Two of Natural Gear’s longtime employees thought the Little Rock apparel company known for its scientifically proven camouflage patterns was heading in the wrong direction.
So they bought the company in July 2017.
The move has paid off for Hunter Scott and John Adams, who, along with a group of Little Rock investors, purchased the assets of Natural Gear from the investment group Colwal Roth LLC of Little Rock. The price was not publicly disclosed.
Since buying Natural Gear, the company has revamped its website and introduced a new logo and camouflage pattern.
It also added a digital marketing strategy to promote Natural Gear products to their followers.
The new strategy worked. Natural Gear saw a 500% increase in online sales in 2018 over 2017 numbers, Scott said. He declined to disclose the company’s revenue.
Scott said he wants to double the business in the next year and double it again two years after that.
A Little Rock native and avid hunter, Scott said he started working at Natural Gear in 2008 as a salesman, and John Adams began his career at Natural Gear in 1999. Adams is the vice president of sales and product development, and Scott is vice president of operations.
Scott said that he and Adams wanted to buy the company because “it just sort of got a little bit sedentary. It was a good product. There was just not a lot of innovation. [And] there wasn’t a lot of forward thinking.”
Still, the company was profitable, with a niche following, especially in the southeast [part of the country] with deer and duck hunters. Its camouflage pattern “is bar none” superior to others, Scott said. “It performs better than anything on the market.”
But consumers were changing the way they shopped “and we weren’t keeping up,” Scott said.
Shoppers were moving from traditional brick and mortar stores to online shopping.
Scott said Natural Gear needed to make improvements. “And if we were going to do it, we wanted ownership of it,” he said.
So Scott and Adams put together investors and a board and bought the company under the name NatGear Acquisition LLC. One of the first things the new owners did was tackle the “very crude” website, Scott said.
They redesigned the site to include information on each of the patterns it sells and help the company with brand recognition.
Although the new website boosted online sales, that wasn’t the goal of the redesign, Scott said.
“Our primary source of revenue is wholesale sales to dealers,” he said. “That’s still extremely important to us.”
Some of Natural Gear’s top retailers include Mack’s Prairie Wings of Stuttgart, Fort Thompson Sporting Goods of Sherwood and DNW Outdoors of Jonesboro.
Playing the Fields
Last year Natural Gear unveiled a new camouflage pattern called Fields, which is designed for waterfowl hunters who hunt in rice, beans and brush.
“That’s not in any way to replace the tried-and-true Natural pattern,” Scott said. But “for everybody that hunts in timber, there are 10 times as many people who hunt in fields.”
He said customers had been asking for a pattern that would work in the fields, “So we took a lot of the laws that make our camouflage work so well, and we applied them to that.”
But there was a lot of trial and error with the pattern.
“It’s a long process,” Scott said. “You have to get your colors just right. If you’re off on your colors, and you get it out there and it stands out, you’ve failed.”
Developers of the product have to factor in lighting because sometimes the hunter is in direct sun and sometimes in the shadows. The fabric also can’t have too much shine on it.
“When you’re selling to somebody that spends a lot of time and effort trying to harvest an animal, you don’t want to be responsible for them not getting that,” Scott said.
In addition to the new line, Scott said the company will make “innovative changes to our products that will make them better and make them more functional. To be competitive in this market, you have to be innovative.”
But don’t expect the patterns to change, he said.
“We’re hunters, and so we use all these products.”
And sometimes the hunters notice a pocket on the jacket should have been added or moved.
“That’s one of the biggest benefits to us being our own customer,” Scott said. “If something’s not functional or doesn’t make sense for the type of hunting it’s intended for, we’re going to find out.”
Scott also wants to promote Natural Gear’s ties to Arkansas. The company was founded in the Natural State in 1994, and its headquarters are in Little Rock.
And even though most of Natural Gear’s business comes from Arkansans, not a lot of Arkansas hunters know the company’s ties to the state, Scott said.
“That’s on us,” he said.
In fact, Natural Gear can trace its roots back to a deer hunt in the Mississippi River bottoms of Arkansas in the early 1990s.
The company’s founder, Larry Rial, could spot his brother a quarter of a mile away, even though he was wearing the latest camo patterns. It was then that he decided to improve on the patterns, leading to the creation of Natural Gear.
Scott said the company has gained a loyal following over the years.
If hunters try Natural Gear’s products, Scott said, “for the most part, they’re happy with us, and they’ll stick with us.”