The watchmaker’s son

Adina clock and watch making company produce 40,000 watches a year, all assembled by hand. Founded by Rob Menzies in 1971, his son Grant Menzies has now taken the reins and plans to make Adina an iconic Australian brand.

By

Grant Menzies is used to people being surprised when he tells them he works at an Australian watch and clock making company. “The typical reaction is, ‘There’s someone doing that? How is it possible to compete with the foreign brands?’”

Even back in far less globalised 1971, when Menzies’ father Bob launched Adina, making timepieces down under was a left-field gambit. But the recently married 27-year-old was looking to move onwards and upwards from the Brisbane Rolex distributor where he’d done his watchmaking apprenticeship.

“The plan was to import the watch components, for Bob to assemble them into complete watches then sell them!” says Menzies. “Dad’s thinking was that there would always be consumer demand for watches so it would all work out. After a few years of hard graft, things took off when he began producing waterproof ladies’ watches. That was the foundation of what’s now Adina’s signature Oceaneer collection.”

Focusing on Australian-made

Fast forward several decades and Bob is now 73 with his son shouldering a larger role in the business and looking to take it to the next level.

“We produce 40,000 watches a year,” says Menzies. “We have 20 staff, half of whom are watchmakers or watchmakers’ apprentices. We design, then import each of the custom components from factories globally, many also being utilised by the prestigious Swiss brands, before assembling every watch ourselves by hand. The company slogan is ‘Our Country. Our Watch’ and we aim to create timepieces that suit the Australian lifestyle and fashion sense. Our customers tend to be hardcore fans; there are lots of Australians who like the idea of wearing an Australian watch.”

But Adina hasn’t survived for four and a half decades by virtue of patriotic sentiment alone. “The answer to how we’ve created a viable business is that we don’t aim to compete with upmarket Swiss watches or the cheaper Chinese ones,” says Menzies.

“We’ve got a handful of less and more expensive models, but we largely stay in the middle of the market with $250-$350 watches. There is strong competition in that price range, mainly from the Japanese watchmakers. Our customers, however, find it reassuring they can get their watches fixed years down the track.”

Menzies isn’t overly concerned about the threat watchmakers face in a digital age where microwave ovens, mobile phones and computer monitors all display the time.

“You can’t yet strap an iPhone to your wrist and go swimming, surfing or boating,” he says. “It remains the case that a watch is one of the few ways, especially men, can express their personal style. Plus, they are often objects that can have real emotional significance.

Menzies feels strongly that everyone has a watch that’s important to them, whether they inherited it from their grandfather, got it from their parents when they turned 21, or any number of life events could evoke the sentimentality in a particular watch.

“Although smart watches are growing in popularity, traditional timepieces remain in demand,” he says. “For example, we average a grandfather clock sale a week, and we still sell lots of clocks to Queensland government departments and institutions, such as hospitals, as we’ve done for decades.”

Creating sub-brands

Though he and his father “aren’t big on titles”, Grant Menzies has taken charge of the sales and marketing of Adina and is keen to see the company reach its full potential. In 2010, he divided the brand into seven sub-brands to make navigating the broad Adina collection simpler for consumers and retailers alike.

“If someone comes in wanting a watch that looks great, but they can swim in, the salesperson can show them the Oceaneer range,” he explains. “If they want something that won’t look out of place in the boardroom, they can be shown the Kensington range and so on.”

Menzies is currently looking into producing bespoke watches for organisations.

“We’re now forging partnerships that could see Adina creating a special watch for, say, the graduating class at a private school. Or the employees of a company who’ve put in 20 years’ service. That’s not feasible for the bigger brands, but it’s a great opportunity for us.”

Adina already sells into New Zealand, and Menzies is keen to crack other foreign markets and build brand awareness. “We’ve been the quiet achievers up until now,” he says. “We’ve never bothered with advertising or chasing media coverage. But when I’m dad’s age and handing over the reins I’d love Adina to be an iconic Australian brand. I want it to be up there with Vegemite, Akubra and Qantas.”

More from NAB: