Gregory is working hard to reposition itself as an "obtainable technology company" for consumers who want to associate themselves with the outdoor lifestyle and desire the cool factor in gear, but all at a value price.
While Gregory still believes the company is No. 1 in terms of sales of big packs (packs above 4,500 cubic inches), Paul Gagner, vice president of sales and marketing for Gregory, tells SNEWS, "We currently have the No. 1 position in a declining category."
Sales to date underscore Gagner's assertion as the company is enjoying a 2 percent increase in overall units sold, but at the same time is faced with a 17 percent decline in overall sales numbers.
Why? Larger packs just aren't selling, while smaller packs -- 3,500 cubic inches and under, and lighter gear, ultralight and adventure racing packs, as well as the "done in a day" packs -- are experiencing a modest sales surge.
"We've been getting our butts kicked in the 2,000- to 3,000-cubic-inch category, but we're looking to change that," Gagner said.
Gregory is tweaking its line accordingly, offering more packs in the lighter and smaller category, and less SKUs at the larger end. Overall, the company dropped 93 SKUs and added just five new products, for a net reduction of 88 SKUs.
In addition, Gagner tells us the company is working much harder to convey the message to retailers and consumers that, "we are the fit experts and since fit means comfort, we offer the most comfort as well."
Consistent branding and marketing messages have not always been Gregory's strong suit, and Gagner doesn't dispute that either, but tells us that the company has already retooled its branding and marketing messages for the coming year to reflect consistency.
While that means some increase in advertising, much of Gregory's efforts in the next year will be focused on programs that work with retailers as partners to, as Gagner puts it, "encourage customers to walk into and shop our retailers' stores."
Look for the company to offer more slide shows, adventure racing 101 clinics with Marc Secades, captain of Team Gregory, as well as trail running and fast packing clinics.
Gagner is also looking to partner with a few key companies, such as Catalyst (which produces catalogs for retailers to send their customers in partnership with manufacturers) that will provide measurable results for Gregory.
"Blue Ridge saw very measurable results with the Catalyst program as well as sales increases, and we will be looking to expand that," Gagner said.
In terms of sales successes, Gregory's women's line and adventure racing packs have been huge for the company. Certainly, if you believe Leisure Trends numbers, Gregory's Diva and Osprey's Luna are the two best-selling internal frames -- both women's packs.
Gagner believes that the next year will see pack companies, including Gregory, further expanding development of ventilation technology, playing with ultralight modifications that are either really light, or slightly light, and, of course, more gender-specific packs.
Ventilation is nothing new to Europeans Gagner admits, pointing out that pack companies such as Deuter, Lafuma, Jack Wolfskin, Vaude and others have been leading the way and that only recently have American companies jumped on the bandwagon.
Also interesting to Gagner, and a trend that bodes well for those companies that develop adventure racing packs, is the tendency now for adventure racing teams in 24-hour and longer events to utilize multiple packs, each fully loaded with the gear needed for the next leg of the race and ready to grab at each transition point -- eliminating the need to unload and repack gear, saving time and minimizing mistakes.
The following is a quick glimpse at gear that caught our eyes when Gregory paid a visit to the SNEWS headquarters in July to preview 2004:
New technology -- The Exo-frame framesheet is a superb development from the looks of it. Made with thermoformed molded plastic with a single hollow stay that runs down the center, the framesheet flexes very well while still retaining vertical load support and protecting the back from the pack's load. The framesheet is used in Gregory's new packs, the Zulu, Ekko and Halo.
Women's Packs -- Building on the success of the Deva 60, which began shipping in 2002 and quickly became Gregory's No. 2 selling pack in terms of units, Gregory adds the Electra, a 4,700-cubic-inch pack designed to carry loads over 40 pounds. The Electra rounds out the company's women's line with a fully featured, larger capacity, serious backcountry pack.
Ultralight -- Joining the G pack is Gregory's new Z pack (it's an alphabet fetish we're sure) offering the weekend adventurer a pack that's sturdy and roomy enough for a multiday trip yet weighs less than 3 pounds, 6 ounces. The Z essentially is the same as the G, with an added side access zipper for convenience and a pleated front pocket -- and it's about 800 cubes bigger too.
Adventure Racing -- The Advent Pro was a home run success for Gregory last year, and it's updated the pack this year with more compression straps, a removable internal floor, and an internal headlamp battery pocket -- all things racers had been asking for. New for 2004 is a nifty looking sprint pack called the Reactor made with the company's proprietary G fabric -- 30-denier silicone impregnated fabric. We can tell you the fabric is amazing. You can actually stick a pen through it, creating a hole, and then rub the fabric around and, amazingly, the hole disappears.
All Terrain -- Three packs have been introduced into Gregory's new done-in-a-day line -- the Zulu, Ekko and Halo. Of the three, we're most impressed with the Ekko at first take. It is an ideally featured mid-sized pack weighing less than 4 pounds with the Exo-frame for comfort, zip-down front access and top access, stretch side pockets with ski-tail pass throughs, etc.