Dustin Goss On 10 Years Of POW Gloves

Dustin_goss_pow

Dustin Goss at Pow’s Seattle offices. Photo: Dionne

While the last ten years feel like they’ve flown by, it’s been a lifetime, if not more, for many brands in this industry. Achieving this longevity is no small feat. The road is littered with burned out hulks of ideas and dreams. But one dream that is still creating its own path was forged in a business class in the University of Washington in 2002 when Dustin Goss got the idea to launch a glove company.

Today, Goss and his Seattle-based POW Gloves team have forged their name and legacy based on creating product that works for snowboarders and exceeds quality expectations through attention to detail, a partnership with GORE-TEX, and sourcing  product in Indonesia, where Goss has excellent relationships. We caught up with Goss shortly after POW’s 10-year anniversary party to reflect on a decade of snowboarding business and a sneak peek of the decade to come.

Damn, ten years. That’s a long time in this crazy industry, especially the last ten years. Let’s start with three highs and three lows from the last decade and what you learned from them.

Without question this past decade of the business climate has been challenging no matter what industry you’re in.  In many ways snow sports is somewhat insulated from the primary economic ups and downs.  We are all farmers, if it snows the industry is sittin’ fat city, if it doesn’t snow we are in a mad panic to reduce expenditures and trim back to bare bones.

My three highs for the last decade:

  • Year over year growth for the POW brand
    • Lesson learned: striving for year over year growth is important but nothing is more important than a profitable bottom line.  Don't always sacrifice profit for growth.  But… momentum is important  and while building a brand-- and as an executive or brand manager--you have to do what you can to pursue growth. In this industry if someone is growing then someone is shrinking.  And if a “big guy” competitor is shrinking then the market place can get funky real fast.
  • Successfully developing a manufacturing relationship with GORE-TEX products and POW Gloves.
    • Top quality is king.  POW has always been “Built to Last” and to have a relationship with a leading global product innovator such as WL GORE has been terrific and insanely valuable for the POW brand and the products we produce.
  • 10 Years in Businesspow_gloves_ten_year_anniversary
    • The lessons are too vast and wide to talk detail about here and now, but the past decade has taught me a helluva lot about business and how to build and develop a product, manufacturing, and business infrastructure.

My three lows for the last decade:

  • Lack of snowfall in 2011/12 Winter Season.
    • Well, the PNW of the US got hammered - all of us at POW got to ride mad, great days - but the large majority of the world was fucked weather-wise, and the retail market paid for it.  Sales volumes were down, turn was down, and morale was at an all time low industry wide.  Lesson learned: have a plan C for when A and B fail.
  • SIA crossing over with ISPO.
    • Let’s talk here people.  Lesson learned: manage your limited resources with diligence and make it happen no matter what it takes.  With the importance of international sales to POW, it is critical we knock it out of the park with each of these major shows.  We have always done exactly that but it has been challenging and continues to remain that way.
  • Watching passionate people and brands come and go in this industry is a low point.  The mere fact that amazing athletes and talents from around the world engage the development of products to better the sport and/or the development of meaningful brands to enhance the lifestyle is amazing.  But far more often than not we see a lot of these new start ups come and go rather quickly.  The lessons learned for me as I have guided POW over the last decade have been to be patient, be strategic, and execute on the tactical approach.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights from POW’s 13/14 line:

What are the biggest differences in where POW is today and where you wanted to be in 2012 when you were putting this vision together?

I honestly thought we would be a much larger business today than we are.  However,  we can not complain with distribution in nearly 40 countries and a network of global partnerships that make POW happen.  But limited capital resources have held the company back from faster growth.  Nonetheless, POW has been blessed with the ability to grow year over year, but we are cursed with the reality of limited resources; always leading to not doing something we know we should do in order to achieve the next level of growth.

You guys had a huge birthday bash on November  9. Tell us a bit about what went down and what else you have in store to mark this milestone.

It was awesome to throw a birthday bash for our friends and supporters of the POW brand.  The people that have built and given so much to this business are far and wide and POW does its best to pay tribute and respect to those who have stood by us and supported us in our mission to build the best handwear, “All Day, Everyday.”  We had a killer DJ set up in the Seattle HQ, PBR gave us 30 cases of barley pops to share with our friends, and the sweetest twins in the world brought bottles of champaign to shower the drunken dance floor with - basically we got down and dirty in our bday suits and partied like 2012 is end of the world!

What do you think the importance of an anniversary like this is for a brand internally, for retailers, and to riders?

Inside POW it has always been my mission to build a legacy brand--a brand that would outlive any and all of us involved.  Reaching this milestone of 10 years in the game is a new level where we have achieved a Heritage status in our quest to become a legacy brand.  For the retailers it means 10 years of great product  and solid business experienced from POW that inevitably enhances the product at retail to be top quality and perform with high turnover results.

Most companies’ trajectories start with producing one product and then bolting on new categories. You guys have stayed successful by solely focusing on handwear. How do you keep this fresh and exciting year after year for your team and your customers?

While other companies produce a multitude of other categories, with gloves being merely an afterthought, POW remains committed solely to gloves, which uniquely enables us to do it better than the rest.

Gloves are really not that exciting and often get overlooked as a product category.  But now let’s be honest - have you gone to the mountain and forgot your gloves? If you did I bet you went into the lodge and bought a pair – that's cause they are a necessity.  POW respects this necessity and has build a business around it.  We know the manufacturing environment as good or better than anyone making gloves - we understand China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and more.  We know what a factories capabilities are from the moment we walk in the door or see samples.  We leverage our knowledge of gloves and do what we can to bring new construction standards to an ancient art of hand shoes.  When you instill best practices in production and humor in your sales story you can keep anything feeling fresh with the right presentation.

A day at the office, POW style.

Do you find being so winter-focused limits your business? How has the golf range done?

In 2009 POW launched a Golf and a Bike line.  The products are hands down some of the best money can buy.  Have you hit a golf ball in a POW glove — that's right back of the net.  But seriously those categories were launched with handwear in mind. It has always been my mission to build POW as a glove focused business.  So when we decided to expand or bolt on additional business as you put it - we chose new sport categories to bring innovative and quality handwear to.  Well hindsight being 20/20 those industries are hella hard to penetrate with solely one product.  We still produce these products but have really re-aligned our sights on our core business of Winter Sport Handwear.

So does it limit our business? No! And I say that because adding other categories or products will drain our limited resources . If we had more resources we could produce more products and successfully take marketshare, I’m sure of that.  We are thoughtful, creative and tactical in our approach to everything we do.  More than anything our size limits our business. Give POW some additional resources and we could be a lot further along with our global domination.

What have been your top three best selling styles of all time? How about units?

Stealth Glove - top quality construction married with genuine Goat Skin Leather - unbeatable performance.

Tanto Glove - this glove is a hybrid style where leather meets synthetics.

Shocker Glove -- well shocking isn’t it.  It protects you for those finer intimate moments in action.

Units well that is confidential but we are clicking along with strong 6 figure digits these days.

Follow the jump for Goss’s predictions for the future and to hear what a $220 glove look like…

Dustin Goss. Photo: Dionne

What trends have you seen in sales over the last couple of years?

Last year was a global hell with no snow.  The farm was bare.  But get this, we were down 24% in volume and up 5% in overall dollars.  We can not complain about that.  What is going on there with that trend you ask? Well POW is selling more high end product and firmly filling in a handwear category position that we have had our sights set on for a long while.  GORE-TEX has also helped with this mission.  Product might cost more to make, but at the end of the day everyones contribution dollars from retail to manufacturing have also increased.  And we all have to love enhanced contribution dollars!

What is the sweet spot in price points for you guys and how has that changed over the last decade?

In the “El Manual” the Sweet Spot is defined as $70-$100.  This is the volume range of business where POW succeeds and can continue to promote sales growth with intense confidence.  POW product in this Sweet Spot is hands down best in the business.   At each step in the process, from concept, to retail, to on-the-hill, POW is committed to building the best gloves for our valued customers with a commitment to fit, reliability, and value.

You guys are expanding into higher price points beginning next year, pushing $220 even. What does a $220 glove do for you and who are you targeting with that?

This year we have expanded our offering to a $170 model.  It is a choice glove with the most premium of materials and tightest tolerances.  POW has always thought about handwear product above and beyond a standard glove, which has lead to us providing exceptional product for an incredible value.  We wanted to make sure we also offer the “no cost is too high, I want the best” winter sport participant with exactly that over-the-top quality that oozes comfort and bleeds style.  Our new product development team is taking our next line of product above and beyond and yes we will achieve a $220 retail glove that will be a systematic mind blower.

Give us a few highlights of what you’ll be dropping at SIA.

A 10 year Anniversary Party, insanely sweet product, good vibes, mad Koozies, and lots of smiles.

Come check us out in SLC for OR, Denver for SIA, and/or Munich for ISPO - we’ll be selling, partying, selling, and WINNING!

POW has always seemed like a really tight-knit team but you’ve recently hired a new marketing person and are currently looking for a new sales manager. What have been the pros and cons of losing core people, yet getting new blood in the office?

Change is always good, and as many say, “everything happens for a reason.” I’m a firm believer in that way of life and we roll with the punches as they are dealt.  POW has had many talented and tenaciously kind people over the course of its operating history and every time it is time for some new internal blood we manage to hire up.  Our shift in marketing managers has been refreshing. We had a great talent with John Kaiser, but with our new blood Alicia Kent we have a fresh perspective. She dominates whatever she is tasked with and is a true gem for POW at this moment in time.

With the recent departure of Maxx Von Marbod, things were shaken up for a bit but we straightened out real fast and are now approaching the market and sales with a new perspective and position.  I am excited about who we hired, news dropping very soon. We sought a sales manager with vast experience understanding most importantly the specialty market but also knowing how to penetrate the next layer of the market with “Major’s”.  POW is aggressively pursuing the US Market as our  #1 growth region and we see lots of room to for us to achieve this.  We produce product designed to enhance the lifestyle of the true P.O.W - Prisoner of Winter.  Now how hard is that to sell?

 What skills are most important in hiring for you these days?

Each and every employee in the POW organization must be a people person.  An individual that can stand alone and represent the brand in a true authentic manner.  If you’re cut, you best be bleeding the POW.  We are always seeking multi-task, detail oriented people who are self starters and doers.  POW is a small team --each member of our business team must be self motivated with an entrepreneurial drive and incredibly tenacious.  It does take some thick skin and creative mind set to be inside our walls, but the rewards are fulfilling.  And as an employee you have to love our 22″ POWder rule - if it snows 22″ within a 3 hour drive from where you are, it is mandatory to summit the nearest resort and rip some POW, otherwise your ass is fired.

One of the biggest shifts I’ve seen in the last decade is a continual shift in production advantages around the world. We’re starting to see a lot of people leaving China for other places. You took an interesting route developing a solid partnership with a factory in Indo. What’s the business environment like over there right now?

Indonesia is a fantastic country filled with great people.  The eagerness to create long lasting relationships and build quality product are hands down the biggest attributes to doing production in this beautiful country.  We have been utilizing the same Indo manufacturer for the past decade - we are very well established in the walls of this factory and get top quality products with top quality construction.  Relationship is key.  And in some countries such as China you might get what you order the first time, and maybe even the second time, but you just might get screwed on key material components the third time. You have to watch your back and your product.  In Indonesia the trust climate is far more reliable and consistent.  I love Indo!

If you could see the future, you’d definitely be retired already. That said, let’s give it a shot. What does 2013 hold for POW?

POW will see a doubling of its business and strengthening of its core around the world with our stellar sales force.

How about the next decade?

The next decade will be carrying us into the 2020’s. Well let me see what my crystal ball tells us, and since we are going 20/20 on this I guess we better have Nastradamus results!  POW will be seeking to build or acquire a complimentary accessories brand to grow our distribution offering and further establish a more meaningful product assortment for the type of business we’re seeking to conduct in the next few seasons.  POW is a dynamic company that is very focused on strategic goals and market penetration.  We can sell and if we have deeper resources in good time we will be outselling a lot of todays market leaders.

Last words?

I would like to make a shout out to all the passionate people who make the winter sports industry what it is.  I love being surrounded by passion filled, enthusiastic beings who are driven to accomplish the impossible.  Each and every person in this industry is blessed to be a part of the businesses that supplies adrenaline for the tranquil moments of the snow life.  Snow What!