Hans Howell and Hailey DeMarois live in Red Lodge and spend a lot of time skiing, backpacking and climbing. And, during the summer, DeMarois works as a guide on the Smith River in Western Montana.
When they couldn’t find the exact type of outdoor clothing that suited their lifestyle, they invented it, and then they built a company around it.
“We noticed that even with all the big-name brands and selection, it is still surprisingly difficult to find durable, comfortable pants that perform well in a wide range of activities and conditions,” Howell said.
Living life outside wasn’t their only qualification for starting the company. Howell has a degree in finance, and DeMarois has a degree in fashion design.
The pair run Roscoe Outdoor, a small but fast-growing clothing company in Red Lodge. Retailers all over the West sell their clothing, including the Base Camp in Billings and Sylvan Peak in Red Lodge. It also may be purchased from their website, www.roscoeoutdoor.com.
Here’s what else Howell had to say about the time and cost of starting a company:
Why start this business?
Starting a business requires a wide range of skills, which simultaneously provides a major source of stress and enjoyment. It’s fun to work on a multitude of different tasks, most of which have a high impact on the viability of our business, so work never seems meaningless or dull. In the morning I could be sourcing fabric, by mid-day packing orders and communicating with customers, in the afternoon we could be sitting down and reviewing a recent garment design.
Hailey and I are co-owners. While each of us at some point wears all the hats within the business, we do try to divide and conquer. I typically handle all of the accounting, invoicing and material sourcing. Hailey typically handles all the prototype sewing and pattern making. I try to focus on running the business and Hailey on designing and patterning new garments.
Where did startup funding come from?
It was provided entirely by personal savings from working full-time jobs in and around Red Lodge. I worked as a carpenter for years and Hailey has worked as a waitress and as a guide on the Smith River in the summer. We worked our twenties away, and, although it’s rewarding and freeing not to have given up equity in our business, it was arduous to work full-time jobs coupled with the demands of getting our business venture off the ground.
How long have you been in business?
We are entering our third year of business.
Your biggest challenge?
A few of the memorable ones include:
1. The difficulty in sourcing high-quality fabrics and components in what is truly a global industry. Starting an outdoor clothing company in today’s business environment, especially when producing technical apparel made from synthetic fabrics, requires working with overseas suppliers. Tariffs, customs issues, communication barriers and logistics are some of the challenges when working with people and companies halfway around the globe.
2. Convincing high-quality garment manufacturers to produce our bulk orders. Our order quantities have grown, but our initial orders were small and it was difficult to get a manufacturer on board and committed to producing our clothing to our exact specifications. Oddly enough, the Great Recession may have helped us in this regard. The fall off in economic activity, while overall bad for our business and most every other business out there, may have helped us secure contracts with top-quality manufacturers.
3. Designing and building great products. It’s what our business is entirely about. Having a great idea and executing it are two different animals. There are many aspects to producing a piece of clothing: fit, design, color, technical performance and material choice. Lots of things must come together perfectly.
What was done to overcome those challenges?
We kept at it. Our knowledge of the outdoor apparel industry and the suppliers within it has grown immensely. Sourcing the right materials and insuring top quality construction has become easier. That is not to say it does not still require a lot of effort, thousands of emails, and constantly looking and thinking about new materials or designs. Our business is in the black, helping to alleviate the strain on our capital.
What is being done to expand the business?
We continually think ahead to new clothing ideas and start prototype designs early to ensure success once they come to market. It’s really shocking how little advertising we have done with our business over the past three years. Being so short on cash meant that by the time inventory arrived there was little money left for much else. Slowly, that situation has improved and Hailey and I look forward to doing simple things such as producing a great catalog; building a new, more engaging website; and getting a few advertisements in major outdoor publications. Our business was launched by traveling around and meeting with retailer buyers directly and showing them our clothing in person. We also attended a few outdoor events in the area as a vendor, which enabled us to talk and sell to individual customers directly.
In addition, we are attending the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, Utah, in August as a vendor. This is a huge convention that hosts outdoor gear and apparel companies along with retail buyers from around the country. We haven’t attended as a vendor before because the cost to do so is very high.
Your best business decisions?
The best business decisions were to use high-quality components and to be relentless in sourcing the perfect fabric for the application. There is no room to produce cheap clothing that does not meet our customer’s expectations.
Your worst business mistake?
That was at the very beginning for us. We produced a very small trial run of a prototype pant in quantity. Unfortunately, the sewing quality did not meet our standards and we sold them at a much-reduced price. It was a lesson to never skimp on getting a garment built right.
What advice do you have for someone running a business?
My advice is more a show of camaraderie. There are others like you out there working hard on entrepreneurial pursuits with the same or similar frustrations and obstacles without any guarantee of success. It’s very stressful to be staking your financial future on a small business and pumping money (not to mention time) into it when it could be used for that down payment on a home or a more reliable form of transportation — as I write I am smiling and thinking of my 1995 Subaru with 227,000 miles.
Number of workers?
Currently it is just Hailey and myself.
What’s your five-year plan for the business?
It is to consistently expand product offerings and the size range. We really want to continue pursuing the goal of building great outdoor clothing that fits nearly everyone. Revenue has grown significantly each year and we expect that growth to continue. We look forward to picking up employees sometime within the next five years to help us grow and manage our business.
A question you would ask other entrepreneurs?
My burning question would pertain to funding a business that is rapidly growing. We have self-funded up to this point, but a huge increase in sales would leave us searching for additional capital in order to fulfill the new orders for our clothing. What good options exist for funding a rapid increase in sales?
If you weren’t doing what you are now, what would be your dream job?
My dream job would probably have to be somewhere in the investment world, though I could not give up living in beautiful Red Lodge. Hailey has thoroughly enjoyed her time guiding on the Smith River each summer. A dream career for her would be endless summers of guiding; conversing with interesting and diverse clients; and utilizing her creativity and aesthetic acumen by creating art, sculpture or painting perhaps when not on the river.