TW Steel are a Dutch watch manufacturer who are known around the world for their involvement in motorsports. The brand had been involved in Formula One for a number of seasons with the Renault F1 Team, the Lotus Renault F1 Team and later the Sahara Force India Formula One Team.
Today, TW Steel work with the FIA World Rally Championship, both a watch supplier and as the sports official time keeping partner. Podium Life caught up with Auke Possel, Senior Marketing Manager with TW Steel.
How did TW Steel get involved with the World Rally Championship? Well, right from the outset, when we started the brand, we have been connected with motorsports. You can almost say that it is in our DNA: roaring engines, oil, petrol, speed, adrenaline. Well, not only petrol, but we also do a lot of stuff with electric modes as well, such as our partnership with Veloce Racing. It’s just part of our DNA. The brand loves it, and everyone associated with it has a soft spot for motorsports. I remember our very first partnership with A1GP, right when we started out, maybe even before we did something with Tom Coronel (Dutch racing driver). Our deal with the Renault F1 Team came out of the Crash gate scandal; they had space. We were only four years old at the time, and many of people around us said we did not have the infrastructure or experience. However, it felt good at the time, and F1 liked us, so why not?
That was really the start to our massive growth. As soon as we became part of it, I remember the first race, they gave us a welcome package deal because they had some space on the car because ING left. They gave it to us, so there was TW Steel branding all over the place. We saw that marketing isn’t actually that complex at times. It is very easy, and we were seen on the cars. In the watch industry a lot of people who didn’t know us were thinking, “They (TW Steel) are something.”
It really helped us to increase our business from operating in 50 countries to 120. So, it was Renault F1, then Lotus Renault F1, and then we did Sahara Force India, Moto GP. DAKAR has been with us for a long time because of the Coronel brothers. You would be hard-pressed to find an international race series we haven’t been a part of, whether it’s F1 watch placement, the Race of Champions, or local racing.
Are there any racing series that you are not currently involved in that you would like to be a part of? Not necessarily, let’s just say we are fans first, everybody likes motorsports, and it just happens that motorsports is good for business. I would say that there are always opportunities. We are always talking to various brands and various race teams and organizations. I would love to go back into F1 and try NASCAR, but obviously there is a place where I have to worry about budgets and make sure that the opportunity is something that we can really maximize going forward. Whenever we partner up with someone it’s more than just a sticker on the car. That is very important to us. There is nothing difficult about having a sticker or a logo on a car or a bike or whatever it may be and sitting back and just letting it happen – that’s not who we are. We always like to maximize it.
Sometimes we look at how far we can go in certain aspects, especially when we are partners with a team, and we have had some instances where we are the timing partner of the series. In this day and age, it has to make sense – especially when you look at content and all the needs and the assets that we need to run our business. We are still talking to F1 teams now, and that is all fine. You also need to have the infrastructure there to push forward. Our business model now is not the same as it was ten years ago, so you have different conversations in order for it to make sense.
What sets TW Steel as a brand out compared to other watch manufacturers? Well, it’s quite simple – we don’t belong to any group. We’re independent and that’s a role that suits us well and allows us to be more flexible. It also gives us the power to do something that feels good, so we don’t have to worry about stakeholders or any different kinds of interests. If it feels good, we, do it. The fact that we are proudly Dutch, not Swiss, gives us a rebellious position in the entire watch space, which is also a role that suits us well.
Obviously, we are not out there to shock anyone, so we are always respectful to everyone. But, we tend to have a different mindset when it comes to activating something or going after partnerships. We want to do something more than the bigger, more well-known watch brands because we are fully aware of who we are and who we are not, and we are fighting against some bigger watch brands everyday. We like to fight. We like to challenge. We never shy away from it, but that also comes with the territory. We know who we are and structurally we have a different mindset.
Talk to me about the World Rally Championship, are you the official timing partner? We were talking with the WRC for seven years, and now we are their official timing and scoring partner. Now, obviously, we are no stranger to rallying because we are with DAKAR so we know what to expect. We had a partnership with Petter Solberg, who is obviously one of the legends, we did Rallycross, and WRX. For me personally, I still remember the very first time I saw WRX; it was really an eye opener. I really loved the style of racing, the way they package it and serve it up to you at the circuit. We opened up talks with the guys who ran WRC and we have a mutual and shared spirit in how we view things. The opportunity opened up, so we joined forces a little more than two years ago. We are proud of our partnership, and we are really excited about the product we are able to offer our fans.
For a WRC fan, is there a particular watch that TW Steel do or that would appeal to them or for the brand generally? I would say both. Obviously, the WRC Collection we have developed with the WRC fan in mind. When it comes to color scheme and certain accents, we put special design elements in the watches.
We just want to show people what we can do and what we actually design. If they come on our website or to any of our stores around the world and they see other time pieces that we have, they can purchase another one of our watches. We have seen that so many times, like when we did something with Valentino Rossi, or when we did something with our custom bikes. You design something with a target audience in mind. Nevertheless, the world has changed so much that some people might say, “I really like that,” and then they discover more of the products that we have. One limited edition that we are proud of is the one we did last year for the fifty-year anniversary of the WRC where we did a very limited run of 50 pieces, and each one is different. So, we had one limited edition watch for every year. They were different in the lower chrono-eye, so in one of the hands we had the year, the model and the color of the championship-winning car, we infused that into the hands of the design. That’s a collector’s item. It is a very nice watch, and it was based on one of our flagship models, a premium one. So that is something that we really enjoy doing and gives something back to fans to enjoy.