When Good Gear Goes Global
STORMTECH celebrates an extraordinary 40 years in business and a growing worldwide presence.
The best business ideas involve filling an unmet need or solving the problem of potential customers, even if it’s a problem they don’t know they have. When supplier STORMTECH’s (PPAI 260245) President and CEO Blake Annable decided to go into business for himself in 1977, he saw that mom-and-pop independent retailers in small towns across western Canada were being overlooked by the major athletic equipment brands. So he set up a small warehouse in the basement of a dry-cleaning shop in North Vancouver and started a private label company called Promark that imported athletic equipment and sold to those small retailers in small towns.
“I would load samples in a hockey bag, and hit the road with as much stock as I could load in my van,” says Annable. “I would fill the order from the back of the van and return to the warehouse when I ran out of stock.” His time on the road paid off when the sporting goods buyer at a large retailer in Vancouver complained of being constantly out of stock of sports bags from major brands. Annable pounced.
“We developed a prototype of a vinyl gym bag and produced it in a range of team colors for both athletic and retail markets. It was my first big success,” says Annable. Major department stores across Canada carried the Promark bags. Business was good. And then a recession hit in 1982 and his business was nearly decimated. It was time to diversify or risk losing everything.
As luck would have it, a new government regulation prevented beer-brewing businesses from advertising in traditional media and those companies had advertising dollars to invest elsewhere. Again, Annable saw the opportunity and entered the promotional products market.
“We designed [a branded] insulated beer cooler bag. These bags were hugely popular and during the next few years, we expanded both the product and brand offerings to keep up with the growing demand for ‘beer gear.’ The beer reps had huge discretionary marketing budgets in those days and every year they wanted something different. They would change their logos, so they’d need new promotional items. At one point, we were making promo gear for Labatt, Molson, Coors and Budweiser.”
As his promotional products business grew, Annable wanted to offer businesses more sophistication and technicality in branded apparel offerings, which ultimately led to the development of the first branded jacket with a fleece liner that could be zipped into a waterproof breathable shell. “It was based on a highly successful product in the ski industry, but we wanted to produce it for companies looking for a more premium jacket. The make and fit was incredibly complicated and we worked very hard to get it right. At the same time, we split the company into two separate product categories and brands—Promark for branded bags and promotional items and STORMTECH for apparel.”
The move paid off. Fast forward to 2017 and the family-owned and operated company (Annable’s four children and his brother-in-law have integral roles at the company) has just over 140 employees based in its Vancouver head office, Toronto-area office, U.S. sales offices, and in Europe. The Vancouver facility is the global distribution center with over 250,000 square feet that warehouses more than 600 styles with a total SKU base of 22,000.
Time To Celebrate
STORMTECH is celebrating its 40th anniversary with customers and employees at all of its 2017 trade shows. Says Annable, “It’s an important milestone to reflect back on what we’ve accomplished and celebrate with those who have been a part of the journey. Our recent annual publication, STORMTECH Magazine, features an article on the history of the company, including all the ups and downs and interesting stories along the way. This has been distributed to all our customers, included with various industry magazine mail-outs, provided at trade shows and available online.”
STORMTECH is looking forward to providing the best technical gear for the next 40 years. Its fall/winter 2016 collection utilizes innovative fabrics that focus on warmth, durability, and low-light “stealth” visibility. Several of its new garments have won some of the industry’s 2017 apparel design awards.
For its spring/summer 2017 collection, STORMTECH’s design team has created an “on-trend” bold collection with an emphasis on intelligent detailing and branding, unique fabrications, blending form with function, and fashion-forward styling and silhouettes.
Annable emphasizes that quality and safety are of utmost importance in the company’s overall strategy. “[Product responsibility] is a critical component to our supply chain management. We ensure all our factories are WRAP and BSCI members and continually work with our factory suppliers to ensure our strict code of conduct is being met and exceeded.”
As it has achieved success, STORMTECH has made a point to give back by supporting many nonprofit organizations, events and charities. “We recently supported a Vancouver-based alternative school for at-risk youth. The school started an outdoor program that prepared a team of 15 students to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Another group we support is The Walking School Bus. It raises funds for school infrastructure and education programs in Uganda. On the organization’s trip to Uganda this past summer, we sent along soccer uniforms for the school kids. Wounded Warrior BC is another important organization we recently partnered with,” Annable says.
He believes that the company’s future looks bright. “We continue to grow our client base in every industry and segment imaginable. At the same time, our product range continues to expand and diversify. Chances are we have the apparel or bag solution for any industry, activity, climate or price range.”
Julie Richie is associate editor for PPB.