Making it big in motor sport



TW Steel’s watches make a statement you can’t miss

You launch an all-new company in a super-competitive, overcrowded market and need to muscle in fast. How? Stick your logos all over racing cars and circuits, of course. It’s worked for years and, reassuringly, there’s evidence that this simple, tried and trusted method of marking your territory is still effective.

Take TW Steel. The Dutch company specialises in ‘oversized’ watches and was founded from scratch only eight years ago, yet today its name is already firmly established in the minds of those who soak up motor sport, either trackside or on TV.

“It was at an early stage that we first became involved in motor racing,” says chief executive officer Jordy Cobelens, who created TW Steel in partnership with his father Ton in 2005. “Our first market was here in Holland and our distributor made a deal with Tom and Tim Coronel.” The versatile racing brothers have a popular following at home, and soon TW Steel’s double-dot logo could be spotted on both Dakar rally-raids and World Touring Car Championship grids. A campaign in the short-lived A1 GP series, the self-styled ‘World Cup of Motor Sport’, spread the word farther around the globe.

“The synergy was immediately there,” says Cobelens. “At that time our audience was 90 per cent male and motor sport was a perfect fit.”

As usual, though, Formula 1 was the real game-changer. ‘The Watch in Steel’ entered Grand Prix racing as a sponsor of Renault, which then of course morphed into Lotus. “It changed the whole perception of our brand,” says Cobelens. “We were the first company in the oversized market at this price point and the Asian market is especially cautious about taking on new brands, in case they don’t last. But our partners and customers realised that if we were dedicated and committed enough to invest in F1, then we deserved their support.

“We were struggling to establish ourselves in the beginning, but F1 indicated we were a serious player.”

This year, TW Steel has switched its allegiance from Lotus to Silverstone-based Force India. “The decision was made for solid reasons,” says Cobelens. “We had a great few years with Renault and Lotus, but Force India has a focus on Asia at the moment, as do we, and the ‘entertainment’ they bring is also an important factor.”

Along with its sponsorship of Force India, TW Steel has built up an impressively highprofile roster of motor racing ambassadors. Brazilian legend Emerson Fittipaldi sports one of the large timepieces on his wrist, as does five-time 500cc motorcycling world champion and true-grit Aussie Mick Doohan. The Dutch company also appears to be working hard to sew up the Scottish market. David Coulthard and three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti are TW Steel men, too.

“Eight years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that we would have such ambassadors,” says Cobelens, with obvious pride. “If you’d told me who we’d have then, I’d have said you were crazy. It’s all been so fast.

“It’s been one hell of a ride. We started out with a four-model collection and now we have a range of about 140 individual executions, sold in 100 countries worldwide. With Dakar and WTCC, then A1 GP and IndyCar, and now F1… we’ve had a hectic few years. And we’ve still done little more than scratch the surface.”

Cobelens tips us off that an announcement on a new, major global partnership is expected imminently — again, it’s motor sport that’s been chosen to spread the word — and from the tone in his voice one can tell that his sense of anticipation is as large as the watch on his wrist.