Technically speaking, Abingdon Mullin is the CEO of a company that sells watches crafted for women. But realistically, she sells adventure with every one of her aviator watches, which actually got their start back in 2014 when she appeared on Shark Tank.
Six years and thousands of watches later, Mullin has survived the formidable inventors’ reality show only to face a global pandemic as the founder and CEO of The Abingdon Co. While the only thing that was temporarily put on hold was a search for scalable capital investment, Mullin is stepping forward with a new YouTube Channel that started on June 1, with three episodes each showing women in adventurous roles.
“Video is critical,” Mullin noted. “Any brand that isn’t using it is making a big mistake. As a microbrand, we have to figure out ways to compete, and if a picture tells a thousand stories, a video tells a million.”
Mullin was bitten by the aviation bug when she was 14 years old and a freshman in high school in Burbank, California. On career day, a pilot came in to tell his story, inspiring Mullin to embark on a journey that eventually led to becoming a professional pilot. She has already flown 80 types of airplanes.
“I found out that I didn’t have to join the military or know a lot about airlines,” she recalls. “There were so many ways to fly, from corporate jets to traffic watch duty. But I came home and said, ‘Mom, I want to be a pilot.’ I think she asked me to pass the salt or something like that.”
High school and college passed. Mullin got a degree in psychology and film and served in the Peace Corps. Upon her return stateside, she started flying lessons, and within 34 days she received her pilot’s rating. Then it was time to celebrate by buying a watch. That’s where the company truly got its start, when Mullin couldn’t find a women’s aviator’s watch.
“From a marketing standpoint, it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Anyone who wants to wear a cool aviator’s watch wants to look like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. There’s absolutely no societal influence to make it cool for women. Maybe that’s because there are about 650,000 pilots in this country and only 6 percent are women. But then again, I wasn’t interested in doing a lot of research.”
The attitude of seeking adventure complemented Mullin’s entrepreneurial spirit. She started designing and making watches by hand, with striking colors and a mix of form and function that fit a profile of adventure and femininity. She resisted the urge to “pink it and shrink it,” which is how she describes the typical industry approach to women’s products. The Abingdon design is weighty and sharp. Mullin loves to see potential customers react to the size and weight of the watches when they try them on.
Before the pandemic, a good deal of the company’s marketing and sales came from trade shows and events. Post-COVID, Mullin and her team have focused on social channels and a fascinating series of Zoom meetings. Most companies have used Zoom or Hangouts to interact with their staff during the pandemic – but not Abingdon. Instead, Mullin used Zoom meetings to assemble her “crew members,” which is what the company calls its customers. On some crew member meetings, more than 70 people showed up to discuss their work, lack thereof and other issues spawned by the coronavirus crisis.
“It’s been very peer-to-peer,” Mullin said. “One female pilot from the airline industry was talking about how she had lost her job and was concerned for the future of the business. Someone recommended that she look into the drone business, and that’s where she is now. Getting people together is part of what I consider to be professional success. Business is personal. We run a profitable and ethical company, and our staff goes to work happy and with purpose – the purpose to empower women.”
Mullin has several new models ready to debut, all within the women’s adventure theme. A dive watch (designed in conjunction with The Women Diver’s Hall of Fame) is scheduled to launch before the end of the year as a road racing watch. She also expects to expand her retail partnerships, but expects the shift to “digital 3.0” to continue.
“We already knew we were going in a more digital direction, but the pandemic really catalyzed it,” Mullin said. “People want to have a positive experience no matter where they shop. We need to create an experience where they feel loved and valued, and a lot of D2C brands still need to figure that out. We have a brand that stays engaged and maintains the personal touch.”
That touch is now extending digitally, as evidenced by the post-purchase experience at Abingdon. After each transaction, Mullin sends a personal email welcoming the buyer to the crew. There are links in the email to the YouTube videos and suggested watch care tips, including a free cleaning with every repair. All of these elements add up to an experience that Mullin says has formed a fan club of sorts. “People who wear Abingdon watches wave to each other,” she pointed out, “kind of like Porsche owners do.”