You have to be pretty bold to enter the masculine hunting market with a company named Mother. It's sort of like that song "A Boy Named Sue." You could be inviting a butt kicking.
But Marty Grabijas, the founder of Mother and an outdoor industry veteran, claims that the hunting industry desperately needs some bold, new ideas. And early sales indicate that if anyone's doing any butt kicking its Mother, which makes hunting packs.
A bird hunter for some 30 years, Grabijas decided in 2004 that he'd had enough of traditional hunting and fly-fishing vests that place most of the weight on a person's shoulders. So he created a prototype of a hunting pack that had a weight-bearing hip harness, a suspension system and hydration compatibility. Though Grabijas was working as vice president of sales and marketing for Travel Chair, the folks at the company allowed him to continue developing his pack project, which quickly became a second full-time job. To move things forward, Grabijas assembled a team to work on the project, including product designer Jesse Thompson (owner of Industrial Alchemy and formerly of Dana Designs and K2), and Keith Reis, a rep for Travel Chair, Sogg Knives, Kavu and others.
As they refined samples, Grabijas decided that if his pack concept were to become a brand, it should be named Mother -- he was building a pack to fulfill a need in the market, and the old saying goes that "necessity is the mother of invention."
In September 2004, the Mother team showed samples to media and key buyers in the hunting market, and Grabijas said the response was universal. "Everyone felt we had a winner. We fleshed out the rest of the line and introduced it at SHOT and it just went off," he said.
In 2005, Mother landed major retailers, such as Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops, and it scored a full page in L.L Bean's fall hunting catalog. Reis, a Rockies rep for Mother, said the vast majority of retailers sold through 70 percent of the Mother product within four weeks.
Reasons for success
When asked why the Mother brand saw immediate success, Grabijas replied that it really came down to the functionality of the hunting packs. The packs actually compete with hunting vests (Mother products are merchandised alongside vests and other apparel), and Grabijas said vests have seen few technical innovations over the years.
"One principal of a company at the SHOT show told me that his company's R&D department was a copy machine. This guy said, 'When we see somebody else's idea come along, we just rip it off.' There has been virtually no investment in new technology and new applications," Grabijas told SNEWSÂ®. "The market is there, and nobody has taken the initiative to come out with a new-school brand."
Reis agreed that there's been little innovation in hunting vests. "They have front-loader bird vests, so you don't have to reach behind your back," he said. "That's been considered breakthrough technology in vests."
Grabijas said that the traditional vests, made mostly of waxed cotton, don't appeal to a certain contingent of hunters who enjoy a whole range of outdoor activities and use equipment from core outdoor brands like Osprey and Kelty.
"These people take family hikes and hike to high alpine lakes for fly-fishing. Then, when then they go hunting, they really dumb down their gear selection," said Grabijas.
Hunters familiar with technical hiking brands are taking notice of Mother's products because they not only look like the pack made by other outdoor brands, but they have similar features such as hydration ports. "They pick up the product and it just instantly clicks," said Reis. These types of consumers also tend to fall into the hunting market's two largest demographic groups -- people 35 to 44 and teenagers. This is the audience Mother wants to target, realizing that older hunters will probably stick with traditional designs.
"We're not for the 65-year-old guys that go out and walk for a couple of hours," said Grabijas. "We're for a new-school brand of hunter who's going out and walking all day. We're like the Arc'Teryx of the hunting world. We're never going to be something for everybody."
Unlike Arc'Teryx, Mother is not a particularly high-priced brand in its market. While some high-end hunting vests sell for $120 or more, Mother's highest-priced pack is $110, while its lowest-priced pack is $79. Not only has Mother introduced some creative, new ideas to the hunting market, it's doing it at a reasonable price.
Plans to expand
Now that Mother has found its comfortable place in the hunting market, the product collection will expand from 13 SKUs to 26 SKUs. In 2007, Mother will launch two packs made specifically for turkey hunters and one for big-game hunters. And the company may also expand its distribution into the general consumer marketplace (i.e. high-end department stores).
While Grabijas said he has no plans to place Mother in the outdoor specialty world, he told us that his inspiration will always stream from the world of backcountry travel and his love of rivers and mountains. A statement on www.mothertech.net reads: "With one foot planted firmly in wingshooting and the other planted in mountaineering and river running, we are able to bridge the gap and bring performance based solutions to traditional gear."
For now, Mother's trek across that bridge appears sure-footed.