IT CAN BE A LONG AND ARDUOUS JOURNEY, BUT WITH THE RIGHT ATTITUDE AND HARD WORK, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE in china
Starting a successful brand anywhere in China is no easy task; it comes with it its own set of pitfalls, but for those willing to undergo a tough journey it can pay off. And co-founder of Yukon Outfitters, one of America’s fastest growing outdoor sporting goods brands, Adam Scherer, 38, from North Carolina, has travelled on one such journey. HERE! sat down with Adam at his office in Dongguan to pick his brains, and find the secret of his success.
Yukon Outfitters sell a wide range of outdoor sporting equipment, anything from backpacks with rifle holders attached, through to water bottles and survival kits; they even make their own branded machete. The products are high-quality with lots of attention paid to small details, but without unnecessary frills. They look good too, the sort of stuff you might buy even if you were not much of an outdoorsman.
Adam travelled to China shortly after graduating, “At college I would read the Wall Street Journal. At the time everyone was learning Spanish and talking about Mexico But reading the WSJ, I was seeing stuff about China, so I took Chinese classes, and travelled to Suzhou and completely and fell in love with it. I had in my mind that China was the new frontier.”
Fortunately, he soon met the owner of a mid-sized furniture company who was willing to give him a shot, “I told him I want to go to China, pay me what you want. Fortunately, he agreed. From then on it was five years in the furniture industry. Back then it was really fast paced, everyone was working 12 hours. I was really revved up.”
Starting out in furniture, Adam worked as a general dog’s body, but worked his way up, honing his knowledge, and getting to understand how factories worked, “At the start I had these little stickers to mark defects. The factory gave me a chance to build up my skill set and my Chinese got better.”
“I remember borrowing a friend’s office in Hong Kong, I didn’t tell my wife at the time, but I would sleep in the office under the desk.”
It was all going well for Adam, when disaster struck, in the form of the 2008 financial crisis when he was laid off, “The markets tanked, so I was cut. That was my furniture streak. It turns out home sales really do affect furniture sales. I found myself floating in the wind with lots of questions, a young family, two kids. I needed to decide what was next. I was panicked.”
Fortunately, a university friend had been in a similar jobless, panic-stricken state just six months earlier, and Adam had offered him advice, “I had helped him out a bit at the time, so when he heard I lost my job, he said, ‘Fantastic, let’s get together and keep this going.’”
Thus MOAM, an acronym for Man On A Mission, was founded, which is fitting because that’s exactly what Adam was: “When we started, we had nothing but a dream, no money, no nothing. I ended up selling my house, the jewelery, and leveraging everything we had to get the company up and running. I remember borrowing a friend’s office in Hong Kong, I didn’t tell my wife at the time, but I would sleep in the office under the desk. Luckily we made outdoor stuff because winter was cold.”
With a thin wiry frame like that of a long-distance runner, Adam seems confident, relaxed, and bursting with energy, it is difficult to imagine him ever struggling, but he had to fight to get where he was, “At the lowest point, I remember queuing to buy discounted bread. I remember thinking, damn, I am in the most expensive city in the world and I am buying discounted bread, this isn’t going so well”
Fast forward seven years and things are going well, and three years ago they started their own brand. Though not quite North Face yet, with growth rates pushing 100 percent a year Yukon Outfitters are slowly becoming one of the leading outdoor sporting good brands in America. “I am really happy with where we are. It’s allowed us to buy a factory and a warehouse facility in the US,” he says.
On giving advice to young guys coming to China, he is hesitant as if he knows the way the wind is blowing and how tough the markets can be, “Hmm, I would tell them to not obsess with getting into a position of decision making authority as soon as possible, but to hold off and learn their business thoroughly, build connections, be patient,” he says.
Though working in manufacturing, it is really developing a brand that has seen Adam’s company go from strength to strength, “We really took off when we started our own brand, the equity you build with consumers is really something, if you are just making a product and bashing it out, or you are making it for other people, it doesn’t work so well. You are only as good as your current relationship and current supplier, or buyer. But when we had our own brand and started developing our own customer loyalty it made all the difference.”