MountainSmith undergoes changes in staff, not direction

A little over a year after Pacifica LTM purchased 105 Meridian and MountainSmith, company vice president of sales Mike Valvano and vice president of marketing Brian Bennett have both jumped to greener pastures. Along with them, Gail Ross who worked with Youngstown technical clothing (targeted for construction use) has jumped ship to join Kelty as that company's product manager in charge of packs. And it doesn't stop there. Andy Anderson, who recently moved into the national sales manager position at MountainSmith, has decided he too would like to change zip codes and is now the national sales manager for Dana Design, stepping into some very big shoes left behind by Rick Saez's departure several months ago.
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A little over a year after Pacifica LTM purchased 105 Meridian and MountainSmith, company vice president of sales Mike Valvano and vice president of marketing Brian Bennett have both jumped to greener pastures. Along with them, Gail Ross who worked with Youngstown technical clothing (targeted for construction use) has jumped ship to join Kelty as that company's product manager in charge of packs. And it doesn't stop there. Andy Anderson, who recently moved into the national sales manager position at MountainSmith, has decided he too would like to change zip codes and is now the national sales manager for Dana Design, stepping into some very big shoes left behind by Rick Saez's departure several months ago.

Where are Valvano and Bennett? Valvano has accepted a position as vice president of sales worldwide for Timbuktu along with an equity position in the company. Bennett has moved to Seattle, taking on the job of key accounts manager for Patagonia focusing on REI and Galyan's and, best of all for him, working for one of his best friends, Rich Hill.

Greg Thomsen, CEO of Pacifica, will also take on the responsibility of running MountainSmith now. While he acknowledges that from an external view, the sudden departures appear to present a great challenge to MountainSmith, Thomsen insists that the future looks very rosy.

"I love both Brian and Mike and wish they would have stayed, but the opportunities that they chose to take advantage of were too perfect for both of them," Thomsen told SNEWS.

"What everyone needs to realize is we have 50 other folks with eight or nine of them stepping up to take on new positions. Frankly, with the cost savings, we have more money now to put into marketing and customer service which we are doing," he said.

"We are also hiring additional design and development people and have put John Kelley, an old pro as a photographer, on retainer to do nothing but photograph MountainSmith from the pack side for catalogs and promotional needs," Thomsen added.

In addition, Thomsen told SNEWS that Dave Crumine will be overseeing design for all of Pacifica and will work to increase the size of the design studio portion of the company and take more development in house.

As for Thomsen, he's now commuting to Colorado from Pacifica's Southern California offices to work out of the MountainSmith offices every Monday and Tuesday.

"The rest of the week I am leaving open to travel with our reps, who are some of the best in the industry, to work with them on key accounts."

SNEWS View: While on the surface, MountainSmith does look challenged by the revolving door exit of key staff, we're sitting on our hands and going to withhold judgment for now. Thomsen is certainly a vision guy with solid manufacturing know-how (he founded Wilderness Experience years ago for you outdoor history buffs). Sales for the company are up a reported 10 percent, which is healthy, and its private label business with Dick's remains strong with sleeping bags and tents, and a bicycle licensing launch due to kick off in spring 2004. Still, Valvano and Bennett were brand builders, so Thomsen will have to embrace the additional challenge of steering the brand management and development side of things. Thomsen told us the company is currently debating whether it should just focus on being a pack and luggage supplier, offering a focused and private label tent and sleeping bag business only to the company's key retail partners. The move seems logical, though Valvano and Bennett were both keen on taking MountainSmith into the high-end market for sleeping bags and tents beyond the world of special programs and make-ups. Can MountainSmith make it as just a pack and luggage company? There's little doubt the design team at Pacifica knows how to do packs. While few in the industry realize it, Thomsen points out that Pacifica was largely responsible for JanSport's daypack and luggage line from 1995 to 2001, producing over 200 styles, according to Thomsen. When VF acquired JanSport, the role diminished, ending completely when Pacifica purchased MountainSmith. MountainSmith has a very loyal brand following, so if Pacifica designers with Thomsen leadership can continue to build and brand a pack and luggage program on that following, the future could be rosy indeed. Easier said than done though in the hyper-competitive world of packs, daypacks and luggage. Just ask any pack company.

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