The Emergence Of RedBar: A Revealing Conversation With Watch Collector And RedBar Group Founder Adam Craniotes
When it comes to the watch hobby, it’s a fundamental article of faith for me that it’s really all about the people! In my home area of California, in New York, and elsewhere I’ve had the pleasure of joining up with members of RedBar Group, the rapidly expanding global network of watch enthusiasts founded by Adam Craniotes.
Craniotes was kind enough to chat with me about not only the organizational history of RedBar, but also its current and future business models and how he sees RedBar’s place in the world of watch enthusiasm.
GaryG (GG): Let’s start with either the easiest or hardest question: in a few simple words, exactly what is RedBar?
Adam Craniotes (AC): I used to describe RedBar as a means of taking the conversation “offline,” and, if I’m being perfectly honest this still fits. While the internet will always be the engine that moves this hobby forward, it will never be able to match the experience of being able to meet face to face with fellow collectors and getting hands on the hardware.
GG: To many folks, RedBar seems a fairly recent phenomenon, but if I have it straight you actually began with informal get-togethers as long ago as 2007. At what point did the RedBar Crew in New York really begin to take off as a more organized phenomenon and when and how did you decide to take the idea global as RedBar Group?
AC: Yes, that’s true, though even for me it’s hard to believe. Eleven years is a long time no matter how you look at it, yet there are times that it feels as though it were yesterday. Mind you, in the beginning it was just Dr. Jeff (Jeffrey Jacques) and I; it probably took about a year for it to evolve into the regular gatherings that form the blueprint for today.
As for when we decided to “go pro,” that was around 2015. By this point we had a regular following on Instagram, which was the catalyst for the local chapters springing up around the country. After we reached a certain point, we realized that we needed to formalize the process a bit in order to maintain a semblance of control of the monster that we’d inadvertently created.
GG: You were a moderator at TimeZone, so you’re no stranger to the concept of enthusiast communities. It seems that watch enthusiasts still very much want to be part of a community, but that the momentum for meeting that need has shifted away from the forums and toward in-person groups like RedBar. In your view, what accounts for that shift?
AC: That’s a tough one. The forum model was really the only game in town back in the early/mid naughts, and it was fantastic. You see, this was when the internet and technology evolved to the point where we had things like DSL and WiFi, which made communicating and uploading images all but effortless – at least for the times. Remember, you’re talking to someone who remembers having to log into AOL over dial-up to get online!
After this we saw the rise of the blogs, when players like Hodinkee and aBlogtoWatch began to assert themselves as the main outlets for news and repositories of horological knowledge. With this began a gradual shift away from the forums as the primary source of information, but the real nail in the coffin was the arrival of social media and in particular Instagram. Twitter never really took off because in the beginning it was strictly text, whereas watch collecting is an intensely visual pursuit – and a tactile one.
Today, you have the blogs and you have Instagram. You want some in-depth news coverage? Blog. You want to look at watches and interact with fellow collectors at a moment’s notice? IG.
I hate to say it, but nowadays folks don’t want to take the time log onto a website and search for interesting topics when they can simply open an app on their phone. Want to share a pic online? First you need to take it, then you need to upload it to an image-sharing platform, then you need to cut/paste the correct link, and then you need to go back to the forum, paste it, finish your post, and click “submit.”
What once seemed ridiculously easy and convenient now seems convoluted and cumbersome. The same process on your phone takes a fraction of the time. And what’s more, you get almost instant gratification in the form of “likes.”
GG: One of the things I like most about RedBar gatherings is that they are all-comer events, with all sorts of enthusiasts present and a real spirit of inclusion. Within that breadth, though, is there a center of gravity that you see emerging, whether demographic or in terms of interests, among regular RedBar participants?
AC: This is an interesting question. RedBar, by definition, will always be a mirror of sorts to the collector community as a whole. While we eschew the sort of snobbery that that this hobby can breed to a certain extent, whatever’s hot in the greater community will usually find a place within ours; whatever’s not will similarly be sidelined.
As for demographics, we still skew heavily male, though we are actively trying to recruit more women to the cause. This is something that (RedBar CEO) Kathleen McGivney can speak to better than I, though I will say that women remain an underserved group in the watch industry, and it’s the smart brand that begins to place equal emphasis on their needs as collectors.
GG: In a recent piece on Quill & Pad, I talked about the content/commerce/community continuum of collector engagement; for instance, Quill & Pad is very much a content outlet, while Hodinkee has recently skewed heavily to commerce. RedBar clearly started in the community space, but with your blog and limited edition watch and accessory offerings you seem to be expanding. How do you see RedBar evolving within this continuum over time?
AC: When thinking about the future vis a vis RedBar Group, LLC, it’s important to remember that we’re pretty much as organically-driven a professional concern as you could possibly imagine. Hell, we began as nothing more than two guys who shared a common interest, enjoyed having a drink now and then, and were content to meet once a month to talk watches. That was it. There was never any thought of taking it to a larger audience, and yet here we are.
While we are considerably more strategic in our approach toward the future these days, we’re still keeping our ear to the ground so that we can grow in directions that make sense for our members. To this end the blog, Collectors’ Perspective, caters directly to our membership with profiles of fellow collectors and first-person accounts of the events that we throw and the press events that we attend.
You want a technical teardown of an equation of time tourbillon? Go to Quill & Pad. You want to take a walk through the halls of the Palexpo during SIHH and visit the booths and hit the parties afterward? That’s our bailiwick.
AC: And though it’s true that we’ve partnered with a couple of brands to do limited edition watches – most recently with Oris – this isn’t part of our business model. In fact, we use the money generated from these projects for our charitable fund, the not-so-creatively-named RedBar Fund.
Going forward will we come out with more accessories like UV flashlights, watch rolls, and straps? Most definitely. But we’re never going to be selling watches as an online retailer. Frankly speaking, that’s a bridge too far for us.
GG: You seem to be striking a nice balance by providing brands with access to your members through sponsored events at the same time that members benefit from freer access to brand personalities and products. Are you and your team looking for ways to expand this model and are there challenges in generating revenue from the brands while respecting and staying transparent with members?
AC: This is one area where we are actively planning for our future. While events will always be a large part of what we do, we are also looking into expanding our suite of professional offerings to the brands.
Is this challenging? Yes and no. Yes in that there’s always a fine line between giving our members what they want and “selling out.” Our credibility is predicated on the fact that we work with brands that we like and respect, and likewise who our members like and respect. This means that there are times that we have to leave money on the table, but ultimately our reputation is worth more than a quick buck.
GG: One of the cool things about being on forums like PuristS and TimeZone was that it helped me to connect with enthusiasts from around the world, many who became friends I now see on a regular basis. I’ve been to RedBar events in several cities now, and so far it seems to me to be more of a collection of local clubs than a truly global community. Do you think that it will be important to build more direct connections across the RedBar groups, and if so how might that work?
AC: Once we decided to move forward as a professional entity our goal was to unite the disparate chapters and help foster a dialog between them. Our initial idea for a website was built along these lines, but in this one respect our reach exceeded our grasp as the site proved to be too unwieldy and too costly for us bring to fruition.
Instead, we concentrated on growing our chapters – both nationally and internationally – with a view toward bringing them closer together once our revenue allowed us to finally build the interactive online presence that our members deserve. For now our blog is our primary driver for online activity, though this too will continue to evolve.
Now, that’s not to say that there is no communication or interaction between chapters. Indeed, the NYC chapter plays host to members from around the world, and every RedBar member, regardless of their location, is welcome to attend any other RedBar should they find themselves in a host city.
GG: As an amateur watch photographer, I’m of course a big fan of Atom Moore and his macro shooting work. How did Atom get involved with RedBar and is there a favorite “Atom story” to share?
AC: Atom is a singular individual and someone whose skill with the camera as well as his unique appearance have conspired to make him a calling card of sorts for RedBar.
First off, however, you need to know that Atom was a professional photographer long before he became involved with RedBar, which explains in part why he was able to get such great watch pics right off the bat. As for how be became associated with us, I guess you could say that he was part of the deal when Kathleen McGivney came on board – they’re married, after all.
Now, I wanted Kathleen because she’s intelligent, passionate, and brutally efficient – I’m only one of those things. Atom was the cherry on the sundae.
Best Atom story? Hmmmm . . . Probably the first time we attended SIHH and the media liaisons at every single one of our appointments were floored at how quickly and efficiently he set up and got his *amazing* shots with an equipment loadout that was a fraction of what every other media outlet was bringing to bear on the situation. Now they pretty much expect it from him, but it still cracks me up.
GG: As Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Or in your case perhaps your preferences! You’ve now divided labor at the top of RedBar Group, with Kathleen McGivney as CEO. Does this mean that we’ll continue to see you getting out there with RedBar’s members around the world, or are there some other things we should expect?
AC: I love nothing more than getting to meet our members, whether they’re attending our weekly gatherings here in NYC or if I’m in their neck of the woods with a brand in tow. To this end you can continue to expect to see me “on tour” in the coming year, safe in the knowledge that Kathleen is steering the right course at home.
That said, I can’t be everywhere at once. So you will be seeing more of Kathleen out and about as well. To wit, she just returned from England where she attended RedBar events in Edinburgh and London, delivered a lecture at Birmingham City University, and covered SalonQP for us.
As for what else to expect from RedBar in future . . . you’ll just have to wait and see (laughs).