Smart Fabrics 2012 advisory board member Hap Klopp is the founder of world-renowned performance apparel, equipment and footwear company The North Face, where he served as President and CEO for 20 years. Hap will be presenting "Building and Marketing a New Technology" during the Business Perspectives sessions that will kick off Smart Fabrics 2012. Be sure to register for the conference today to learn directly from Hap about how your company can successfully take your product from concept to commercialization, and how to avoid some of the common pitfalls that frequently befall new businesses.
We asked Hap to share some of the success stories and lessons learned during his time at The North Face, including the role that new, innovative textiles played in some of the company's more popular product lines.
Hap Klopp on "Turning the Arrow Back" - Harnessing Innovation to Drive Increased Sales (and Profits)
The concept and strategy I had when I founded The North Face was one I continue to employ in other businesses I am involved in, I describe it as "Turning the Arrow Back." All entrepreneurial businesses start out with high margins, rapid growth, lots of excitement and fun and lots of innovation. But they often make little profit, because they don't sell very much. Faced with this scenario these companies are pushed to commoditize their product and sell to everyone. That shift in strategy does get them profits, but the arrow on margins, innovation, fun and profits all head downward, and they end up only making pennies on the dollar and don't have a very exciting business. My strategy to "turn the arrow back" is to apply technology to the commoditized volume product making it entrepreneurial again with high margins, lots of innovation and, now, lots of profits -- because now the company is selling great volumes.
At The North Face we applied technologies and materials which were in excess after the Vietnam War to the camping business. Lightweight parachute cloth became ripstop nylon to be used in sleeping bags, tent tops and jackets, and aircraft aluminum became lightweight tent poles and pack frames. These advancements cut the weight a camper would have to carry almost in half. So, campers could easily go miles into wilderness, not just a few hundred yards from the roadside. Women also joined the effort because they enjoyed the lighter weight. Thus, the Backpacking industry was established. Given our commitment to technology and materials innovation, we jumped at the chance to incorporate Gore-Tex when we were one of the first companies they approached. It was a great innovative material, a great company and a great partnership that massively increased The North Face sales. When we decided we wanted to revolutionize the tent world we collaborated with Buckminster Fuller, and again created a new generation of tents which required a whole new generation of materials.
Of course we weren't the only ones who did this. Under Armour revolutionized t-shirts by applying the advanced stretch and synthetic materials, and fabric companies like Event used phase-change materials to advance textiles and apparel. After leaving The North Face I've continued to consult and be involved with companies that employ this strategy, or which create materials that can affect this strategy. I'm Executive Chairman of Cocona, a company that creates innovative, patented fibers and fabrics which use a patented process with nano-scale active particles that dramatically improve many of the functionalities of fabrics and garments (moisture management, UV and odor capture, etc.) without increasing the weight of a fabric or changing the hand. And it works with both synthetics and natural materials. Cocona is literally revolutionizing the design and function of garments, and, again, turning the arrow back.
Hap has been involved with our Smart Fabrics conference for some time. Click here to watch a short video of Hap at our 2009 edition of the conference.
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