It took about a year and a half to develop a production-ready prototype of our first bag – the Flak Sack. We were commited to keep our manufacturing and assembly in small town America. In April of 2016 we launched it on Kickstarter to see if anybody else had the same need for this product. We set the funding target for our 50-day campaign to $18,000, which we hit on day 3. We knew we were on to something when we got a phone call from a casting director for ABC’s Shark Tank less than 2-weeks into the campaign. By the end of the campaign we had achieved 4,750% of our goal.
When reality set in, we realized that we only had materials and production lined up for 1,000 bags – way short of what we needed. We immediately started sourcing the additional materials we needed, even though we hadn’t received our money from Kickstarter yet. We went deep into debt, and our US manufacturer was in no position to meet the new demands we were about to place on them. The Flak Sack is very difficult to manufacturer, and most cut and sew shops cannot work with our textile, but we needed to grow.
We have found that the only manufacturers who can work with our type of materials are a small subset of those who typically do US Department of Defense (DoD) work. There is also rule in the DoD contracting process which states that when the US Government requests, the manufacturer is required to pull all of their resources off of private sector work to focus on the Government’s production. This happened to us, and our production came to a screeching halt. We did what any self-centered business would do – spin up a new corporation, hire the trained production resources from the manufacturer into the new company, lease space and equipment from the original manufacturer, and continue on as a separate operation. Sounds good… until you think about the fact that some US soldier overseas isn’t going to have the protective gear he or she needs because we came up with a loophole to get around the Government’s rules. Time for Plan B!
We found another US manufacturer who had demonstrated the desire and capability to produce our bags, so after negotiating a price with them, we shipped them seven pallets of materials. Unfortunately, when their lead engineer, who had been with the company for over 20 years, turned in her resignation, the proverbial “wheels fell off the bus” and they were no longer able to produce the quality we needed. We had to gather and pack up all our materials and ship them back to our first manufacturer.
It was becoming painfully clear to us that we were going to have to look overseas if we ever wanted to be able to scale our manufacturing. We didn’t know anything about overseas manufacturing, but we know lots of people. Time for a strategic partner! Two months later, after a bunch of phone calls and face-to-face meetings, we had a new business partner, 11 overseas factories, and 265,000 square feet of warehousing and fulfillment. Time to grow.
Overseas production is not without its challenges, but capacity is not one of them. It took time to get our overseas partners to embrace our component and quality standards, but eventually they got there. They are not good at innovation, but they are great at taking our innovations and bringing them to life efficiently. This has enabled us to be constantly innovating and improving our products, and has turned out to be a blessing for us.
Back to our Crowdfunding backers… These folks are the heart and soul of our company. They brought us to life when we were nothing but an idea, and we owe them everything. Up until late in our Indiegogo campaign, we promised our backers US-made bags. We gave our word on US-made bags, and we are doing everything we can to honor that. It’s a slow process, but at least it’s now steady. We sincerely apologize for the delay.
Today we continue to manufacture in the US for the Crowdfunding backers, and we are in steady state production overseas for our online and retail products. We continue to innovate, patent, and roll out new products that address the needs of today’s active lifestyles. Our future is bright, and we wake up everyday excited about delighting our customers and meeting the challenges of the day. Thank you to all of you who have encouraged and supported us along the way.