DTC Seller of Apple Watch Bands Soars from College Project
Braxton Manley was a sophomore at Texas Tech University in 2017 when he attended a workshop on entrepreneurship. The purpose was to conceive a product based on market research. “My thought was cool Apple Watch rings,” Manley told me. “It […]
Braxton Manley was a sophomore at Texas Tech University in 2017 when he attended a workshop on entrepreneurship. The purpose was to conceive a product based on market research.
“My thought was cool Apple Watch rings,” Manley told me. “It was the first generation of Apple Watches. Apple made the watch to have interchangeable bands. Only standard bands — black, brown, silver — were on the market. I saw it as an opportunity to get creative.”
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Manley’s idea garnered a $5,000 grant from the university. Fast forward to 2021 and his firm, Braxley Bands, is a direct-to-consumer vendor of elastic, vibrant bands in eight dimensions and 25 or more layouts. Sales have soared.
I recently spoke with him how it all began, how he handles surging demand, and much more.
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Our whole audio dialog is embedded below. The transcript that follows is edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Braxley Bands has among the coolest-looking Sites. It is like 80s vintage.
Braxton Manley: It is supposed to evoke a retro thing. We began on Wix. It was the cheapest alternative. We did not know anything about ecommerce. We designed our own website there, and it has evolved through the years. But we have always maintained the lively, colorful theme.
We are on Shopify Plus now. We worked with Gas Created , the development company, to personalize it.
Bandholz: You get a excellent story.
Manley: I was a sophomore at Texas Tech in 2017. I attended a program there called 3 Day Startup, which is a weekend workshop to learn about entrepreneurship — create an idea, research the current market, and think of a viable product. You then pitch to investors on this Sunday.
My thought was cool Apple Watch bands. It was the first generation of Apple Watches. Apple made the watch to have interchangeable bands. Users can swap the rings in three, four seconds. But just standard bands — black, brown, silver — were on the market. I saw it as an opportunity to get creative. I went through that workshop and developed the product.
The title Braxley Bands wasn’t my idea. I assumed we’d come up with something better. Then it got too late, and we just ran with it. “Braxley” is a combination of my first and last names.
After that course project, I got together with my friend Grant, who I met on campus. He’d taken a sewing class in high school to meet women. He was a sewing expert. I was trying to determine how to sew jeans, which we had been using to make the rings.
He was a magician in my sewing machine. I had borrowed it from my grandma. So Grant and I partnered up. We began selling them through Venmo to our friends at Texas Tech. We spent $20 on socks. We purchased the metal parts on eBay.
Bandholz: Socks, as in off the shelf?
Manley: Yes. Socks with cool patterns which were thick — only the team [upper] part. Finally we transitioned to a much better substance, a woven polyester that is sturdy and flexible yet machine washable. Our rings are elastic and pliable, which makes it effortless to move the eye on a wrist. Additionally, we can print on the material with all sorts of cool patterns.
We now have a good deal of SKUs. We had four dimensions. Then Apple made our lives difficult by coming out with two watch measurements. So we’ve got eight sizes of rings with 25 to 35 layouts. That computes to a lot of SKUs.
Managing the inventory is catchy. There are months when a favorite style or size is going to be sold out. I’m learning.
Bandholz: Your company achieved early grip. Did you remain in college?
Manley: Yes. There is this romanticized notion about entrepreneurs falling out. But universities are catching on. They are actually enabling students to be entrepreneurs. Texas Tech was great in that way. It created a type of incubator known as the Innovation Hub. That is where it hosted this weekend .
Going to college and staying in college, though we had a flourishing business, was the best thing we could have done because it gave us an office. We won a $5,000 grant early on throughout the college, which generated great media coverage. I don’t believe we might have succeeded if we weren’t in a university.
Bandholz: What happened to all the men and women who worked on the job?
Manley: We just parted ways. I was taking it quite seriously. It was my fantasy. It ended up just being me. Grant came later. He wasn’t part of the original job, but we partnered up.
We just hired my younger brother, Zach, to take on several roles. He’s a numbers man. I am more creative. So we balance each other out.
Bandholz: How are you guys divvying up the work and evolving the product?
Manley: Grant is focused on now. I am focused on tomorrow. Grant deals with customer service, fulfillment, and advertising. I’m addressing the creative side and stock: the new layouts, the supply chain, ensuring we have enough merchandise coming in.
The product has remained largely the same as we launched. We are getting amazing reviews where people are amazed by how much better our circles are. We see no need to alter them.
But we expect to evolve the business by designing extraordinary elastic products. We’ve got two things from the prototype phase at the moment. One is a utility belt — essentially to match the ring. The idea is to apply an elastic waistband to any pair of trousers.
Also, hats. Fitted hats are comfortable, but they do not look that great. So we are combining the conventional snapback design with fitted elastic.
These are two things we expect to launch from the autumn of 2021.
However, the Apple Watch band market is enormous. It is the hottest watch in the world in terms of units sold. The excellent thing about our rings is people often purchase a dozen styles for various outfits and uses. We have not reached our adulthood with the Apple Watch bands.
Bandholz: How are you acquiring customers?
Manley: It is always evolving. Snapchat is doing the best as far as advertising. Snapchat is amazing for all of us. It is the product-market fit. We are really popular among younger adults, although grandmas love our rings, too. Snapchat is your number one app for people in high school and college.
Bandholz: Walk me through advertisements on Snapchat.
Manley: It comes down to understanding how short an attention span is. The advertisements are product-focused images. The one which works the best for us is a ring on a spinning lightbox, close up. You can see the fine feel of this ring, which is spinning very slowly. We’ve got cool music supporting it. We list a few important features, such as”Machine washable, lightweight, 30 designs, 1 band sold is 1 tree planted.” Or,”Watch band of the future” The important thing is to keep it simple.
When they click on the advertisement, users visit our home page, although we are working on landing pages.
We are seeing a 5-times return on ad spend.
Bandholz: Is Snapchat better than TikTok?
Manley: TikTok is another . Both are far more popular than Instagram and Twitter. Younger children message on Snapchat. They do not even use Apple’s iMessage.
TikTok is pretty great for us, mainly via organic posts. We are not advertising there yet because the targeting is not great. We must target Apple Watch users. It’s hard to find that market, particularly on TikTok.
Butagain, organic TikTok is terrific. We recently posted two movies. One of these has over 250,000 viewpoints in roughly 1 week. We feature our best sales day since Black Friday to this movie.
Our TikTok videos are simple. Nothing fancy. We make them seem real and casual. It took me 15 minutes to create one. I said something like,”Hey, I am going to show you a game-changer for your Apple Watch.” I then took a shot at my wrist and talked for about 30 seconds about why the bands are terrific. Simple.
Bandholz: Can you market on Amazon?
Manley: No, I am an anti-Amazon man, as you’re . You’ve got to have the relationship. We have thought about it, but it does not feel right. We’ve had such great sales on our own site that we can barely keep things in stock.
Nobody buys on Amazon due to the brand; it is due to the price and the reviews. Buyers don’t have any idea who made it or the story behind it. You can build an extremely profitable business without touching Amazon. You don’t need to be there.
Bandholz: Your rings are made in China.
Manley: Yes. It is a touchy subject since we used to create them in Austin. I would like to create them in Austin or the U.S.. But we had a good deal of quality problems here.
The quality coming from China is far better. So is your communication, ironically. We found a fantastic factory. We have been working with these people for around three decades.
Bandholz: Have you gone to China?
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