Mike Fischer founded SeasonFive a dozen years ago, then got distracted with other jobs at Under Armour and Eddie Bauer. Now he's back on focus with his Colorado-based outdoor and action sports apparel and accessories company, and business is booming.
Fischer chatted with SNEWS about the company's history, challenges and strategy:
How did you get your start in the outdoor and action sports industry?
I started with a transition from being a buyer for a specialty retail snowsports shop. In my buying trips to all the trade shows, I found that I was getting frustrated with the sameness between brands. That sparked an interest to create something new and different.
I started SeasonFive 12 years ago, and at that point it was more exploratory — me learning about garment construction and garment design. I had no formal education in that, and I worked on learning how to work with factories and retailers from a selling-to-buyers perspective.
I then jumped into the industry working for someone else as a designer, first with O’Neill Surf Company and over the past 10 years have worked with many different brands creating lots of outdoor and action sports apparel. I went from Under Amour to creating Eddie Bauer First Descents division and then to motocross and snowsports. A few years ago, I felt the urge to bring back SeasonFive to fill the gap in certain categories out there.
What makes SeasonFive different from other performance apparel brands out there?
Our whole basis of product design is problem-solving. Some people call it innovation, but that word is way overused so we like to say we have problem-solving apparel.
Our first products were the first waterproof, breathable component wetsuit tops and bottoms for watersports — that hadn’t been done.
The idea came when I was working for O’Neill eight years ago. I brought the idea of a waterproof, breathable board short but [company executives] didn’t think it would fill the margin requirements for the company. That was my frustration — that I couldn’t advance the apparel.
Today SeasonFive is all about trying to fill the gaps that other companies aren’t hitting because they might be looking at it from a different perspective.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in getting the business up and running, and how have you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge has been securing a really solid sales force. When we are able to get in front of buyers and show the product, luckily for us, the product somewhat sells itself. But finding a good sales force that can hit the streets and is willing to take on a new brand — albeit a brand that might be doing some great things — with a smaller or no accounts in their territory, is challenging.
Sales reps are less willing, or don’t want to take the chance and build upon new brand.
What are some unexpected challenges that caught you off guard?
Growth. This season we’re going to be selling through REI — and having to work within their vendor manual requirements and ship the way they want it to be shipped and mark everything the way they want it to be marked. The quantities that they want ordered, even though it’s just a test order for 13 stores, make it a challenge for us with our standard production runs and the way we operate at this point.
We’ve been primarily selling to core specialty retail shops that might only have a handful of locations. To start selling to giants like REI requires a logistical updating all our systems to make sure it aligns with theirs. There are only five people in our company.
What’s the significance behind the name?
It’s all about extending your season just one more season. Once the snow melts and everyone transitions to surfing or kayaking, a lot of us continue on and go down to Chile or Australia to get one more season of snowboarding.
In the fall when you’re out paddling and it starts to snow on you a little bit more, you’re hopeful your apparel will allow you to stay out there a little bit longer and extend your season.
Why did you make your home in Breckenridge, Colo.?
After working for many different brands and moving to their locations and making work the focus of our life — and even designing outdoor apparel in places like Baltimore, Md. — we found it disconnects with the wilderness.
We want to be in the heart of the wild where we can walk out our front door and test out the garments we’re creating, jump in the white water and test it out there. We didn’t want to have to fly hours away or drive for hours to get to the wilderness.
What have you learned in founding your own business that you want to share with the industry?
It’s OK to take chances on innovating new products even though some territories are unexplored and you don’t know if it’s going to ultimately bring in the bottom dollar. If it’s about creating better products that advance the athletes within us. That’s why we’re in this industry.
What have been some of the best things about founding your own company?
The excitement of a lot of the athletes that have come to us, not just to be on a team and get sponsorship, but because they truly believe in the product and they’re excited that someone else is bringing something new to the table.
This year we signed on some amazing athletes and really built our professional team. All our athletes came to us last year and just wanted to try some of our products. We gave a few pieces to some of these top athletes like [SUP champion] Nikki Gregg and [kayak champion] Emily Jackson. After the season, they came back very excited about the product and wanted to be a part of it, even though we were a small company and weren’t throwing big money at them.
As a designer first and foremost that gets me so excited to keep creating different products. At the end of the day no one needs a new jacket, and there are already a ton of them out there. No one needs a new product unless there’s something new and revolutionary about it. There’s no point in creating something if someone has already created the same thing. That keeps my motivation level high.
What is different about the way SeasonFive operates?
Our marketing strategy for the brand has been not to go out and place a bunch of ads and hire the best athletes. It’s all about getting product out there to product testers and gear reviewers and let them tell people how it performs and how it works or doesn’t.
So far we’ve been lucky enough to have nothing but 100 percent of top feedback from gear reviewers out there. Instead of throwing a lot of money to try and get everyone to see you and believe your hype, we believe it’s all about the product and we let everyone else decide for themselves after they’ve tried our product.
--Compiled by Ana Trujillo