When we first started BOCO, it wasn’t sales that kept me up at night, it was always execution. In a way, it’s still the same. How do we improve? How do we stay ahead of our competition? How do we evolve? Those are the questions I constantly ask of myself and my team. But, like confronting most fears, finding the space and permission to explore where we’ve been, where we were going, and those nagging little thoughts would come at an unexpected time place—as a finalist at Pitchfest.
My worst fear in business is being a one-hit wonder. I want longevity, innovation, to challenge the status quo and ultimately to continue to grow our offering, by constantly delighting our customers. In this day and age, if you are not paying attention inside and outside your industry, keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s driving trends, you will not keep up.
To be successful, I knew we had to be different and we had to be better…a lot better. From my view, it wasn’t a difficult concept to grasp, but at the time a lot of things had stagnated in the headwear category – from processes to product. So we set out to raise the bar and be on trend; our headwear had to be functional and fashionable, and our quality had to be top-notch. From a process perspective we also challenged industry standards to break down common roadblocks for customers. We knew we had to address huge turn-around times and we had to lower minimums. We also knew we wanted to put our customers first from a branding perspective and that their creative would be front and center. Out of the gate, this has been a core tenet for our designers and we all love the challenge.
As a leader, I needed to proactively prepare for growth, which is why I took advantage of Pitchfest in 2015. To be in front of industry professionals I respect and look up to, and to hear those people tell us we were on the right track…that’s a hard feeling to describe. It validated us, helped guide us and reinforce that we were on to something. It was also an opportunity to gain invaluable insight from some of the brightest in the active-outdoors industries. I’m so appreciative for the mentoring I’ve experienced as a result of the opportunity.
Pitchfest also allowed me to stand firmly in my fears and the unknown. We’ve had a small taste of success, but now we’re in a place where we have to be really smart. Smart about the decisions we make from a creative standpoint, the partnerships and most importantly, the people we bring on board to actualize all of our great ideas.
We are fortunate to be leading and driving headwear trends in the endurance, space but it isn’t by accident – we’ve worked really hard to become and stay relevant. It’s also really important to me to make sure the essence of the company I’ve built remains intact as we grow; I want this to be a company that invests in its team and for which people want to work. BOCO Gear is a place that supports its team members and encourages them to do their jobs in a way that works for not only the company, but also themselves and their families.
My biggest piece of advice for people looking to go out on their own is to avoid what I call ‘the build it and they will come strategy.’ What I mean is when a new idea and new product-producing company comes to market with all this energy and excitement it usually includes inventory and an infrastructure with guess what…no sales. Without sales, you have no business. Do your homework, start small, ask for help, build momentum and pay a little extra for smaller product minimums so you can prove your concept and don’t have all of your resources tied up in inventory. Most importantly, find your motivation. Mine has always been to not let down the people in my life who I respect, and of course, to cover my children’s college tuitions (hey, I’m a mom)! Do something you are excited and passionate about. Start by biting off what you can handle and grow it. Above all, work hard and don’t give up on your goals.
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Kay Martin was a 2015 finalist at Pitchfest. She is a serial entrepreneur, a mother, and a friend to many in the active outdoor industries. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Kay has more than 25 years of technical apparel experience. Based in Boulder, CO., Kay and her Chief Outdoors Officer (a Border Collie named Ollie), enjoy any activities that take them outdoors.