Independent Insights with: Travis Mickel, COCAB Facebook Group
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
In this column, we interview brand-owners and creators in the independent watchmaking scene to learn about the people behind the brand, and the reasons why they do the things they do.
Through these conversations, we hope for readers to discover that a brand is beyond just the sum of its products, and explore the depth of thinking that goes into shaping a brand.
This, we believe, will truly elevate the consumer experience, and redefine the way we enjoy a brand's products.
Schedule: Bi-monthly, or as our schedule permits
Travis Mickel, Founder of Watch Collectors of California and Beyond (COCAB) Facebook Group
In this instalment of Independent Insights, we interview Travis Mickel, the founder of the COCAB Facebook Group. We first got invited to join the COCAB group late last year by Travis, and we are grateful for the opportunity to present the Constellar Starseeker to the members of the group then. We are also honoured to have been interviewed by Travis in one of the “Maker’s Monday” columns of COCAB. It was in fact the very first interview we participated in, and it gave us a good sense of how we can position ourselves better to represent the Constellar brand. If you are looking for a fun, dynamic forum to discuss all things watches, you’ll surely find yourself right at home in COCAB. Check out the link below to join the group:
And without further ado, here’s Travis Mickel from COCAB!
Part 1. – Introducing Travis Mickel
Constellar: It’s great to have a Watch Group Founder here with us today. Please tell us more about yourself Travis, and what you do for a living.
Travis: Hi, I am Travis Mickel. I am a Regional Manager for a large pest control company and I love my job. If anyone is looking for a great career, we are always looking to bring on board fantastic people. I am fortunate to be able to wear any watch any day as my profession does not really influence my choice of watches.
I have been married to my wife, Rachael, for 26 years, and have 3 kids that I love so much. I try to live a Christian life and I am blessed. I also have two Facebook Groups that I love - a Placer County CA Hiking, and Watch Collectors Of California And Beyond (COCAB).
C: That’s a great introduction for a start Travis. What about your hobbies besides watch collecting?
Travis: Running COCAB and Placer County CA Hiking are definitely considered to be fun hobbies for me. Besides watch-collecting, I also love to hike, and I hike at least 10 miles each week. I also do like to write, and I am very interested in the principles of leadership and sharing leadership principles to help people make their lives better.
C: How would you define your version of an ideal watch?
The Bulova Accutron 26E05 - Travis’ favourite watch in his collection
Travis: I like almost all watches, which has resulted in me having a very large collection of all sorts. In order of preference, I like automatic watches, mechanical watches, meca-quartz, and quartz watches. I prefer watches sized 38-44 mm, but love vintage pieces too, so I often wear watches smaller than 38mm. At this point, I am always looking for the next unique watch, whether that is because of its back-story, particular designs or features of the watch itself.
C: We also noticed that you have a really wide genre of watches in your collection. We are curious to know if you have a favourite genre of watches?
Travis: I generally love all genres of watches, which has resulted in me owning far too many. At this point of my watch collecting journey, I have to draw the line somewhere, and I try to always sell or trade a watch for every new watch purchased. I currently have a 6 foot tall dresser, a 3 ½ foot tall jewelry box, and another 3 ½ foot tall storage display, all filled with watches, with the remaining watches stored all over the place.
In particular, I love classic and vintage watches that are made in America. One example of such will be Timex. I also love Microbrands, with Greg Stevens Design being one of my favorite Microbrands.
Travis’ SOTC - all carefully stowed away in these watch “boxes”
C: How would you describe your watch-collecting journey? Everyone starts out differently and has such a story to share, and we are interested to know yours.
Travis: I have always loved watches since I was a little. Back then we were very poor, so I was unable to have a watch. Even if I did, it was one I found at a yard sale for a quarter or so. As I became more financially stable, I began to get more invested in watches. My wife got me my favorite watch of all in 2005 to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary - a Bulova Accutron 26E05. It was the catalyst that got me into watch collecting.
I was unaware of the world of Microbrands until a few years back, with my purchases prior being cool watches from major brands that everyone has heard of. However, with the discovery of Microbrands, I have bought almost exclusively them, and have also focused on vintage watches.
I do not have an ideal state of the collection, but my ideal collection will definitely include a Panerai which is my dream watch. I have around 300 watches in my collection, with around 25% or so from Microbrands. I buy watches for the story, as well as for the watch itself as I work to be more purposeful and intentional about my purchases. For instance, I love the new SEO Roadster from Nathan Trafford, and the story that comes with the watch. I also love brand owner stories, and try to highlight them through a brand owner interview each Monday.
C: That is an amazing collection of watches! We’re sure that each and every one of them is significant to you. What are your top 3, all time favourite watches in your collection thus far, and why?
Travis: My absolute favorite is the Bulova Accutron 26E05 that my wife got for me for our 10th anniversary. It was the only watch I wore for many years, and I wore it doing everything. In fact, I liked it so much that I bought one for my son and my dad, so all 3 of us have identical watches. I also have 2 extra, just in case anything happens to mine and parts are unavailable. Yes, I know that may sound extreme.
My second favorite watch is the Graham Chronofighter. A fellow watch collector at work has a friend that was able to get me a great deal on it, and I just love it. I love the history of Graham and the large stopwatch lever you can use with your right hand to time people and events.
There is a four-way tie for third place: K Grun & Sohne Submersible, Red 1970 Timing Fork Accutron, 1957 Rolex, and the Pontvs Marino that my wife got me last Christmas. To me, each one is different and unique in its own way. I typically wear my Accutron 26E05 the most, with it in rotation at least once a week. I probably wear the others once a month or so.
Travis’ top 3 (or 6!) watches in his collection
C: With so many watches in your collection, how do you decide the watch-of-the-day? We already have such a tough time making that big decision at the start of our day.
Travis: In COCAB, we have specific themes for most days of the week. Maker’s Monday is for Microbrands, Two-Watch Tuesday is the day to wear two different watches in the same day - I try to wear two watches from the same brand, Whatever Watch Wednesday is for cheaper priced watches, Throwback Thursday is for vintage watches, and Favourites Friday is when we wear one of our favorite watches. Beyond that, I try to keep mental tabs and rotate through my collection, often only wearing a watch once or twice a year.
I generally try to pair the watch with my outfit, though those that see my daily watch pics might disagree. However, a tip shared by a watch collector whom I had worked with to put the watch on first and then choose what to wear made the process much easier after doing it for some time.
Travis’ first Microbrand watch - the Greg Stevens Design GSD-1
C: That is certainly good advice! What is your opinion on purchasing crowdfunded/pre-order watches?
Travis: I have done it many times with great success. I greatly respect people like Brad McCallister of Mitchell Timepieces, as makes quality watches and that he self-funds all of his collection. However, I also understand that not everyone is able or willing to undertake this risk. To date, the most memorable crowdfunded watch is probably the Luna Dude watch. It is a watch that I am really looking forward to.
It is my intention to have COCAB support Microbrands. I am a big believer in small businesses, and I am always excited to learn more about new Microbrands and their owners through my weekly Brand Owner Interviews. In fact, I believe we did one last December with Constellar, if I remember correctly.
C: We did! It was the first time we were interviewed and it was such an eye-opener for us! We are grateful to have had the opportunity to be interviewed by you.
Part 2. Watch Group Admin Insights
COCAB Facebook Group
Constellar: Tell us more about the Watch Collectors of California and Beyond (COCAB) facebook group.
Travis: I started the Facebook group for three main reasons. Firstly, I saw that most groups have great people in them. Unfortunately, many also have some watch snobs that are allowed to go unchecked with the joy of many collectors smothered by rude comments from those that seem to find their self-worth from how much their watch costs. Secondly, I have also seen the opposite where people with really nice and expensive watches were not comfortable with posting because of the rude comments that they might get. Thirdly, I saw that many watch groups just had too many rules. I am part of over 100 groups and will sometimes get in trouble for my posts because it goes against some rule or another. For my group, I did so with some basic rules - be nice, and do not post fake watches.
COCAB is a very fun, supportive, active and engaged group. I wanted a group where everyone felt welcomed and would be positive and encouraging to each other. If you look at the number of posts and comments in COCAB, compared to the group size, you will see just how involved and awesome the people in the group are.
C: We love the effort that you put in to create that inclusive culture! What about your goals, and what do you hope to achieve with the Facebook group?
Travis: As my Facebook group started to grow, I could start something to make a positive difference for the Microbrand owners. That was how Maker’s Monday was started, to encourage everyone to wear a Microbrand Watch, and for me to post an interview with a Microbrand Owner. And if I had one of their watches, I would wear it that day.
The group members would have learnt about a lot of watches that they may not have known otherwise. And, as mentioned above, I hope to accomplish having the group be a fun, positive place where all watches are welcome and appreciated.
C: We love the brand owner interviews you’re conducting in COCAB through Maker’s Monday, tell us more about Maker’s Monday.
Travis: On Maker’s Monday, we encourage everyone to wear a Microbrand watch that day, and to share why they like it. In addition to that, I will also post a Maker’s Monday Interview at 10:10am each Monday. It typically includes around 10 questions, lots of pictures, a link to the brand website, and a link to the Kickstarter if there is one. Sometimes we will also have group discounts, if the brand owner wants to do that.
As a businessman, I know how hard it can be to run a small business, with brand awareness being one of the biggest hurdles. As an avid watch collector, I personally find it exciting to find out about new brand owners and their projects. And Maker’s Monday Interviews was a way to build awareness for the brands, and for me to learn more about them.
The most memorable Maker’s Monday interview thus far is probably my interview with Greg Stevens of Greg Stevens Design. It was my first interview, and I really did not know what to expect. He is someone whom I have known for a long time, and he produces fantastic watches and incredible handmade leather straps. I was so thankful that he agreed, and having done this, it gave me the courage to reach out to others.
C: What are the inspirations for the daily themes of COCAB? We’d love to hear the stories behind these fun and quirky themes!
Travis: I thought that it would be fun to have theme days. Of course, group members can still post any watch at any time. But by having themes, I feel that it allows us to have fun watching what everyone else posts for that day.
Contribution by Brad Mccallister - Mitchell Timepieces B2 for Maker’s Monday
Maker’s Monday was discussed pretty thoroughly earlier. Two Watch Tuesday was inspired by group member AJ Klein, who wears two watches every day, with one on each wrist. I thought it would be fun to encourage that, or to just have group members wear one watch in the morning and a possibly related watch in the afternoon or evening.
Contribution by AJ Klein for Two Watch Tuesday
Whatever Watch Wednesday is a day set aside for any watch that you want to wear. It ranges from the USD $9 Wal-Mart timepieces to the USD $9k really special watch.
Contribution by Travis Mickel for Whatever Watch Wednesday
Throwback Thursday is for vintage watches. Personally, I love vintage and many people in my group do as well. We have some amazing vintage watches posted regularly, and I thought it would be fun to have a day centered around vintage watches.
Contribution by Scott Keith for Throwback Thursday
As for Favorites Friday, it is exciting to see everyone’s favorite watch, as well as hear the story behind it, so I thought having a day set aside for it would prove entertaining and educational.
Contribution by Robert Newton for Favorites Friday
Lastly for Sale or Trade Saturday, this is the day where we have a dedicated post every Saturday morning at 10:10 for everyone to post the watches that they have for sale on this one post. In general, members can post a watch for sale on any day in COCAB, and they are also free to create their own.
Contribution by Luis Lo for Sale or Trade Saturday
C: We find that these themes really give group members an opportunity to participate. Tell us what one will expect as a Facebook Group founder with COCAB in specific on a day to day basis.
Travis: I try hard to be active in my group, but during the work day, I am not typically available, except before work and at lunch. I post my own watch-of-the-day pics every morning, comment on as many posts of others that I can, and do what I can to foster the great vibes that are in the group. I am thankful for the many great members that will tag me in any inappropriate posts so that I can handle them individually.
As a group founder, I have to post routinely and ensure that the group is moderated well. I also encourage positive participation, and invite select individuals that will be positive contributors.
C: Do you have any insights to share with our audience on how you grow and maintain the group?
Travis: I look for positive people in the watch world and I invite them to COCAB. I have been very purposeful and intentional about inviting positive contributors, and it has paid off. I encourage these positive contributors to invite other quality contributors. I do not allow snobbery or unnecessary meanness in the group.
C: Given the rapid pace of growth of the group, are there any plans for events to be hosted by COCAB in the future? Maybe a COCAB event in the near future?
Travis: Yes! We are planning on having an in-person meetup once COVID restrictions are loosened. This would be a time when those local to Northern CA would meet and share their favorite watches with each other.
C: How will you describe the culture of the COCAB community? Was it difficult to build this culture?
Travis: Positive, encouraging, and educational. It is really not that hard to build a group culture. I have had to weed out a few bad apples, but honestly not very many. I am so thankful for the great members we have and I am glad I was selective about who I have invited, because now the culture is built and maintained by the entire group, and not just me.
C: How do you typically market COCAB to encourage enthusiasts to join the group? For example, how do you headhunt quality enthusiasts?
Travis: While dealing personally with another watch collector through buying or selling a watch, if he or she is a stand-up person, I will invite them into the group. And if I see positive promoters in other groups, I may invite them as well. I typically invite most brand owners when I see them. I also encourage current members to reach out to quality watch collectors and enthusiasts they know and invite them.
C: You’ve hit over 1,500 members! Tell us more about how you feel about this milestone, and what you hope to achieve in the future.
Travis: I am very happy with it. We have grown at a nice pace, not so quickly that you lose the core culture, but consistently. I do not necessarily have a set numerical goal, but I will continue to invite quality members to the group, as that makes all the difference. While quantity is great, I am much more focused on quality. And when you have quality, quantity often follows. One thing you might notice is the participation rate of this group. We get as many posts and comments as groups 2-5 times our size. I am very thankful for all the awesome members.
C: Let's now move on to talk more about the Microbrand and Independent brand segment of the industry.
Part 3. Industry talk
Constellar: What is your opinion on Microbrands and Independent brands in general?
Travis: I love them. I think they are the future for the avid collector. The tried and true brands will likely always be here, but I think creativity and originality will be found in the Microbrand world.
C: From an avid watch collector’s perspective, what do you feel the watch industry is currently lacking?
Travis: A place to physically go to browse Microbrands. I hope to see a joint venture made between the Microbrands to have a physical retail space where we can all go to and try on their watches. If 20 Microbrands shared a lease somewhere, I think they would do well. As a consumer, it really is hard to gauge quality just from pictures. I also hope to see more originality and creativity at a decent price point. Interesting complications will pique my interest.
C: What are some brands you feel are progressing in the right direction in the Microbrand and Independent brand segment?
Travis: Too many to list for fear of leaving some out. I would say check the announcements in the COCAB group for a listing of those I have interviewed and you will find lots of the right stuff there. Generally speaking, I love vintage inspired timepieces - such as Richard Paige, I love unique designs and exotic materials, be it meteorite, wood, or other materials as well as watches with a story. One example will be a Kickstarter watch that I have coming soon that is made from the metal of a locomotive.
C: Lastly, how do you feel about Constellar’s Independent Insights? We know that you have your own Brand Owners’ Interview in COCAB and it will be great for us to have your feedback on what we do!
Travis: I love them. You guys go in-depth and explore areas previously unknown. I think that is very valuable and I love getting to know people in the industry better through efforts like yours.
C: Thank you. We’re really happy to hear that you’re enjoying our content!
Part 4. Closing words from Travis
Some of Travis’ favorite wrist shots at COCAB Facebook Group
Thank you to you guys for the fantastic job you are doing at Constellar’s Independent Insights. I am grateful to you and others like you for bringing the watch community together and helping us all learn more about each other and about watches.
I am also thankful for the awesome members of COCAB, as well as awesome future members of COCAB. Seriously, I am very grateful to each person in the watch world that shows patience and positivity to others and is willing to share their knowledge. I have learned so much from so many of you, and look forward to continuing to do so. I will be looking forward to seeing all of your readers’ watch-of-the-day posts and drooling over that next grail.
C: We have now come to the end of the interview column. We will once again like to thank Travis for his time and his immense contribution in promoting the microbrand and independent watch brand space. We look forward to growing together with COCAB!
Watch Collectors of California and Beyond: