Duo designs, sells watches nationwide
SIDNEY — Two Champaign County watch buffs have started their own watch company and are selling sport and tactical watches across the country.
Jerommie Smith and Ryan Bradley formed Smith & Bradley Ltd. last year. They have two models on the market and a third soon to be released.
Their initial product was the Atlantis, an automatic stainless steel dive watch listed on the company's website at $395.
That was followed by The Raid, a sport and tactical watch with chronograph (stopwatch) features. Listed for $150, it has since sold out.
Next up will be the Sans-13, a tactical watch with tritium gas vials that illuminate the hands, plus a magnified date window and rubber strap. One of the two versions will be a "low-light" model designed for police and military use.
"We're looking to the holiday season to unleash these two new products," said Smith, 41, of Sidney.
The company also has four other models ready to build.
Smith, a collectibles enthusiast, said he always liked the intricacy of watches, while Bradley said he has had a passion for military and tactical watches.
Over breakfast last summer, they discussed their shared fascination of watches — as well as their frustration over the shortcomings of some timepieces — and decided it was time to go into business for themselves.
"All our design work is done by Jerommie," said Bradley, 32, of Champaign.
Smith & Bradley orders the movements and crystals for the watches from Switzerland and gets the tritium from the United Kingdom. Assembly is done in Hong Kong, and the watches are shipped to Champaign County for final inspection.
Smith said he spends about 15 minutes inspecting each watch before it is sent out.
While Smith handles the design, Bradley does the marketing.
Some of the watches go to tactical resource companies that supply law enforcement and military clients as well as outdoors enthusiasts, Bradley said.
Other watches are supplied to men's stores in Tennessee, Virginia and Colorado, he said.
Still others are custom-made, private-label watches for businesses and organizations.
One notable private-label order was for NASCAR driver Gray Gaulding and the Krispy Kreme racing team. A limited-edition run of 50 watches were made for that team.
Smith & Bradley's mission is summarized on its website, http://www.smithbradleyltd.com:
"Our goal is simple: Convert everybody we meet into a watch fanatic, and to deliver a superior quality watch, with the best possible components, that is both affordable enough to own and rugged enough to wear."
Bradley said the market for watches is broad, and he and Smith knew they couldn't "be everything to everybody."
"We needed to find a niche — sport and tactical watches that you can wear into the field or into the board room. You can wear it with a suit, but at the same time it needs to hold up" under tough conditions, he said.
Clyde Caceres, who has worn both the Atlantis and The Raid models, said he uses the Atlantis "more as a dress watch."
The Raid is "the one I use all the time. When I'm working on my acreage in the heat, it wears well," said Caceres, who worked for First Light USA in Champaign County before moving to Florida.
Caceres said he wanted a watch that was functional, durable, could be seen well in the dark and kept accurate time.
"So far, it's hitting on all points," he said.
Jim Turner, the president of O'Brien Auto Park in Urbana, said he has both The Raid and an Atlantis.
He said the Atlantis "looks good" and he uses it when he travels, rather than taking more expensive watches.
Likewise, he uses The Raid when he swims in his pool.
"It's a nice watch for the money," he said. "It keeps great time, it looks good and it's priced well."
Smith and Bradley have varied career experience.
Smith is a former Champaign County sheriff's deputy and former owner of the Truly Fit gym in Urbana. He continues to work as a part-time officer for the Gifford Police Department.
Bradley is an attorney with the Phebus & Koester law firm in Urbana. Originally from the Washington, D.C., area. He went to law school in Vermont, then moved to Champaign with his wife in 2006.
He has worked at Phebus & Koester since then, except for a short time in 2008 when he worked in investments for Strategic Capital Trust Co.
The two men said they paid for their initial run of watches not through investors or bank loans, but by selling off chunks of their own watch collections. Since then, they've reinvested earnings in the company.
Now Smith & Bradley is conducting a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign to raise money for its Sans-13 model. The company has met its first funding goal and is on its way to the second.
In the first 12 days of the Kickstarter campaign, they raised $16,000, and as of Thursday, the campaign had netted nearly $24,000 in commitments.
Bradley said that in the watch business, "marketing, metal and movement dictates price."
Smith & Bradley doesn't intend to spend big money on marketing, as luxury brands do, or on metals, such as gold and platinum, he said. But the company does want to provide high-quality movements in its watches.
The company also wants to emphasize customer service, answering questions and fixing watches if someone happens to have a problem with them, he said.
To get word out about its watches, Smith & Bradley relies on blogs and websites that review new watches. They've gotten reviews from Worn & Wound (wornandwound.com), The Wrist Watch Review (http://www.wristwatchreview.com) and Soldier Systems (http://www.soldiersystems.net).