While Natural Gear LLC hasn’t changed its camouflage pattern in more than 20 years, its marketing plans have.
The outdoor apparel and accessories retailer headquartered in Little Rock is targeting what it calls major independent retailers for sales growth, John Adams, chief operating officer for Natural Gear, said.
“That’s where we think our growth is going to be,” Adams said.
Founded in 1994, Natural Gear has grown steadily, and it expects a bright future. Adams declined to release sales figures.
“There’s been a shift,” he said. Larger outdoor retailers now are carrying about 70 percent of items under their own label, when years ago it might have been around 50 percent.
Adams said that shift has given Natural Gear an opening with major independent retailers.
“In the past, if you were in those big box stores, the [major independent] guys would have issues competing with price,” he said.
But since the full line of a major brand isn’t available in larger stores, the major independent retailers now welcome apparel manufacturers such as Natural Gear.
Adams said Natural Gear also would consider making products for retailers under the retailer’s label.
But for sales to grow, word of mouth is key, he said.
“Traditionally, if we can get them to just try us out, they’ll be customers for life,” Adams said. “We aren’t really trying to win the best in the beauty contest. We want to do best where it matters — in the woods and the fields.”
The roots of Natural Gear can be traced to a deer hunt in the Mississippi River bottoms of Arkansas in the early 1990s.
Adams related the story of hunter and company founder Larry Rial, who said that during the hunt he could spot his brother even though he was wearing the latest camo patterns and was hunting a quarter of a mile away.
“It was then that he decided he had to come up with a better idea to improve upon all hunters’ ability to hide,” Adams said of Rial.
Rial used nature photos taken from across the country and noted the primary colors and shapes that occurred in the wild.
After several attempts, Natural Gear’s original pattern was created and taken to market in 1994.
“Natural Gear is a non-manipulated, photographic camouflage pattern that’s like a deer’s coat,” Adams said. “It’s open, light soft edged and shadow free.”
But there were a lot of lessons to be learned.
“In the beginning, everyone had visions of taking the fast track to popularity via licensing our patterns out to the major successful brands at the time,” Adams said. “Though we did a good portion of that, what we found was that with our size company it wasn’t attractive to many of them to offer products in our patterns. Some did well. Some did okay, but many struggled.”
Adams said Natural Gear pushed forward growing its own apparel line.
“What we then found was that although it is a slower growth path, you really build the pattern and brand with your customer base,” he said.
And there have been other changes. Rail left the company in the 2000s. Since 2008, its owner has been the investment group Colwal Roth LLC of Little Rock.
Although the ownership has changed hands over the years, the company’s camouflage pattern hasn’t.
“We keep using it because it keeps working,” Adams said. “Mother Nature hasn’t changed her pattern and neither have we.”