By vince castellanos
One size can’t fit all. But for too long, snowmobilers had few options when it came to outerwear. Regardless of climate or location, jackets and bibs usually came in one style: bulky with heavy insulation.
That attitude is changing, thanks in large part to companies like Klim Aggressive Sled Wear. Based in Rigby, Idaho, Klim believes in a layered system that’s much lighter and better ventilated than traditional sled gear.
“Klim is really, really good stuff,” says Max Maxedon of Utah’s Tri-City Polaris. “We only sell what we believe in, and the Klim Wear has features that are just untouchable. When you’re in the mountains riding in 3 feet of powder all day the Klim gear keeps you dry and warm without over-heating. It’s what I wear.”
Glowing testimonials like that are becoming the norm for John Summers, head of marketing for the company, and John’s cousin, Justin Summers, who founded the business back in 1993 as Teton Outfitters. Powersports Business caught up with John to get the scoop on the fast-growing company.
Powersports Business: How did you and Justin get involved in snowmobiling?
Summers: We’ve been riding basically all our lives. It was a big family activity for us. Every Saturday 15 to 20 relatives would either ride up to a farm we had or to Island Park and we’d be out grilling and intertubing.
PSB: How did the idea for Klim come about?
Summers: While Justin was on his mission in Taiwan he met some people in the textile industry. He had always wanted to start his own business, he just didn’t know in what exactly until he was in Taiwan. He came back to Salt Lake City, and North Face had a facility there. But they were moving everything overseas so there were a lot of designers and pattern-makers available. He started Teton Outfitters and worked hard pounding on doors and getting contracts with ski resorts and specialized businesses that needed customized clothing for search and rescue and ski patrol.
Klim came from the experience and technology we gained through developing the specialized line. We were already manufacturing outdoor clothing, and we just wanted something different than what was available. There was so much big, bulky and heavily insulated things already out there. We just wanted to make something we liked and could use ourselves.
PSB: How has the company grown since you moved back to Rigby, Idaho, in 1998 and introduced Klim in 1999?
Summers: We’ve had everyone in a building on Main Street that was built in 1908 and we only needed 1,000 square feet of it. Now we’ve got contracts with several factories in three countries [including the USA] and our gross revenues have grown 500%. Right now we’re constructing a building that’ll have 12,000 square feet of warehouse space with the ability to easily expand.
PSB: Who designs the product and how does that process evolve from concept to manufacturing?
Summers: Justin and I do the design ourselves, and it all starts with a practical need. There has to be a purpose and a function – a rhyme and reason. We’re not wondering if we should put pink here or checkerboards there, we’re thinking ventilation, storage, efficiency. We sit down, hash out the initial concept, do a drawing in Illustrator and send it to the factory. They’ll send a sample back, and we do a lot of the testing ourselves. We’ll put on 1,500 to 2,000 miles a year, and in the mountains that’s a lot. And we’ve got some guys who are pretty abusive on stuff and we get feedback from them.
PSB: How is business in the West?
Summers: We’re thriving. Our dealer base is strong and steady. We thought it would work; most of the people we know and ride with were looking for something like this.
PSB: You’re expanding into the Midwest and East. One Midwest dealer who carries Klim said hardcore enthusiasts ask for Klim by name, but a lot of casual riders are scared of the price. Have you seen a lot of that?
Summers: It can be a fairly tough sell. Like anything, people are afraid of change. We’re creatures of tradition, and $300 for a jacket might seem like a lot. We’ve had to educate consumers – and dealers, too – on why the layering system is the way to go, but we’ve got good sales in the Midwest and the Northeast has been really good for us. Real gearheads see it has a no-brainer.
PSB: At least one OEM is introducing clothing that looks very similar to what Klim is creating. Is that threatening at all?
Summers: We see it almost as a litmus test for how we’re doing. If companies of that size see us as industry innovators then it’s flattering, really. And as long as we’re a moving target and keep progressing then it’s not threatening.
PSB: You’re introducing a riding gear line for off-road enthusiasts. Are you nervous? Excited?
Summers: All of the above [laughs]. We think the dirtbike line can easily double what we’re doing now. We’re taking orders and it’ll be available in mid-September. About 90% of our dealers carry motorcycles, so we should start with a great base and we’re approaching Southern dealers, too. There are 17 brands of clothing already, but we’ll carve out a niche.
PSB: Why a dirt line?
Summers: It’s sort of the same thing as with sleds; we’re big dirtbike riders and we saw aspects of motorcycle clothing we didn’t like. We have the technology already, and the designs are based on real-world experiences. That’s what really helps us – we’re enthusiasts ourselves and we love what we do. We’re not just guys who sit in front of a computer drawing lines all day. We’re out there doing it. psb
For more information on Klim Aggressive Sled Wear, visit www.klimusa.com.