How a travel experience inspired a young couple to launch a successful watch brand

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at Barrow Watches and how you got started?

Barrow started from a love of design and a desire to create something of our own. In 2016 we welcomed our first child and took a 6-month sabbatical to Italy. It was in a little B&B in Bologna that we first had the idea to start a watch brand.

Life traveling Italy was slow. We weren’t connected to technology and we just loved the nostalgia of spending the day with nothing but a wallet and a watch. We wanted to share that low-tech, mindful ethos, and being designers and watch enthusiasts, it seemed like a natural fit for us.

What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?

The road from concept to physical product launch was long and challenging. We wanted to create a brand that was extremely high-quality, ethically made and priced competitively. This meant that we couldn’t compromise on materials or manufacturers.

Our first breakthrough was finding an Italian tannery that used a vegetable tanning process. They recommended us a top-tier watch strap manufacturer who passed the BSCI ethical standards and German quality standards.

Finding a watch manufacturer that was both quality and ethical was a little more challenging. We went through four sample rounds with separate manufacturers before we received a Swiss Movement watch that we could be proud of.

We made our first MOQ order and then worked with a QA auditor to check every single watch before it shipped.

How did you get your first sale?

We launched a pre-order sale in May 2018. We spent months building hype, offering discounts; any method to increase our mailing list. In our experience, that was a mistake for two reasons.

First, we burned through our budget raising awareness for a product no one could buy. Second, our shipment was delayed by six weeks, creating an embarrassing and inconvenient customer service headache.

Yikes! How did you recover from that? Any advice on how one might approach things differently to avoid making the same mistakes?

Being open and super honest with our first customers was the only way forward. We would send weekly progress updates and invite two-way conversation.

If I had a do-over I would wait until I had received the product shipment before attempting to make sales. We initially thought running pre-sales would help to fund our initial wholesale order but it could have irreversibly damaged the credibility of our brand.

What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?

Our brand identity has grown into something that we are really proud of. Our watches are beautiful in person. If we were a physical store, it would be hard to try on a Barrow and not purchase it.

The main challenge in selling online is providing prospects with a sense of how they will feel owning a Barrow. This has been a real uphill battle that we are slowly overcoming by focusing more on who our customer is and less on the product selling features.

For example, we started out talking about our quality Swiss Movements, the inclusion of two watch straps and a Sapphire Crystal face. Now, we talk about how the watch will make you feel, what style you should wear it with and what qualities you have as a person who chooses a Barrow.

What influenced your decision to use Shopify?

We first launched on WooCommerce but it was clunky and hard to update.

Frustrated, we signed up for the 15 day Shopify trial and were impressed with the functionality, apps available and user dashboard.

The support and help you receive from the Shopify community is also something that we’ve grown to rely upon.

What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?

Getting started was the easy part. Setting up the store, building the brand identity, designing and sourcing the products…these were all really enjoyable experiences that we’ve loved.

The challenge is getting sales. I wish I had known how difficult that was going to be and had a better marketing plan and budget set aside to help gain momentum and cut through.

Online retail is so competitive, small brands are competing against multi-million dollar advertising budgets, so you need to really think outside the box to get a sale.

What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business and why?

Yotpo Reviews: Automated follow up to customers asking for reviews. This has been a great way to gather authentic product feedback.

Page Studio: Page builder. This app has been great for building custom landing pages.

Sendle: Integrates with Shopify and automatically aggregates couriers based on price and speed; books and track your parcels.

What theme did you choose for your site and why?

We chose the Prestige theme for it’s clean layout, large images and clear storytelling.

What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow Barrow Watches?

We use Facebook/Instagram ads, blogger outreach and PR to gain awareness and Facebook retargeting and Google Shopping to drive sales.

What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?

We use Instagram and Facebook to harness a community around the slow fashion and mindfulness themes that align with our brand. We want Barrow to be a reminder that it’s your time and to fill that time with things that matter to you.

Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?

We had a positive Christmas period, however we’ve found sales have slowed since the holiday season. We are exploring new avenues and strategies to strengthen sales for 2019.

To what do you attribute those positive metrics?

We advertised heavily in search and Facebook and invested in PR gift lists over the holiday period.

We noticed you are pretty passionate about giving back. Can you tell us a little more about your social impact work and how you chose the particular causes you support?

For every barrow wristwatch purchased, we donate $5 to life-extending research that is helping give the gift of time to people living with cystic fibrosis or gastrointestinal cancer.

As a family business, Barrow reflects what we care most about as individuals. And we are passionate about giving more time to people who really need it.

We’ve chosen to support life-extending research trials for gastrointestinal cancer via GI Cancer Institute because at 42 years old, Daniel’s mother Nina lost her battle to stomach cancer leaving behind a husband and three sons.

The GI Cancer Institute actively runs clinical trials that help real people fighting the disease get access to the most effective treatments.

We’ve also chosen to support Cystic Fibrosis Australia because our two year old nephew was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetically-inherited disease.

People with CF develop an abnormal amount of excessively thick and sticky mucus within the lungs, airways and the digestive system. This causes impairment of the digestive functions of the pancreas and traps bacteria in the lungs resulting in recurrent infections, leading to irreversible damage. Lung failure is the major cause of death for people with CF.

Cystic Fibrosis Australia is striving to extend life expectancy from 37 to 50 years old by 2025.

That’s fantastic. What are you working towards now?

We are focusing more on content marketing and PR to get more brand awareness. We have found word of mouth referrals have been strong, so we are exploring how we can amplify WOM sales.

Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?

For inspiration, we listen to the podcast ‘How I Built This’. For practical insight we also listen to ‘Shopify Masters’. Skillshare has been another great resource to strengthen marketing and storytelling skills.

Based on your own success, what advice would you share with others who might be just starting out with Shopify (or with eCommerce in general)?

Building a brand and having the budget to promote your products is probably the key to success.

Where can we learn more?

Visit us at, find us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram at @shopbarrow.


~ Ruth & Dan, Co-Founders of Barrow Watches

More Interviews!

Shopify case studies in your inbox