Q: Why so few women?
A: I don't think they are as gung-ho. They're a little bit more timid about getting online. They're a little more timid about giving the measurements, those kinds of things.... Why do the customers come to us? Is it because of the customization? At first, we thought that would be the full reason -- that people would come to us because of the custom sizing. Well, we're finding that's not really the case. We break it up into thirds. One third of our customers need a custom fit: They've got really long arms. they're 6-foot-10, [or] they're five foot nothing [and] tired of going into...the kids' section to get a jacket. And so they come to us for that.
Another third wants to be a part of something neat. They want something new and fresh that comes from a small company and that's American-made.
And the final third is with us because they get to customize the options. Because if you're a student and you're in Minnesota, you want a really warm fleece jacket, but no bells and whistles because you can't afford it. You get our Cold Blooded jacket with no options. Now, say you are a search-and-rescue person in Yosemite. You want the lightest-weight, windproof, warmest, compressible fleece you can get, but also you want pit-zips, and thumb loops, and bicep pockets, and a zip-off hood -- and they get to have that, too.
Q: What about your labor costs?
A: Labor costs are high. [Nearly] everyone who makes this type of product is overseas...in China, Taiwan, Korea, so they are paying pennies on the dollar compared to us. But we feel that it's important to stay in America. We feel that it's just a part of who we are. If we went overseas, we would lose something that we just do not want to lose.
Q: When do you expect to get profitable?
A: I expect that to happen very quickly. Right now, theoretically, the customization process should be very profitable. We're just going through slow times, like the summer, soe're not as efficient as when we're just pounding out product, like during the holidays. So it's not really efficient enough now to get us to the profitability point.
But there's this one thing that is incredibly profitable: The Navy Seals just gave us a contract for 786 Cold Fusion decked-out jackets. Now, when that happens, we're able to become incredibly efficient.... And all of a sudden, at the end of this contract, we'll have 40% still in the bank.?And [the Seals] are now going to give us their uniform contracts.
Q: Are these your first military orders?
A: These are our first big military orders. We've had the Navy Seals come to us for a couple of years -- 10 here, 1 or 2 there -- [and] we send a lot of [orders to] military personnel overseas who can't get a fleece jacket from the Army because they ran out or whatever. They'll purchase from us. But this is the first major contract.
And the Eugene Police Dept. just [gave us] a contract. We've got 100 jackets going out to them. They said, we don't want these jackets to cover our gun belts, but we need them big enough to go over our bulletproof vests. So I completely redesigned our patterns. They're really short; they dive into the waist instead of flaring out at the hips. And now we have a fully operational police jacket that I believe we can probably take to every cold-weather police market in the nation. And that was just because one of the Eugene Police Department ladies was cold and she was finding that the jackets didn't fit her. Because of how dynamic we are, we were able to get that [order], and now we can march right into that market.
Q: What are your big challenges?
A: Financing. It's always been that way. We have two micro loans through the SBA, and I just finalized a city loan from Eugene to purchase our new computerized cutting table. Other than that, we are debt-free. We don't have investors. I'm the sole owner. And so now we have a company that will probably break half a million [dollars] this year and probably jump to $1 million next year. I don't know how we're going to do that without extra cash flow. Hopefully, someone [will be] able to come in and help us out financially, and possibly even managerially, because like I said, I majored in history. I don't have a business background. And I'm surprised that it's gone so well so far. I probably will need some help when this thing gets as big as it's going to get.
Other interviews with SBA award-winners in this series:
"The Top of the Barrel"
"Tailored for the Rugged Invidualist"
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