After changing hands five times since 1995, a brand that was once thought dead has reached a milestone: Moonstone Mountain Equipment rung in the New Year by opening its 200th store.
Started by Fred Williams when he was 19 years old, Moonstone was a must-have brand for specialty stores and during its heyday was in 400 stores with international distribution in Europe and Japan. After its strongest selling preseason ever, Williams, now co-owner of Offroute.com, sold the company to the Outdoor Industry Group, the brainchild of Hap Klopp. Williams said he had great hopes for it, but within a year Moonstone was embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings as the Outdoor Industry Group vision collapsed. Subsequently, Moonstone was sold to Esprit, then Gerry Sportswear, and finally snapped up in August 2001 by Pacific Trail, a subsidiary of London Fog.
Pacific Trail gave Hoby Douglass, vice president of sales, the task of building the brand back up. Goal No. 1: Increase the distribution of Moonstone. "We had 40 accounts, and many states were not even represented. Our initiative was to focus on doors," he told SNEWSÂ®.
Douglass relates that the challenges weren't at the consumer level. Once the website was up and running, people were asking where they could buy Moonstone product. The stumbling block was winning back the dealers.
"That first hurdle was really the hard one. The first year it wasn't infrequent to hear, 'Who owns you now?' Or, 'It's great to see you guys back, but I'll wait a year to see who owns you then.' The work has been to re-establish the confidence and trust with the trade," he said.
Whether he was discouraged or not, Douglass won't say. Instead, he heralds the testament of Pacific Trail to understanding the brand's personality and sticking with the specialty distribution channel. He also commends Marketing Manager Todd Gilmer for getting Moonstone's name in front of people at events like the Boulder Blast, Ouray Ice Festival and the American Bouldering Series.
Now with 2 1/2 years under its belt and a consistent delivery record, dealers are giving the brand a chance. Among the retailers carrying Moonstone products are Neptune Mountaineering, Hudson Trail Outfitters, Paragon, Moosejaw Mountaineering and Uncle Dan's.
"(These retailers) have definitely been influential in getting a lot of other retailers and saying, 'These guys are helping us be different from the larger distribution in our channel and outside of our channel,'" Douglass said. "It's been really fun to see one dealer after another and hear, 'I've been talking to so and so and they said you've done what you said you were going to do two seasons in a row. I want to see your line.' It's gratifying that with the patience and perseverance of the Pacific Trail resources that we're starting to see the payoff on the street where the brand lives."
Douglass adds that he'd like to triple the number of storefronts sooner rather than later, and anticipates it'll double its doors in the next 12 to 15 months. Also, Moonstone plans to just continue with apparel and sleeping bags for now. (The sleeping bag line has been the opening category for many new dealers.)
"Our objectives are really to stick with what we're good at," said Douglass. "I still consider these the resurrection years, the rebuilding years. It's in the best interest of the brand to do well at what we do rather than try to expand too quickly. We think we offer a product and a brand that will help differentiate our retailers from the growing distribution practices of our competitors."
Needless to say, they have at least one loyal customer.
"During the holidays, I bought a bunch of Moonstone product for family and friends," said founder Williams. "I was pretty pleased overall with the level of quality and the function of the product. It seems like they're definitely on the right track."
SNEWS View: They're baaack. And good for Hoby. He's a hard-working sales manager with a heart and soul fully rooted in specialty, and that resonates with specialty dealers. Retailers we've spoken with have nothing but good things to say about Moonstone, which is remarkable considering even SNEWS, which hoped and prayed for the best, frankly thought Moonstone was a life-support candidate prior to Pacific Trail acquiring it. And good for Pacific Trail for not opening up the brand to broader distribution and taking the quick fix sales route that so many other publicly-traded or investor-backed companies have tried to follow of late. For that reason alone, along with the fact the product is good, Moonstone is a brand worth embracing at specialty.