Phil Carey's return to the outdoor marketplace with Carey and Co. hasn't been quite as smooth as his first company launch with Atwater Carey, sold to Wisconsin Pharmacal years ago, and as a result, he's been forced to change his company name to Isole Backcountry Care. Carey unveiled a line of first-aid kits at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in 2007 under his corporate name, Carey and Co. Trouble is, Wisconsin Pharmacal took a dim view of the entrepreneurial spirit and suggested, via a cease and desist letter Carey told SNEWS®, that Carey back off.
"That letter arrived just days before we showed our line at Outdoor Retailer last August," said Carey, "and it kind of took the wind out of our sails." Still, Carey, working with law firm Kolish & Hartwell out of Portland, Ore., felt he had a good case and went ahead with showing his line under the Carey and Co. name.
According to Carey, Carey and Co. has been his corporate umbrella for a number of projects, and had been used since 2002 after Carey's non-compete with Wisconsin Pharmacal expired. Under that corporate name, he developed a co-label first-aid program for Campmor, as well as embarked in partnerships with Subaru and the Wilderness Medical Institute.
When John Wundroch and his business partner acquired Wisconsin Pharmacal (WPC) in 2003 (click here to read story), Wundroch approached Carey about working with WPC again. Carey agreed, but only if Carey and Co.'s existing customers, including Campmor, were kept separate from the deal.
In notes from our interview with Wundrock in 2003, he made no secret of his desire to reunite WPC with Carey, whom he told us then was a friend and critical to the success of the first-aid program for Atwater Carey, a WPC brand.
All was well until 2006, when Carey told SNEWS® he was notified by email that WPC was restructuring and that his services were no longer needed. And that's when Carey and Co. decided to launch its own first-aid kit brand into the market.
"We had a good show, and our lawyers told us that since we had not tried to hide anything, that WPC was fully aware of Carey and Co. and that during the time we were engaged with WPC they sent Carey and Co. 1099s and invoices, we had a good case to try to fight any lawsuit in federal court," said Carey.
After a month or so of what Carey termed "nasty-grams" back and forth between the legal teams for both companies, Carey was told it would cost him between $80,000 and $100,000 to fight WPC. Even though his legal team felt very confident, he told us, the case was far from a slam dunk.
"Even though I knew I could possibly, though not certainly, win, I just did not have the fight in me this time. It is not my first rodeo, so we went back to Pharmacal and asked them to give us a compromise agreement," said Carey.
After the requisite back and forth, Carey told us that as of a week ago, an agreement had been signed. Carey and Co. remains in place as a limited liability corporation, but the Carey and Co. first-aid brand is no more. In its place is Isole Backcountry Care -- same product line-up as before, just a new brand.
"It is an uphill battle I know, but we are getting commitments already from good accounts. We will be at Winter Market and Summer Market. I've told my sales team that this is not so much about selling as it is about making friends and building relationships. If we do that, we'll be just fine, new name and all," said Carey.
SNEWS® View: Little surprise that WPC threatened to take Carey and Co. to court. Adventure Medical Kits has only been getting stronger as a player in the outdoor market since that company's acquisition by Tender, meaning it's gotten tougher for the competition, such as Atwater Carey, a WPC brand. Carey's one big potential advantage in the market is his name, no question. A Carey-branded first-aid kit will garner much more immediate acceptance by retailers than another new brand without the Carey name. No doubt WPC recognized that too. Now, Carey is going to be going for a new launch with Isole Backcountry Care. He will rely on partnerships, friendships and relationships as he always has. But it is a much different market now. Brands will pull support from key distributors and others if they perceive those same distributors are offering market exposure and a potential competitive advantage to a competitor. Just ask Peregrine about Nalgene. Since WPC has Potable Aqua in its quiver, and Adventure Medical Kits is owned by Tender, it will be much harder for Carey to garner support, we suspect. We do wish him well, though, and believe if anyone can pull off the launch of a new brand in a very competitive market already saturated with first-aid products, it's Carey.