Something unusual is happening in the microbrand world. Chris “Doc” Vail is launching “Microbrand U”, a weekend course to help watch microbrand owners overcome hurdles and become more efficient in running their business. Doc likes to shake things up, so this fits our impression of him.

“The point of our workshop is to flatten the learning curve for the brand owner, in a number of ways. The participants will be able to share experience among themselves, which, if nothing else, helps establish what we’d call “normal” for a startup in this industry – it’s nice to hear others are dealing with the same challenges, and how they’re managing. There’s knowledge to be gained from peers,” Doc says.

Doc is the man behind NTH and Lew & Huey watches, which we’ve reviewed here in the past. Over the past few years, Doc has grown his watch business from a direct sales operation to one with a number of retailers signed up, that from all appearances looks like a growing business.

John Tooher, CEO of Head Room

Microbrand U is a two day series of sessions led by Chris, John Keil, founder of retailer, John Tooher of Head Room, a business planning consultancy, and Josh Irons of River Avenue Digital, a marketing agency. These are some well-qualified people: Keil ran Urban Gentry and was brand manager for Chronoswiss. Tooher held operations roles at GM and 3M, and spent 10 years as a CEO, growing a business to $60M. Irons is the CEO of a marketing agency that focuses on small- and medium-sized businesses.

John Keil, founder of

“There’s no college course for “starting and running a successful watch microbrand,” Vail says. “The vast majority of brand owners have to learn through trial and error, often without having enough relevant experience in all the areas where competence is required – product development, promotion, finance, operations, etc. Compounding the difficulty is the lack of transparency into the industry, and several fundamental flaws in how the industry conducts business.”

John Irons, founder of River Avenue Digital

Besides coming and listening to these presenters for the weekend, attendees also get one hour of 1-on-1 consultation with Tooher and Irons, and unlimited access to videos of the sessions.

Normally, startups jealously guard their secrets, plans, and financials. Here, attendees will open up the books, protected by NDAs, and share their experiences, so that they can avoid critical mistakes. Sessions include: brand launch/growth strategy and tactics; new model development, production, and pricing; effective marketing and promotion; and operational efficiency.

The Microbrand U is taking place in Wayne, PA (in the Philadelphia Suburbs) from April 11-12, 2019, with an optional microbrand watch get together on the 13. The fee to attend is $1500, and reservations are open at

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Last Update: April 2, 2019