Chuck Browning seemed to be a perfect fit for Banded Brands.
The Arkansas native had been an avid outdoorsman and duck hunter most of his life. “I’ve always tried to make it a part of my life,” said the 52-year-old Browning.
So when the opportunity arose last year to buy the Banded Brands license from Maxx Outdoor of Council Bluffs, Iowa, he took it.
Browning is now chief executive officer of the waterfowl hunting and outdoor gear company, and under his leadership the company has soared.
Banded’s products are now under the corporate name Banded Holdings Inc., which has its headquarters in Springdale. Banded’s fulfillment warehouse relocated from Omaha, Nebraska, to a 48,000-SF building in Springdale earlier this year.
At the end of July, Banded acquired Avery Outdoors Inc. of Memphis, which touts itself as the nation’s No. 1 manufacturer of waterfowl hunting equipment.
“Avery will be a huge complement to our overall business model,” Browning said. “And from a product side, they really provide a more complete portfolio combined with ours of waterfowl and outdoor hunting products.”
Browning said revenue in 2015 is expected to be double that of 2014, but he declined to release revenue figures.
Browning said one of the reasons for Banded’s success is its merchandise.
“They came into the market at a time when there wasn’t necessarily a lot of innovation of products,” he said. “They took a more tactical approach to some of their products, making them heavier duty. And they also came out with a very innovative wader system that was absolutely disruptive to the market.”
Founded in 2010, Banded “set out on a mission to develop the most comfortable, lightest, most practical, bad-to-the-bone breathable waders ever made,” according to marketing material on Mack’s Prairie Wings website. “After countless hours of research and development and extensive materials testing, engineers fused optimal fabrics with the most scientifically advanced waterproof and breathable laminate.”
Banded then created what it called “an ultimate wader featuring unprecedented functionality, wear-ability, durability and performance throughout all the extreme conditions the waterfowler commonly encounters.”
The investment paid off for Banded.
“I think we stepped up the game a bit,” said Christian Curtis, vice president of product development of Banded, and one of the founders of the company. “So in addition to the quality and the new material, it was a fresh deal. It was a new brand and a new buzz about it.”
Way Of Life
Growing up in Sherwood, Browning said he was attracted to duck hunting because it’s “another method to go out and engage with the outdoors.”
Browning’s hobbies included hunting, fishing and camping.
“It’s partly kind of a way of life if you grow up in Arkansas,” he said. “Arkansas is a major duck hunting state.”
Browning made his career away from the outdoors in the world of finance. He helped start the investment bank Capital USA in the late 1990s with Alice Walton, whose father is the late Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville.
In 2012, Browning joined Acumen Holdings of Fayetteville, which operates a portfolio of e-commerce sites. Browning was the chief financial officer of Acumen’s Country Outfitters, which sells cowboy boots and western wear. Browning left the company in the fall of 2013.
In April 2014, Browning was having coffee at a Fayetteville coffee shop with one of his business partners when he first learned about the investment opportunity with Banded.
Browning’s business partner “said that he had a fraternity brother that sent him some information about this outdoor company and suggested I take a look at it.”
The company was Maxx Outdoors, which held the license to Banded Brands.
Browning was familiar with Banded.
He tried to buy one of its waders in 2013 at Mack’s Prairie Wings, but the item had sold out.
Banded “had already developed quite a reputation for having one of the best new designs, innovative wader system on the market,” he said.
Browning’s interest piqued when he learned he could lead a group of investors to buy the company. He spent the summer of 2014 meeting the founders and learning about the different elements of the Banded divisions.
In addition to gear and clothing lines, Banded also produces the outdoor television shows “The Fowl Life” and “Dead Dog Walkin’,” televised on the Outdoor Channel, Sportsman’s Channel and Wild TV.
“At that point I realized there was a great opportunity here,” Browning said.
While Banded had grown the brand in just a few years, “what they really needed was basically a restructuring, a recapitalization of leadership of the company,” Browning said. “So I put together a plan to do that.”
Browning said he brought investors together. A U.S. Securities & Exchange filing shows the directors of the company include Chad Belding of Sparks, Nevada, who was a founder of Banded.
Banded Holdings raised $10 million — $5 million from investors and $5 million in debt. A portion of that money was used to buy the Banded Brands license from Maxx Outdoors. The price paid for the license, though, wasn’t publicly disclosed, but some of the money raised also went for working capital and inventory.
The deal closed on Dec. 31.
After the ink dried on the acquisition papers, Browning said on top of his to-do list was planning for the 2015 hunting season.
“Every element of the business model had to be re-evaluated,” Browning said.
He said the plan in 2015 was to build a foundation for the company so it could expand over the next several years.
“So it’s refocusing the brand, chaining the brand messaging and putting the right systems in place … to build and support a growing company,” Browning said. “And those were missing from the plans.”
Browning said he didn’t anticipate the high demand for Banded’s products from dealers.
Banded items can be found in Arkansas retailers such as Mack’s Prairie Wings in Stuttgart, Fort Thompson Sporting Goods in Sherwood and DNW Outdoors in Jonesboro.
“We had to immediately turn around and evaluate our inventory orders,” he said. “It was a good surprise, but it was also a big challenge because you have to be able to financially support the additional inventory.”
Browning said Banded was able to do that.
The company has already expanded to about 15 employees, up from about 10 earlier this year.
And the waterfowl industry continues to expand, Browning said.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s aerial waterfowl survey report in January 2015 showed that in the Delta the duck population index was more than 1.2 million ducks, including over 925,000 mallards. The mallard estimate was about 15 percent higher than the previous year, the report said.
Still, what has made Banded a success is its people, Browning said.
“The people that started the company are seasoned industry executives,” he said. “They helped make it easy. I’m trying to build on their success that they already had.”