Tahoe skiwear company attacks national market
TAHOE CITY – The backflip didn’t finish the way Mark Kendrick thought it would. He’d envisioned launching, spinning, landing and skiing away. He certainly didn’t forsee landing on his head and opening his eye to see his ski boot beside his face.
Kendrick tried to convince himself his foot’s location was normal, but it wasn’t. He had broken his femur, jeopardizing the ski bum lifestyle he loved. Rather than sidelining him permanently, though, the injury kicked him into action. He decided to move out West and start a ski clothing company.
With nothing more than $5,000, a sewing machine and a passion for classic colors, Kendrick created 12 prototypes and a catalog of pants and jackets to take to Whistler for a mogul competition in 1997. He did $6,000 in sales his first year – just enough to repay his investors.
What started as a crazed entrepreneurial vision in 1997, however, has snowballed into one of the most emerging names in ski clothing. Predatorwear, based in Tahoe City, has grown from a two-employee operation in 1999 to an 11-employee team with six company representatives. A year ago, it was a company hoping to make $1 million in sales, but as the year comes to a close, it has far exceeded expectations.
“We’ve made the transition from a backyard, garage company to be a major player in the industry now,” Chief Executive Officer Skeeter Crossley said. “Our emphasis now is on keeping (the company) close and tight.”
The next leg
The company has always been close and tight, especially since its incorporation in 1999 when Kendrick’s roommate in Steamboat and now in Tahoe, Scott Fitzmorris, decided to invest in the business. Still, success was not imminent for the pair. The two struggled through their first year together.
Although they went to the industry trade show in Las Vegas, they did a mere $14,000 in sales. The bulk of their sales in 2000 came online, where they sold close to 1,000 pieces of Predatorwear, according to Chief Operating Officer Carey Langley.
“You can only grow so big online because of who sees you,” Langley said. “A lot of people want to touch the product, feel it, try it on. It’s important to be in retail stores. … We really weren’t a viable entity.”
That changed a year later when a sales representative for Rip Curl named Skeeter Crossley discovered Predatorwear. Crossley liked the product, saw its potential and wanted to get involved with the company. He took them on as a peripheral line and that first year he put in more orders than they had done in business the previous year.
All the while Crossley made recommendations for improving the company. It wasn’t long before he approached the pair about running the company, and Kendrick and Fitzmorris agreed to hire him in 2002.
The first things Crossley addressed as CEO were improving the sales rep force and changing the production process. The combination of adding reps and making production changes helped increase the company’s retail presence from two stores to 100 and boosted sales by more than $2 million.
“It opened up a whole new world for us,” Crossley said. “We decreased production cost and passed the savings on to our consumers. …It allowed us to compete with the big boys.”
The growth also coincided with another lucky break – a call from Glen Plake, who wanted to wear Predator.
“I chose them because I feel it’s a name associated with skiing,” Plake said. “There hasn’t been a lot of entrepreneurial moves in our sport in the last 30 years. Changes were done generations before us. With Predator, it’s here and now and it’s all about skiing. I liked that.”
Plake liked it so much, in fact, that he voluntarily spiked up his mohawk, threw on red pants and a jacket and stood on the side of Highway 89 for Predator’s outlet store opening in Tahoe City earlier this month.
“I don’t dress up like Santa and stand on the highway very often,” Plake said. “That’s not a day-to-day job for me.”
Skiing toward the future
Today, Predatorwear has expanded its focus from the mogul pants with which it began. It now produces 67 styles in five ranges, including technical, freeride, accessory, price point and mogul. It continues to lead competitors with innovations, like the use of magnets rather than velcro down jacket chest flaps. And its line has begun to be recognized by industry peers, who Crossley said compliment their work at trade shows.
With all of that in mind, the goals remain simple for those involved in the company. Langley and Crossley hope to see continued growth and store presence. Langley predicts another 200 percent growth this year, while Crossley’s plans include an expanded product line featuring street wear like cargo pants and T-shirts.
As for the company’s originators, Fitzmorris and Kendrick, the pair has stepped away from involvement in daily operations and serve primarily marketing and designing roles, respectively. Both want to see the company continue to grow, but they also want to continue to improve their skiing (Fitzmorris took fourth at national freestyle selections in 2003), which falls in line with Plake’s favorite thing about Predator.
“If there were a ski industry company challenge,” Plake said, “I bet we’d kick everyone’s butt. And we wouldn’t bring our pro team. We’d bring the owners of the company.”