True North began in 1992 with a line of backpacks that featured a patented suspension system, designed for the outdoor recreation market. Because of the comfort and functionality of our patented suspension, we received a steady stream of requests from wildland firefighters to make firefighting packs. The company eventually designed the Firefly™, which became a top-selling wildland firefighting pack, and began an ongoing series of design collaborations with firefighters to develop equipment based on their needs and performance-based criteria. Today True North is one of the most recognized brands in firefighting equipment.
The company has since diversified into the industrial safety market with such products as Nomex® FR fleece outerwear under the DragonWear™ brand. DragonWear® flame and arc-resistant clothing has been well received by the utility, petrochemical and other industries where arc and fire hazards exist. Offering comfort, style, performance and security, the DragonWear® clothing line includes FR jackets, shirts, pants, headwear and more. DragonWear FR apparel is manufactured in the USA.
Though we’ve grown, our headquarters are still in Seattle, Washington, just up the street from the garage where we started.
What has been your company’s business strategy to gain market share?
Focus on the customer. Ask them what they need, give them what they ask for. True North is very innovation driven and we are constantly researching new materials, new designs and new production methods. This allows us to provide the solutions that our customers are looking for but haven’t been able to find elsewhere.
A good case in point was our work on developing the Dragon Shield™ FR Soft Shell Jacket. We created a 98 percent wind blocking, water repellent, 4-way stretch, inherently FR jacket to shield you from the elements. People at the NSC Expo were amazed when we introduced it this fall. They kept telling us “this is exactly what I’ve been looking for”. The demand for it has been terrific.
Describe the core branded products of your company that you promote most heavily.
In the industrial safety market, we’re really focused on FR knit clothing under our DragonWear® label. DragonWear® has raised the bar for comfort and performance in cold-weather FR outerwear. DragonFur Nomex fleece is lighter and provides more ease of movement while still providing protection from the elements. We expanded our clothing line in 2011 to include lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight moisture-wicking FR shirts and undergarments for all four seasons.
The garments are comfortable, provide excellent freedom of movement, and offer a gender-specific fit.
How do distributors contribute to your success in the marketplace?
Distributors are the critical “last mile” between us and the marketplace. Distributors are in the unique position of knowing the customer’s needs and having a wide knowledge of available products that can satisfy that customer’s need. In that capacity, the distributors are the interface between us and the customer without whom we cannot be successful.
Do you offer distributors training and other value-added services?
We visit our distributors to provide direct training to their staff. We attend tradeshows where we work in the distributor’s booth, which allows their staff to both learn more and to see how we sell our products. We go with distributor’s sales staff to call on customers to offer support and answer detailed customer questions. We also have on-line tools such as product videos, which are very educational.
What business characteristics do you look for when selecting to work with a distributor?
The main things we look for in a distributor are competence and experience. Our company and our products are built on integrity and we look for distributors who embody those characteristics. Anybody can offer a low price; we want distributors who have strong customer relationships built on service.
Do you have any recent news to report?
We added a new marketing manager, Lidia Lesniewska, and a new product designer, Rachel Linkhart, in 2011. We plan to add a regional sales manager to our team in the 1st quarter of 2012.
Describe your current financial picture.
Sales grew at 15 percent in 2010, and True North is on track for at least 15 percent growth again in 2011. From 2003-2009 True North had a sustained growth every year of 30 percent. The sales growth is attributable to listening and responding to customers’ demands. Eighty percent of the products at True North are a direct result of a customer request to create a product that they have been unable to find. In a typical year, True North designs and tests 25 new products, of which 10-15 make it into production. The other driver is a sustained focus on marketing and brand-building. In any given month True North is running a diverse array of ads in print and online, as well as participating in multiple tradeshows nationally and internationally.
What should distributors know about your company’s future?
In the near term, as well as the long term, True North will continue to be known for innovation, quality and best-in-class customer service. Those attributes will continue to drive sustained growth as they have in the past. Not only will we continue to expand via our current product lines, but we have several new patent-pending product lines in development that will make significant additions to our sales