While the athletes in our sports get the majority of the limelight, it’s the people behind the lenses that are the true unsung heroes. Trekking miles into some of the gnarliest places on the planet with back-breaking loads of gear on their shoulders, spending days working to get that one perfect shot, that sometimes never sees the light of day.
Add to this the fact that until recently, the people documenting the limits and providing our insatiable fixes of beautiful images had to cobble together packs to carry their gear, and a niche became apparent to the founders of f-stop, who began building custom packs designed specifically for the photogs testing boundaries as hard as the athletes.
“f-stop was built six years ago around the idea that when you are heading into the backcountry and you want to shoot or film, you need a way to carry a wide range of gear and equipment,” VP of Sales & Marketing Gerard Armendinger explains. “It's not just about photo equipment. It's also about the personal and technical gear to get you there. Here is where we found the problem: How do we get ourselves, our photo equipment, and our gear into the backcountry in a simple and concise way?”
“At the time, there was nothing out there designed for the technical requirements of outdoor/action sport photographers,” Armendinger continues. “Everyone was DIY'ing their set ups and we knew that it was possible to combine the two worlds- photography and the mountains. There were technical packs and photo packs with nothing in between. We were able to optimize the technical to pair with the photo, and there we found our niche.”
We caught up with Armendinger to hear more about f-stop’s niche, its revolutionary bag designs, interesting business model, and plans to partner with specialty retailers.
How have the bags addressed the issues you guys were finding in the field? What are some of the coolest features?
Our Mountain Series packs are founded in the basics of technical backpack design, but adapted to accommodate the shapes and profiles necessary to secure and protect photo and video equipment. We designed a modular system in which we use Internal Camera Units (ICU). The ICU's come in a range of sizes and are removable. This allows you to pick the ICU size that best accommodates the needs of the day or shoot. If you need a lot of camera gear - pack a large ICU. If you can go light and need just a body and a few lenses, you can pack a small ICU giving you more space for other gear. The packs are designed and tested in the mountains - so they have the features and durability to handle snow and rock, and get lots of test time, not only on single track, but also on the street. Our team of testers and Staff Pro's work hard to make sure that all of our products can handle the rigors of professional use.
Tell us a little about your other series of products and how they meet the needs of action sports photographers.
While our core is in action and outdoor, we also have a wide range of street products in our Millar Series, which is comprised of backpacks and messengers.
We have a wide range of customers and as such we have some traditional and fundamental photo packs and bags in our Black Box series. As with all things f-stop, while the designs lean towards traditional, they are constructed and built at a high level with lessons from the Mountain Series– so let’s call it “tech traditional.”
You guys have over 200 house pros including Scott Serfas, Jeff Curtes, Chris Burkard, Lorenz Holder, Colin Adair, the Brain Farm crew, and Grant Gunderson. What makes this a cohesive group? What do you look for in photographers?
We have the luxury of working with some of the sickest photographers and video crews in the world. We have an incredible team and cover a wide range of categories. As you note, we have a killer snow team, but we also have guys like Ty Evans, Mike Blabac, Chris Ray, and mountaineers like Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. Diversity in the team is what allows us to see all of the possibilities in our product development process - and this is where we really excel. What makes the team cohesive is that despite the variety of subjects that they shoot, the crew is composed of artists, and they all work and play really hard and get at it every chance they can.
Is the primary goal of the team to grow the brand through word of mouth?
The primary goal is to have a group of serious users who can provide feedback and who are interested in partnering with us to develop the best packs and bags possible. We have the highest respect for the work they do and we honor that respect in our products. Naturally, the Staff Pro team also acts as brand ambassadors and they are all amazing in their ability, and in their enthusiasm, to help to spread the good word. We are humbled everyday.
You recently launched your first Life In Focus series and one with Scott Serfas is just dropped. Tell us a bit about this series, its goal, and how you’re pushing it out.
We get to talk to and hear the stories of amazing professional photographers and filmers every day. We get to learn from their experiences and they inspire a lot of the work we do. The Life in Focus Mini Series is an opportunity to share some of those stories and insights with the greater f-stop family and friends. We are launching 12 episodes this year, and if you are keeping your eyes and ears open, there will be some pretty amazing bonus features along the way. You can catch it on our website, in our Vimeo channel, and through our many media friends on the interwebs.
The Scott Serfas Episode (Number 3) is rad because we get to touch on Scott as a photographer, his work with Endeavor Snowboards and get to see him working a shoot with Jess Kimura – unreal. It gets us hyped every day to know we play a small roll in helping Scott do his work.
Check out TransWorld SNOW‘s very own Scott Serfas’s episode:
You guys are currently only selling direct. What’s the goal on the distribution side as far as working with specialty retailers?
In 2014, we want to start spreading our net and explore partnerships with specialty retailers. Our products are technical and niche, and our community is active in, and are customers of, specialty. Our community will ultimately benefit from hands-on experience, and from the attention and expertise that only comes from a specialty shop.
Why did you launch with this model versus starting more traditionally with other retailers?
Our products are high end, technical and in the early days, we were presenting a new type of system. The modular ICU system and the customization benefits were (and still are) a big story, and our core user was sitting pretty close to us. By speaking directly to the customers, we were able to have personal dialogues and gain understanding from the photographers, and it provided a direct and fast feedback mechanism. As we mature, we continue to look at and review the best ways to provide service and access to our products. We are a small, tight group and we are constantly trying to grow and do better, and on top of it, we really enjoy talking to and hearing from the people who use our products.