Interview with Chloe Read, Co-Founder of Newgate, UK

Jim and Chloe Read have been navigating the rocky road to entrepreneurial success for near to three decades now. The husband-and-wife team founded their business Newgate in their early twenties and in parallel to building it into a global brand, built their marriage and family.

Today, Newgate designs and manufactures clocks and watches for customers all over the world. Having been kicked out of art school in his youth for ‘not fitting the mould’, Jim is still the shaping force behind Newgate’s product development from initial sketch through to finished design. Chloe is Newgate’s Sales Director and looks after the business operation side of the organisation.

Tharawat Magazine sat down with Chloe Read to discuss her and Jim’s entrepreneurial journey, what goes into being a successful husband and wife team at work and at home and what the future has in store for Newgate Clocks. 

How was the idea for Newgate born?

We started our business when we were both very, very young. Back in 1990. Jim was kicked out of art college and I dropped out of my business program at University, much to my parents’ dismay. We decided that we wanted to make something that would take us out of our home town. Being quite young and probably a little bit naïve, we went off and bought ourselves some equipment and made some picture frames.

Newgate Putney Wall Clock, courtesy of Newgate
Newgate Putney Wall Clock, courtesy of Newgate

We did our first show in Harrogate and got a few thousand pounds worth of orders. Both of us had day jobs, we worked in a shop earning 20 pounds a day. And at night time we would go back to our flat, make the products and ship them out. We did that for probably about 18 months, and then we had to give up our day-jobs.

It wasn’t smooth sailing from day one. There were times when we would look at each other and ask, “Oh, should we just drop this and get proper jobs?” But I think we just hit a time in our lives where we caught a few lucky breaks, and we invested a lot of hard work and determination. And suddenly, we just started to do really, really well. We were able to put the money back into Newgate. We invested into more staff, better premises and made better products. And then it carried on.

Do you remember a crucial moment when things turned around for you?

There was a massive moment, actually. We had a consignment that we were sending to America through a big mail order company. We had been waiting all day for some components to come in from Italy. The components turned up at the last hour and the container was waiting to ship. So, we had to get all our friends and family to come and help us assemble these clocks. And it was a bit of a nightmare, but we did it.

Then a few months down the line, disaster struck: Because we had done this shipment late at night, nothing had been set and glued properly. Everything was still wet. So, the clocks all started to fall apart. We sat there and said, “Right. We’re either going to take this business really seriously, grow up, face up to the issue and deal with it, or we’re just going to run away and hide and get on with other stuff.” So, it was a huge turning point and a massive learning curve. But we faced it, head on, dealt with it and came through much better for it.

Newgate at Baselworld, courtesy of Newgate
Newgate at Baselworld, courtesy of Newgate

What were other conscious turning points for the business that you remember?

We used to make everything in the UK using local subcontractors to make components for us. And then I think about 15 years ago we had to move production to China because we were getting left behind with pricing.

So, that was quite a different thing to do because we had to take that over to China and educate our factories on how we wanted things to be done. But, it enabled us to actually produce a larger product range.

Tell us a little bit more about the design philosophy behind it. How has it evolved over the last 28 years?

Jim creates really crazy, wonderful and different stuff. I suppose the whole DNA of Newgate and our design personality comes from Jim. I mean, everything that we do is basically conceived by Jim. You can see his touch even in our own home.

We use our home a lot for press and publicity and it represents our lifestyle. That’s what Newgate’s about. We design product that we would like to surround ourselves with. And we hope that other people also want to do that.

He’s never really one to look at trends or what other people are doing. It puts him off his own creativity. He just designs what he likes, and what he hopes that other people will like. With clocks, for instance. we have had people try to emulate what we do. But there’s just a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ that goes into everything that you can’t imitate.

Newgate Giant Electric Wall Clock, courtesy of Newgate
Newgate Giant Electric Wall Clock, courtesy of Newgate

How did you navigate that incredible up and down journey that is entrepreneurship in parallel to the incredible up and down journey that is marriage and parenthood?

I think, actually, running a business together has kept us married. Some couples I think come home from work, they’ve both had their different days, and they probably don’t discuss work.

But with Jim and I, we go to work together, we’re talking about work. We don’t actually see each other much at work because we’re in different areas of the building. But, we do have meetings. When we come home, we’re talking about work. Weekends, we’re talking about work.

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But, we’re talking about it because we’re into it. It’s our baby, I guess. It’s our lives. So, I suppose if anything, it’s probably kept us together because we’ve got this shared interest. It’s a massive shared passion.

There are an awful lot of people over the years that do say, “How have you managed to work together and stay married?” My parents were self-employed. They worked together. Jim’s parents were self-employed. They worked together. So, I guess that helps.

How do you deal with conflict?

We will have meetings at work where we disagree. But we don’t have public spats. We might sometimes bicker a little bit. But I think if you asked anyone that works for us, they’d all confirm that we get on amazingly well.

As I say, it’s the norm for us. There are days when we do come home and it’s like, “You’re really annoying today. Wish you hadn’t have done that. Shouldn’t have made that decision.” But, to be fair, it’s rare. We’ve been together for quite a long time. And we both may not have said this five years into our business. But, I think after 28 years, we’ve worked it all out.

Chloe and Jim Read, Co-Founders of Newgate, courtesy of Newgate
Chloe and Jim Read, Co-Founders of Newgate, courtesy of Newgate

So what did you get right where others went wrong?

I think sometimes it goes wrong when the business struggles. I think that can put huge pressure on a relationship. And then when you go home, it’s all very negative. I’ve seen people split up because of those pressures. From my own experience and my own advice, I think you’ve just got to make sure you work together, and you listen to each other. And you’re both on the same page. And don’t work against each other.

I think that’s probably the thing Jim and I have always tried to do. To be each other’s sounding board.

What’s your future vision for Newgate?

Good question. Because I haven’t actually thought that one through, myself. We do obviously have the next generation coming along, which would be our three children. And our oldest one now is 15 and is very design oriented like her Dad.

But, we obviously don’t want to be working too hard for the rest of our lives. We feel like we’ve certainly earned our stripes. It’s lovely when we travel around and we see our clocks hanging on people’s walls. And I guess now the next ambition is to travel around and see people wearing our watches on their wrists.

I hope, will carry on and survive and be here for another 30 years. We just don’t know. The world is changing very, very fast. We may not have clocks on our walls in ten years time. But, I would hope that we still have watches to wear. And maybe with the assistance of our children coming in and taking the business on, we may evolve into other products as well.