When MountainSmith was purchased in September 1998 by 105 Meridian, an Estes Park company specializing in the manufacture of luggage and packs as well as OEM services for brands such as L.L. Bean, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Eddie Bauer, more than a few retailers and industry vets held their breath. Though few companies could boast a more passionate and loyal consumer following, the brand had, by its own admission, been floundering and that left more than a handful of retailers with concerns about the brand's future. A little over three years have passed, and it can now be safely said that MountainSmith has not only survived, but is prospering and poised for significant growth in the next several years.
Mike Valvano, general manager for MountainSmith, told SNEWS® that since 1998, the company's sales have realized significant increases, growing 40 percent between 1998 and 1999, 22 percent between 1999 and 2000, 24 percent between 2000 and 2001, and an amazing 28 percent between 2001 and 2002, despite a difficult economy and the aftermath of Sept. 11.
"When 105 (Meridian) acquired the company, we made a commitment to inventory and to the timelines that are necessary to operate a successful business in today's economic climate," Valvano said. "We began by decreasing our development timeline by 30 percent and by placing our company onto a schedule with firm production and delivery schedules."
It was that commitment to inventory levels and a reliable delivery schedule that resonated with specialty retailers and helped MountainSmith grow to the point where it is currently sold in 600 retail stores.
"The specialty retailers rely heavily on vendors to be able to fill at-once orders in the middle of the season, and we have been able to do that with 95 percent on-time delivery since 1999," said Valvano.
Still, timely delivery and consistent inventory levels only account for so much in a competitive business climate, especially when you're a company that sells packs, just packs, and nothing but packs.
"We began to look at our Mountain Light collection, and while it was successful, it had essentially be around for four years with little change," Valvano told us. "So we began to study what this company needed to do to continue to grow the operational strength of MountainSmith and develop new product that would be as exciting and innovative as the launch of the lumbar pack was 14 years ago when our company founder, Patrick Smith, came out with it."
The wheels really began turning when a number of loyal retailers approached MountainSmith last year and asked the company to develop a full camping line -- soup to nuts.
Valvano told us MountainSmith sent designers to Asia and to Europe to study sleeping bag manufacturing and down production, synthetic fills, shell materials, etc. to learn all they could from the best. In short order, a private label program was launched for Dick's, a full-line sporting goods retailer with a strong Web presence and 130 stores.
"The bags for Dick's are synthetic fill and come in three styles that we would consider entry-level sleeping bags -- 0 degree, 20 degree, and 35 degree rated," says Valvano.
In addition, MountainSmith worked closely with several of the company's top Mountain Light accounts -- REI, Sports Chalet, Backcountrygear.com, and SnowLeopard.com -- and this February, launched two sleeping bags with those retailers only that the company claims are, considering warmth-to-weight ratio, the lightest and best performing sleeping bags in the world.
Shown for the first time at Winter Market, the Wisp is a 1lb. 3oz. down bag rated to 30 degrees and retailing for $250. The other bag, the Vision, is a 15-degree bag, weighing 1lb. 14oz. and retailing for $300. SNEWS® talked to several retailers who saw the bag and told us they couldn't wait to get their hands on the product.
For now though, they'll have to wait as the down sleeping bags will not be available outside of the current exclusive distribution arrangement until Spring 2003.
Valvano is, naturally, very pleased with the results so far and sees this as yet another way to cement brand loyalty with the company's consumer base.
"We did a survey in 2000 that showed us 85 percent of the folks who purchased a MountainSmith product that year had already purchased a MountainSmith product or received a MountainSmith product as a gift before," says Valvano.
SNEWS® View: Clean distribution, deliveries on time, consumer loyalty that borders on 'groupie,' and a new product launch that's creating a buzz -- it's hard to go wrong with that combination. What is next for MountainSmith? While the company won't say, we'd lay 10-to-1 odds that the industry will see a soft tent launch next year followed by a full launch to the greater retail community by 2004. It only makes sense. That way, MountainSmith will be able to provide a full Mountain Light line that features packs, sleeping bags, and tents. Don't hold us to the math, but if we add up the weight of a 3,100 cubic inch Ghost pack at 2lb 6oz, fill it with a 30-degree Wisp at 1lb 3oz., it's conceivable that you could also pack along the soon-to-be-developed tent weighing 3 lb 7 oz and have a full package for, heck, 7 lbs total. Now that’s packing right!