Pitchfest: Where Are They Now?
— BOCO Gear —
Serial entrepreneur, mother, and finalist at Pitchfest 2015, Kay Martin is the founder of BOCO Gear, a custom athletic headwear and accessories business that allows companies to design and create stylish, technical gear.
BOCO Gear was still in inception when the opportunity to participate in Pitchfest 2015 came about. But that didn’t deter Martin.
“I was one of the few businesses at Pitchfest that had traction and a proven concept,” she said. “I came at the industry as a source for the industry – for a brand or a retailer or an event, like IRONMAN. I could sell to outdoor, run, and others. We had business in multiple industries.”
Martin focused on custom work with each brand because she saw a demand for customization. The goal was to offer better products than what the market offered at the time, and to have the freedom to fulfill the most specific customer requests.
In applying to Pitchfest, Martin sought feedback from bigger brands and leaders in the industry.
“I came to Pitchfest with a different model,” she said. “The guidance I needed was more big question – do I stay the course or do I do the traditional model?”
Martin got her start in the outdoor industry in the early 90’s. Over her 30-year career she worked at Pearl Izumi, Moving Comfort, Outdoor Industry Association, Head Sweats, and Balega Socks.
All of these opportunities provided her with experience that she implemented in starting a business.
Moving Comfort gave foundation for strong leadership; OIA provided insight into issues important in the industry; and Head Sweats and Balega Socks were early stage companies at the time Martin came on board, showcasing the ins and outs of growing a business.
In the meantime, she used what she gleaned to build BOCO Gear.
“With the help of the Balega Sock founders and the support of an industry, I started to build BOCO Gear on the side,” she said. “The first things I made weren’t perfect, but people believed in me and I decided to launch solo. When Pitchfest rolled around a year later, I had traction.”
BOCO Gear wasn’t focused on building the BOCO brand as much as building other companies’ brands.
“We broke down existing barriers – good and bad. I learned I don’t need inventory. It’s a financial suck.”
The business was shaped on a built-to-order model versus keeping a supply of inventory.
Based on the business model, BOCO Gear disrupted the industry by providing it with a fully-customizable product. Martin didn’t wait for the industry to tell her what it wanted– she showed it what it needed.
Today, BOCO Gear is carried at REI; produces headwear for top brands, including Hoka One One, Clif Bar, and Ragnar; and in 2017 became the official headwear of the IRONMAN, serving more than 40 races each year, including the 2017 and 2018 IRONMAN World Championship events.
What are the three primary opportunities that arose as a result of Pitchfest?
1. Connections with industry leaders and the mentoring piece. 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-outdoor industries. I’m so appreciative for the mentoring I’ve experienced as a result of the opportunity.
2. Getting the BOCO Gear name out there to potential customers.
3. Relationships. I wouldn’t be anywhere without pursuing new contacts and meeting new people.
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.
How did your mentor help you?
Gregg Bagni of White Road Investments was my mentor. When the Pitchfest opportunity came along, I wasn’t succinct with exactly what the business model was. I kept getting pressure from people who knew both retail and wholesale models. Gregg pushed me to think about my business model and would punch holes in it and ask the tough questions, and this prepared me for the Pitchfest event. By the time I got to pitch I knew I’d I won. When questions came from the field, I was ready.
Funded in part by The REI Foundation’s Mary Anderson Legacy Grant, Camber Outdoors launched Pitchfest in 2015. The program has been supported through annual sponsorship; Perkins Coie and Backcountry.com were the Pitchfest 2017 sponsors. Pitchfest continues to support and accelerate women’s leadership and participation in the outdoors, providing the opportunity for women founders to live-pitch their business plans at Outdoor Retailer.
Learn more about Pitchfest 2018, set to take place at Outdoor Retailer on July 22.