Phillip and Jackie Watcher are quite literally married to their work. In 2013, the Cleveland-based duo's love for leather transitioned into a full-time career by launching Fount. For them, the secret to a successful business (and marriage) comes down to one thing -- teamwork.
What was your entrepreneur moment -- when you knew that you wanted to have your own business and it was going to be a success/good decision?
Jackie and I made our first batch of eight or nine bags and signed up for a booth at the Cleveland Flea. We were nervous about how our bags would be received, because they were fairly pricey items for a flea market. To our delight, we ended up selling all the bags we brought with us within the first few hours of the show. After that, we thought, Hmm, this could actually be something. From that moment we started to talk and think about what steps we could take to transition to doing this as a full-time career and start a designer handbag brand made in Cleveland, Ohio.
Why did you choose to work with leather?
We both love good leather! The right leather is buttery to the touch and smells so rich that you often find yourself sniffing your bag. The best thing about leather is that it is durable and meant to last. By using the highest quality of leather available, we are able to provide our customers with a product that is heirloom in quality and timeless in design. We also love leather because it is durable and long-lasting. One of our biggest passions has become striving to live a more sustainable lifestyle. We live in a time where people have gotten so used to disposable fashion and goods, folks generally don't expect their purchases to last more than a few seasons. However, we have realized that if we make intentional purchases that are quality and ethically made, we can cut down on the waste that we produce and have pieces that we truly enjoy for years to come. This lifestyle is the essence of Fount.
How have you competed with others in the marketplace, knowing that leather is a saturated market?
It is definitely a saturated marketplace, particularly with bags that are made overseas. The way that we stand out and are different than our competitors is that we design, cut, and sew our bags here in the USA from the highest quality of leather and hardware, providing our customers with a product that is ethically made and will stand the test of time. We get lots of requests from boutiques across the country to carry our bags, but by selling directly to our customers we cut out the middle man and can sell our clients our high-end products at a cost that rivals those of our competitors who are producing their bags overseas out of lower-grade materials.
Do you have a great piece of equipment that you couldn't live without?
Yes! Our first big purchase for Fount was a massive 15-ton clicker press that we named Ferdinand the Bull. With this beast of a machine, we are able to punch out our pattern pieces with metal patterns that we have had made for each design south of Cleveland in Amish Country, saving unbelievable amounts of time and making every pattern piece precise. Prior to purchasing our clicker press, we were hand hammering 510 holes per Bellfield tote, which took over three hours per set of straps to punch the holes alone.
What was the biggest surprise when you started your business?
Just four months into starting Fount we got an e-mail from Country Living Magazine, asking us to overnight them a few of our bags to feature in a makers article. At this point, the company consisted of Phillip and me (Jackie) making bags in the spare bedroom of our apartment in the wee hours of the night after our day jobs. When the magazine hit the stands we were so excited to move into a larger space and hire our first four employees to keep up with the new level of volume. It was at this point that we knew if we worked hard and stuck with it, Fount could become something substantial that would not only provide our clients with bags that they could be proud of, but that we could have a significant role in bringing the production of quality goods back to the USA, and furthermore to Cleveland, a city that was formerly a key player in the garment and accessory manufacturing industry.
Do you have a mentor? If so, who?
Two of our biggest mentors have been Jackie's parents. They started a business from the ground up when they first got married 36 years ago, and they have been an unbelievable source of wisdom, knowledge, and encouragement to keep on pushing through our obstacles and making wise choices for the future of Fount.
What's the hardest part about being an entrepreneur/starting your own business?
One thing that we actively try to constantly do is stay positive and proactive. It is really easy to become intimidated by competition and discouraged by plans that didn't come to fruition, but we have faith that we have made it this far for a reason. We find it helps to remind ourselves of our ultimate goal to be leaders in bringing high-end fashion production back to the USA.
Do you have one single tip for success? What's the one characteristic someone needs?
Make goals and active plans on how to reach those goals. If you have a list of steps you need to take to become the company you want to be, you simply need to keep to the plan and chip away at your list day by day. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to think about where you want the company to end up ultimately, but by creating very intentional daily, monthly, seasonal, annual, and five-year goals, it becomes manageable.
Also, we have seen how important it is to recognize the strengths of our different team members and allow them to have leadership roles in different areas where they shine.
Complete this sentence: I can't work without …
We can't work without each other to bounce ideas off of. One of our favorite parts about Fount is that we get to work together and with an unbelievable team of artists and makers. We feel so lucky to have the team that we have because each of our employees has a different strength and dynamic that they bring to the team to make us better and more effective as a group than we are as individuals.