Pilot Glynn Barker on launching a watch brand

The best person to advise on an aviation watch is a real life pilot, which is exactly why serving commercial airline pilot and watch fan Glynn Barker set up his own brand. After a successful stint only selling his creations to fellow pilots he is now ready to take Axion to the wider market through wholesale channels. He speaks to Rachael Taylor about why his watches are more relevant for modern pilots than the big brands’ and getting Axion ready for takeoff.

WatchPro: What made you want to start the brand?
Glynn Barker: I have always been interested in watches and the mechanics involved in making fine watches. As a child I remember taking one of my father’s watches to pieces to see how it worked. He wasn’t best pleased. Before my career in aviation I was an engineer so my engineering background now continues with my passion in watches. I also believe there is a gap in the market for a brand that designs watches for professional commercial pilots who need functionality that is of use in a modern computer-laden flight deck.

WP: What do real pilots want from a watch?
GB: Real pilots are firstly nothing like the image portrayed by some of the existing bigger watch brands that still tend to portray pilots as some kind of Charlton Heston hero type of figure who wrestle stricken aircraft from imminent danger. Real pilots fly modern safe aircraft that are awash with high-end technology and therefore we don’t need a watch that can tell us how high we are, or how fast we are going, or what time to the next waypoint. I, as a pilot of my airbus A320, want a watch that firstly looks fantastic, is of high quality, is reliable and lets me see the time in two zones simultaneously. All Axion watches allow you to tell the time in local and GMT so that we are never late for reporting for duty but also know what time to meet our colleagues when down route. We also added SuperLuminova to our product because flight decks are dimly lit places at night so having a highly visible dial is a bonus.

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WP: What do your pilot friends thinks of your venture?
GB: All my friends and colleagues think the idea is fantastic and have been very supportive of my project. We did an exhaustive research study of working pilots from all sectors – short haul, long haul, jet, turboprop – before working on the design of our product. My own airline wanted to initially sell the product on board but we soon realised that the price point of a luxury Swiss-made watch was too high for this market and I did not want Axion to be a Far East fashion brand.

WP: Tell us about the products you will be launching.
GB: Our product range is initially four men’s watches and one ladies’ watch. The gentleman have a choice of round or square cases and a choice of a black-on-white dial or white-on-black dial. All have sapphire crystal, are waterproof to either 50m or 100m and have Swiss Ronda or ETA movements. The ladies’ version is in white and has a beautiful mother of pearl dial showing the second time zone around the centre point. We are just about to bring out a new version with a black PVD case with the highest level yellow SuperLuminova on the dial creating the classic yellow and black colour combination. Finally, next year’s model is being developed with an analogue digital movement.

WP: Where are you getting your watches made and who is designing them?
GB: Axion watches are made by an existing Swiss manufacturer that has two highly regarded brands of its own. Whilst all the manufacturers I spoke to said they could make my watches, most of them put prohibitive pre-production costs on and stated minimum orders in the 1,000s. The manufacturer I chose was so impressed with my designs and concept they waived the up-front charges and I knew from that point Axion was on its way. To answer the second question, all you see before you is the result of my own creativity and design skills.

WP: How have you been selling Axion watches to date? And how do you plan to go forward with distribution?
GB: Axion watches were available on the website axionwatches.com initially but I have heard this week from some pilot apparel stores that now want to stock the item so we will be available through third-party stores very shortly. I am so convinced of the product and the brand that I would love to have them in high street jewellery stores competing with the other Swiss brands. We have just given the branding work to Haigh Thornley Design and we are very excited about the work and the concept they have come up with.

WP: You have been advertising for working pilots to be your sales agents. Why is this?
GB: As a small brand I have to create my own routes to market and initially my target market is working airline pilots. If I can get my brand to be the chosen watch of working commercial airline pilots then that sets us on the way to establish the brand. Having pilots showing the product to other pilots is a way to increase that.

WP: What sort of marketing activities have you been employing to push the brand?
GB: We advertise in some pilot magazines and once the brand work is complete I expect that to increase. We have also realised the potential of social media as marketing tool so we are taking on staff to increase that aspect.

WP: What challenges does the aviation watch market face in the UK?
GB: The aviation watch market in the UK does not have any particular difficulties in the future. Aviation as an industry is very robust in the UK and the number of pilots is still increasing. The salaries paid put pilots in the higher end of the socio-economic groups and they have a natural affinity to having a watch as it is deemed part of the pilot toolkit. We believe Axion has a great future by keeping the core product relevant to the customer and within a sensible price range for an everyday wear-at-work timepiece.

WP: Are there any underdeveloped opportunities for aviation watches in the UK?
GB: Yes, we believe there are and Axion is in a great place to develop a product to answer those questions. So watch this space.

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of WatchPro. To read a digital version of the magazine in full online, click here.

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