Byline: Kirstie Pike- CEO Prois Hunting & Field Apparel for Women
Fact…Prois has been around 9 years. At this point in time, Prois has survived being a start up business. It has survived global recession. It has survived the constant fluctuations in the hunting market.
It has survived. Prois remains the longest standing women’s only hunting and shooting clothing company to date.
It has been an interesting experience for me as I continue to learn this business and the industry. Since the inception of Prois, I have been told that my approach to business is wrong. I have been told my approach to marketing is wrong. I have been told my business model is wrong.
But yet, Prois survives.
How is it that a small company with a niche market can outlast many others who have come and gone? Here is what I know so far…
Flexibility in a business plan is key. Where this company started and where it is today are two entirely different animals. The hunting market has changed dramatically since 2008. When we entered the fray, all of the talk was about the “vast” numbers of female hunters. Dealers were buying huge purchases. TV shows were exploding with female hosts. Interestingly, while female hunters continue to be the fastest growing demographic, they still only account for 11-13% of overall hunters. Thus, the numbers did not support the big retail buys. Not at all. Adaptation to this was key. Creating a dealer market that allowed flexibility for store owners was important. Low minimum orders and gear exchanges definitely kept us competitive.
Yet the market continued to change. Big box stores continue to obliterate the small manufacturers such as Prois. As we know, large retailers demand deeper discounts, co-op fees and chargebacks that can be crippling. Example…one big box retailer charged us $1,000 for a broken box. Additionally, we had no say in merchandising in stores and we had no say in size runs ordered. This basically meant that Prois was displayed on a 4 way rack with camouflage lingerie and children’s clothing and the only sizes available were XL’s as not enough of our top selling sizes were purchased. We attempted educating sales staff, but this was unsuccessful as well. The result- bargain cave sales and big box stores selling our gear in affiliate markets despite this being against our policy. You see, big box stores don’t care about our policies. We actually found some of our gear being sold on affiliate for LESS than our cost. Yes…less than cost. So what did we do? We bought it back. And we quit making sales calls to the big box stores despite being told we could not survive by doing so. The way I see it, we couldn’t survive if we kept working with them.
And just when we thought we had it figured out, we really started to take a deep look at our sales and where our best efforts could be applied. Interestingly, we learned that a direct sales model would best benefit our customer base. It was clear that our online sales, Amazon sales and show sales far surpassed our dealer sales. Additional efforts such as online auctions, Pro Programs, Prostaff Sales, Outfitter programs and Home Hunting Parties definitely augmented our direct efforts. The best part? WE control our inventory and WE know the customer base. With that, you have probably noticed that we are hitting consumer shows with a ferocity.
Marketing is another case altogether. We have been told too many times to count that we need to pay a “celebrity” to be a spokesperson for Prois. I have never and will never subscribe to this. I personally believe that all female hunters are amazing and why pay one person who may or may not believe in my product when I can surround myself with thousands of amazing women who share a passion for hunting, shooting and the outdoors. Networking the sisterhood has been key to our success. Being real people with a real story is singularly the most important thing we do. Yet, this falls out of the scope of “regular business practice”. Having the ability to relate to women, talk to women and be friends with women is key to running a women’s clothing company.
As we head further into 2017, we will continue to evaluate our new business design and how to flex it to the market. Stay tuned for tales of woe and tales of success!! And as always, thank you for your support!