Launching a watch store by focusing on brand and customers with James Reeves of Diefendorff (episode 203)

In today’s episode…we’re exploring what it takes to launch a fashion brand, run a one-person eCommerce business, and play to your strengths.

James Reeves is the CEO at Diefendorff, a watch company inspired by the American Revolution. James launched the brand in January 2018, and are experiencing 20-30% monthly traffic growth.

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About the Business

  • Located in Brooklyn NYC
  • Sells globally, but offers free shipping within the United States
  • All watches are assembled by hand in the USA
  • Shopify Platform

How James Got Started

James has always loved watches. In his opinion, watches are one of the few options men have when it comes to accessorizing and displaying personal style.

For James, the gateway into the world of eCommerce came from his professional background as a consultant and in-house employee in the marketing and PR world. James says he got frustrated with, as he puts it, ‘talking about business instead of doing business.’

This conceptual miasma was what inspired him to develop his future business around a physical product. His love for watches ended up making the product decision easy.

James’ background is in marketing, PR and branding with a lot of experience in sustainability that he has leveraged for Diefendorff.

Joking that he knows just enough to be dangerous, James admits that he understood conceptually about analytic tools and the integration of all the important platforms, but had little to no real world experience with them.

listen to find out the one Shopify plugin that James says helps him sleep at night.

About Diefendorff

Located in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn NY, Diefendorff has sold 90%-95% of products online so far with the other percentage being made up in select retailers.

Diefendorff watches are offered globally but focuses sales primarily in the United States where they are able to offer free shipping. James points out that being USA focused makes sense since their brand is built around the American Revolution.

Diefendorff runs on Shopify and uses a variety of plugins including PureChat to engage with customers live and Rewind which backs up the Shopify store daily. Lastly, James says that HindSight is a great plugin that allows business owners to track customer behavior online.

While James is the single employee of the company currently, his partners are a crucial part of his extended team. Most important in that lineup is his USA watch assembly team who have decades of experience in watchbuilding and repair.

James is particularly fond of honest opinions about his product and says that besides the plugin HindSight which allows him to see the Diefendorff site with a fresh perspective, he also actively asks the opinions of people he knows. While most of this comes from reaching out to friends and family, he always makes sure there are some brutally honest opinions in the mix.

Listen to learn what inspired the Diefendorff brand.

Why “Diefendorff”?

James has always loved watches but his other passion is ancestry research. During the course of his genealogical exploration, James discovered that the 200th anniversary of the death of one of his direct descendents fell on his upcoming birthday and also aligned with the business start-up.

A Swiss immigrant who moved to upstate New York, James’ ancestor was a Captain in the Revolutionary War who died in an ambush. The name of this ancestor was Captain Henry Diefendorff. James named the company after him, but also used the time period as a design muse.


Looking critically at the world of watches, James says that he sees two distinct design categories. There are watches that are either very unfamiliar and even hard to tell the time on, and then there are very standard, completely undifferentiated cliches. His hope is that Diefendorff can inhabit the territory between these two categories.


In the ‘AliBaba’ era of products, including a lot of watches, James says that brand has become the most important thing for standing out. More than just a color palette or a nice logo, brand to James is about a bigger host of things including mission, passion and legacy.

Lessons Learned

In his quest to get real world feedback on Diefendorff, James set himself up at a local coffee shop and enticed strangers to have a chat with him in exchange for a gift certificate.

He says that those conversations confirmed the quantitative data he had found. In particular, James pointed out that despite broad generalizations, Millenials are far more interested in purchasing and owning watches than people think.

Growing Fast

It’s hard to ignore how fast Diefendorff is growing.

James has driven a lot of traffic to the site by leveraging his relationships. For behind the screen, ‘introverted’ marketing, he says Pinterest has been a good source of traffic, but Instagram and Adwords provide a lower bounce rate.

Still, he stresses that old fashioned ‘hitting the pavement’ has been one of the best sources of sales. He encourages entrepreneurs to talk to people they don’t know and get engaged in their industry. The most consistent theme that came up was pushing your comfort zone and ‘getting out of your bubble’

eCommerce Book Top Tip

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Classic PR and Media Relations – Creating relationships with reporters virtually and in person

You can hear about all this on the podcast, for free – right now…

Tool Top Tip

  • User Testing to get valuable, real human insight

Growth Top Tip

  • Leverage key media placements, boost, share and promote to get as much growth out of it as possible.

Interview Links

  • Business
  • Use the code MASTERPLAN at checkout to get $50 off any watch.

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