to create the powerhouse ad agency, Carter & Custer. This provided a secondary source of income as he and Jim helped organizations bring their products online — even though Vortic Watches continued to sell out!
“Stressful times like that in general, not just the pandemic, but in stressful times in business, it brings out who you truly are. If you're a good entrepreneur, if you're a good leader, if you're good at managing money — you figure it out, you pivot, you change. That's okay. I know a lot of people that did that.” – R.T. Custer
There’s no shame in switching gears once you find out your true strengths and weaknesses, either. These tough times provide important insight into what kind of business person you are. The important thing, however, is that you remain proactive and quick to take action.
“You definitely can't wait and see, you have to take action. That's definitely why we did well — we saw this stuff happening, and we took massive action from the very beginning. We didn't slow down, we kept the foot on the gas, and in a lot of ways, it worked.” - R.T. Custer
Hard work pays off, and there are no exceptions when times get tough. When others sit and wait for hardship to end, keep your foot on the gas and buckle down for the winter season. As R.T. said, spring and summer are just around the corner for your business once you get through the tough season.
The Vortic Difference
Vortic Watch Company is a small-batch, custom watch manufacturer situated in Northern Colorado. Our goal is to preserve and enhance the American manufacturing history of excellence. To do this, we combine classic and cutting-edge technologies to manufacture distinctive, efficient, and high-quality timepieces at an exceptional price.
As a company, we've realized that manufacturing is not as straightforward as handing over your designs and asking someone else to create them. Working with suppliers on design, revisions, prototypes, etc., is required to go from concept to finished product. Anyone can buy the necessary components to make a watch and pay someone else to build it. The truth is that it takes more than just design for something to excel and stand out amongst the rest.
If everyone has access to identical equipment, why do certain facilities perform better than others?
The truth is that the people who operate these devices are the most crucial element in producing a high-quality product. We have faith in the individuals behind each of our components, and we would like to share that faith with you.
As we continue to develop our internal capabilities, our marketing will continue to be governed by our conviction in transparent production procedures and our desire to inform customers precisely what they are purchasing. We really believe that the greater your knowledge of our products, the greater your desire for them.
Check Out Our Instagram and YouTube Channel for More Vortic Content
At Vortic Watch Company, we don’t just make watches, we restore pieces of history. Vortic takes timeless, antique pocket watches and reimagines them as incredible, one-of-a-kind wristwatches. We take pride in our process, and we think that care is present in the quality of our products.
Each of our specialized watches is truly one-of-a-kind — check out our Instagram to see our featured watch of the day, and make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get email notifications. Our watches don’t stick around for long!
You can also subscribe to Custer & Wolfe's YouTube channel to stay in the know about all things Vortic. There, we'll keep you up-to-date on everything that's happening with us, including our warehouse growth, production process, and ideas for creating an impactful business!