Listen to the Interview:

Links mentioned in this interview:

Backpacker Apparel Website

Backpacker Apparel Catalog

Contact Backpacker Apparel:

Phone: (212) 221-6060

Email: davidb@dbebz.com

Interview Transcript:

Marty Hartman:
Welcome to the supplier spotlight interview with David Bebon, CEO of Backpacker. David, thanks for being on the interview today.

David Bebon:
Thanks Marty. Thanks for inviting me.

Marty Hartman:
Well, you’ve got the attention of our members right now. Give them the hook. Why should they pay attention to this interview?

David Bebon:
I think we have a very compelling story, Backpacker Apparel, and the brand Backpacker was invented in 1976 by a very great, huge manufacturer called Capitol Mercury Apparel, which was actually started by my grandfather and his partner in 1960. Backpacker was a brand we used almost exclusively for the acrylic and flannel business in the fall selling season, Cabela’s, Bass Pro, Academy Sport where some of our big customers at the time, my family and I purchased Backpacker in 2014 and the hook and what I want your members to know about Backpacker is We are an outdoor lifestyle brand made with better fabrics and better made details at moderate price points. That’s our story. We’re family owned and operated. My wife, Zoe, does all our marketing and all our advertising, our catalogs, our website. Our youngest son, Spencer, has now just set us up on the new NetSuite business system, which has everything focused now in what we do as a company, including order entry and inventory control.

David Bebon:
But I think our real story is we make better products at moderate price points. We source our own fabric, which most companies our size do not. They go to a factory and buy whatever fabric they have. We don’t do that. So I think we have a real compelling story. We were basically started here in 2014, we do most of our production in WRAP certified factories in Bangladesh. WRAP is a social compliance outside a company that we hire to come in, primarily in bookwork. Are we paying overtime? Are we giving employees time off? Do we have fire extinguishers? Do we have fire escapes, et cetera. This is what WRAP certification means. This is a 12 month certification process. And we also pay for that. But I think the elevator pitch if you will, is that we have better products, better make, at better pricing.

Marty Hartman:
Well, I was a really happily surprised to look at the samples that you sent to our offices and I have to say that the quality of the garments, they’re not cheap garments as far as the construction. They feel the, the materials and the construction, the details are very compelling and it looked to me like, I’m just comparing from some of apparel that I’ve seen like a LL Bean or a Land’s End type of quality that you would see in a retail environment.

David Bebon:
Thank you. That’s a great, great compliment to my company for you to place us next to those two wonderful companies in the same sentence as Backpacker, we do pride ourselves on our workmanship. We use a 16 size yarn on our flannels, for example, where most of your members are buying a 21 or a 32 yarn. We use a thicker yarn in our  flannel, we double brush our flannel and every men’s flannel shirt in the line is triple needle sewing. So we really offer, I think, something that most companies in this space do not offer. I have to add for your membership, we manufactured for the great Carhartt company for over 10 years. We were in Dearborn, Michigan almost every other month.

David Bebon:
Carhartt is to me the top top of the pile when it comes to what I would consider work wear, outdoor lifestyle. Carhartt really hits it and we’re very proud of the fact that we manufactured for them for over 10 years. The key components or the key styles were the canvas shirt jacks and the flannel shirts, eight ounce and six ounce. But I think we are using different fabrics than most of our competitors and I think we do a lot of little nuances in the actual manufacturing to sewing, if you will, which are maybe some of the things you saw when you received those samples.

Marty Hartman:
So who’s a typical Backpacker customer? What industries are you serving?

David Bebon:
It’s funny, I tried to describe our Backpacker as a three legged stool. One leg is our canvas story. Our jackets, our vest, our concealed carry vest, our shirt jacks. The second leg is our wrinkle free story. It’s a sports shirt in men’s and women’s that’s wrinkle free with a stain and soil repellent finish, not release. And the third leg will be your whole flannel story. Men’s and women’s flannels. We have a new stretch flannel, really a fishing shirt, but my wife wouldn’t let me call it a fishing shirt, so we called it a stretch flannel, but those are the three legs. We have a flannel story, a canvas story, and a wrinkle free story. Because of that, we get into the hospitality service industries, especially with our stain and soil finishes. We get into agriculture, agribusiness, aqua agriculture, aqua businesses because we’d have that nice canvas. All our jackets, for example, are triple needle sewn, all our canvas is seven and a half ounce.

David Bebon:
It’s all garment washed enzyme, soft hand. So we go into many different businesses. We handle hospitality, food service, and the service industries quite nicely. We handle anything outdoors and the agriculture and the agribusiness category, we handle that well. And also when it comes just to any company event, we have a fairly large promotional products business. We work with the number one wholesale distributor in the world called alphabroder. They’re a 1.6 billion company and they have an exclusive with the Backpacker brand in the promotional channel. Some of your members will be purchasing through the promotional channel or they have a … there’s some segue between promotional channel and work wear and things of that sort. But because of that affiliation, we find ourselves in many company or corporate applications, you need 350 shirts for your workforce with their name or their company embroidered on it. So I think our product does reach many industries starting with hospitality, starting with outdoor agriculture, et cetera.

Marty Hartman:
So you mentioned decoration. So a lot of your styles are decorator friendly.

David Bebon:
Yes. It’s a mini dilemma right now that we just figured out how to solve. We are a manufacturer. We source our own fabric, we make our own product, we import our product into America. However, we’re a real blank provider, if you will, on the promotional channel because we’re selling apparel that will be embroidered eventually. But we’ve had a number of customers come to us, especially in the promotional channel. “Hey, will you through my decoration?” So what we’ve done, we will be moving our warehouse distribution, our pick and pack flow rack system to Northwest Arkansas. It’s where we used to do all our cut and sew, believe it or not, Mountain Home, Yellville, Cotter, little towns like that in Northwest Arkansas. We have a 15,000 square foot warehouse facility we’ll be moving into. And the gentleman who will be handling all our warehouse and fulfillment has about a thousand embroidery heads sitting in Arkansas and he’s currently doing 8,000 embroidery pieces a week.

David Bebon:
And he had no idea we had any needs for embroidery. So it’s a very funny story how it happened. I was touring the warehouse and I saw all the embroidery machines and one thing led to another. So we will be offering embroidery starting in January. We’re going to feature it on our website and in our catalog, your members will be able to purchase, for example, a Backpacker canvas shirt jac, and we will decorate it for them. We’re going to try to set some pricing that gives it some advantages for your membership. And for our customer base, we think it’s part of the one stop shop concept where it’s just one phone call. Your members don’t have to make. It’s one freight bill you don’t have to pay because we’ll do everything exactly where we are inventorying and stocking our product. So we’re looking at probably mid January having that completed.

Marty Hartman:
That’s great for people on the promotional product end and for a uniform distributors as well. So what about our industrial laundries, are your products laundry friendly?

David Bebon:
Well, because of our history, Marlene who runs my office, is my product manager for 18 years and we had a very big Cintas business and we had a very big Uniforms To You business out of Chicago. Uniforms To You was owned by Michael Frank and he sold his business to Cintas. So we have a long history with making products that ended up in the industrial channel. We worked with Cintas to develop a denim program and that was going back now 15 or 18 years, but we have a lot of history in industrial channel. We are not a certified per se because most of our product, we don’t pursue that, but most of our products will be fine and more than suitable for the industrial channel.

David Bebon:
We use reactive dyes, for example. All our canvas is pre-washed with enzyme, so I think you’ll find that most of our products will have a nice application to the industrial channel, i.e. the high wash temperatures, the large six foot dryers. We know what happens to a garment when it’s put through an industrial washing facility. Certainly, for the members, we would be very happy to provide product for free to go through any test. We would pay for the testing and we would certainly be there to make sure our product comes through with flying colors. So I think that’s the best way I can handle it. We do have experience in it. I’m confident most of our products would do very well in the industrial channel. I know this product I have, like a quarter zip fleece piece that probably wouldn’t do well and that’s something I would not recommend we put through the industrial laundry, but I think for the most part our canvas, our twills, our chambrays, I think they’ll do very well on that application. And again we’d be very happy to provide samples and go through the test facilities to accomplish that.

Marty Hartman:
Well since you’re talking about samples, how easy it is for members to get a of the samples from Backpacker?

David Bebon:
We have a very, how do I say this, a very confusing sample process or sample program. If you know the CEO and I meet many people at trade shows, if you call or write me, I’ll give you a sample. That’s the extent. My team finally got me to put together a sample package for the January trade shows because I’d come back and I had given away 150 samples at a trade show and I think that was my wife said to me, “My God, how many samples did giveaway?” So our policy is very simple, if you’re working on a project, you’ve got our catalog, you’ve got our website up on the computer. If you reach out to us, we’re very happy to provide a sample. If you want to put together a sample package, we offer our samples as low as $10 per sample, and I’m talking about a $48 manufactured suggested retail price on a flannel that’s 10 bucks.

David Bebon:
All our canvas jackets, all our canvas vests for example, in a sample package are $25 that’s below the wholesale price substantially, sometimes 50% below. We do that because we believe samples are the way to drive a business. You’re not going to sell $120 jacket with or without embroidery to your customer or your client with a nice pretty color photograph and a catalog. It doesn’t happen. You need a sample. So my personal philosophy has been, get the samples into market, get the samples where they belong with the clients, in this case with your membership, and many times there’s no bill at all. If you call up, you need a sample, we’ll send it out free, we pay the UPS and that’s if you want to put a sample package together for the office, I’d very much like to do that. I can work with any of the members one on one, put together a sample pack based on what their demographic client list looks like and do it for a very low price because again, samples that are in that sample library are sometimes the first items that your membership will go to when they’re working on a new project.

Marty Hartman:
Right. Absolutely.

David Bebon:
And I think basically our samples, the policy is, are generous and we do believe that samples are the best way to drive the business. Maybe not the best idea for our bottom line.

Marty Hartman:
Well it would be beneficial for members to get their hands on your shirts and your jackets. As I mentioned before, the detail and the quality really comes through.

David Bebon:
I will offer, if I could Marty, anybody who is listening to this and it is discovering about the Backpacker apparel brand and our company as they reach out to me or our staff, we will be very happy to send them a couple of samples, no charge just to start the dialogue.

Marty Hartman:
Great.

David Bebon:
To me it’s money well spent for us to send a couple of samples just to get the ball rolling and for people to see and touch and feel our product.

Marty Hartman:
Well, what are some other differentiating features about your line that you’d like to talk about?

David Bebon:
I think the first thing I think really differentiates us from our competitors and some of the other suppliers in the marketplace. We source our own fabric. I know I’m a broken record, but I talk about it a lot because sourcing fabric is really what differentiates our product because we are developing fabrics with mills that we’ve worked with, in some cases for 30 years. Our flannel, for example, is a 16 yarn. I don’t think there’s any other flannel on the marketplace made with a 16 yarn. As I said, there’s a lot of 21 yarn, 16 yarn. The lower the number, the thicker or the bulkier the yarn. In our case it’s a 16 yarn for the flannel and then if I double brush it, you get that nice loft, beautiful, soft hand feel. So I think fabric sourcing is something that really makes us a little different.

David Bebon:
The second thing is our make detail. All our male or men’s flannels have a pencil stitch pocket on every single shirt. One of the pockets has a pencil stitch. We do a little dog house cutoff on the cuff, which is a mitered corner, which is something you don’t see often. We also do on the side seem, we do what I call a little dog house. It’s a little triangle at the bottom of every side seem, left and right, of every garment we make. Again, little somethings that make us stand out, like triple needle. All our flannel shirts in the men’s are triple needle. Do you need triple needle in a men’s flannel shirt? Absolutely not. We do it because it’s just a little something extra. We’d call it a bell and whistle. Or in New York it’s called a chotsky. It’s just a little chotsky we do.

David Bebon:
It doesn’t cost us much, maybe 10 cents a garment. But it’s something that we want you to call out to your clients because not everybody else is doing it. So I think it’s actually hurt us. And I know this is going to sound funny, especially when your members are listening. We actually go into the marketplace. We’ve had a number of Woolrich reps who now work for our company. Woolrich got bought a year ago by an Italian holding company and we were very lucky to pick up three or four of their reps and in key areas. I have mid Atlantic, I have a New England rep who’s fantastic. These guys spent 20 to 30 years with a Woolrich. And the biggest problem we had was they were selling a Backpacker flannel shirt and the customers thought there was something wrong with it. So I kept asking, “Why, what’s wrong?”

David Bebon:
And the question was, the clients couldn’t accept a $16 or a $17 shirt that had all those make details when they were paying $25 for a Woolrich shirt. And this is a true story. This has come up repeatedly in the retail market. Our guys are out there working with Kittery Trading Post, Vermont Country Store, really great places that sell a lot of outdoor apparel. And the biggest problem we had was the price to the product they were looking at. They thought there was something wrong with it. There had to be something wrong with it because how can you be selling me this gorgeous shirt for 16 bucks? So one thing we’ve tried to do, and it’s been a real hurdle, is try to educate and say, “There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s no middleman. We source our own fabric, we manufacture our own product and we’re bringing it to the market at what we believe as a very good moderate price point.”

David Bebon:
So I think the biggest problem we’ve had with our make details is people look at those shirts and they go, “Wow.” Another example, every zipper in the line jacket’s security pocket, like on our fishing shirts, every zipper in the line is YKK, there’s no zipper in the Backpacker brand that is not a YKK zipper. And if you know anything about zippers, the first thing that goes on a pair of pants or a jacket is what? The zipper. So we went right out of the box, we said we will not do a zipper that’s not YKK and we’ve stuck to it. For four years we haven’t made anything in a zipper. That’s not a YKK zipper. YKK is a South Korean company and they are the top of the pile when it comes to zippers.

David Bebon:
So that’s again, a little something we do that I think really makes our brand stand out. And I want to be compared to Carhartt. I want to be compared to to Columbia. We want to be compare to DRI DUCK. We wanted to be compared to these companies who we respect and who we think are phenomenal. You mentioned LL Bean, and Lands End. I mean Lands End. For me personally, I wear Carhartt and my wife says to me, “Why do you wear Carhartt? Why don’t you wear our stuff?” And my reply is always, “I like Carhartt. I’ve always liked Carhartt.” I like my brand very much as well. But when I look at those companies, those are the companies I want to be compared to when people look at Backpacker.

Marty Hartman:
All right, so how can people get in touch with you? What’s the best way?

David Bebon:
Well, first way is just give us a call. We have an office on 38th Street right near Madison Square Garden in Midtown, New York. Our phone number is (212) 221-6060. Our email, my email is DavidB@dbebz.com. You can go on and find our website at www.backpackerapparel.com. We have a beautiful website which features all our product. We have a brand new fall line that’s just hit the warehouse the last week and we have 14 new flannel shirts coming in, which we should have in mid October. Men’s and ladies. I’d say 15 styles in the line are female women’s styles, that companion with our male styles, but we’re very easy to reach and again, you can send us a quick email or just go on the website and reach out to us and any member who would like, we’d be very happy to send a couple samples at no charge just to start the dialogue.

Marty Hartman:
Well, David, thank you so much for your time, for the interview, and we really encourage our members reach out to David and his team and take a look at these products. It’s a wonderful line.

David Bebon:
Thank you, Marty. I really appreciate the time and I look forward to working with your membership.