Before diving any deeper into 2022, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on the challenges, wins, and losses we experienced in 2021. And I’d like to thank you for your ongoing support and for sharing this incredible journey with us. The F3 community is amazing, and I’m proud to help serve the PAX and do our part to spread the F3 brand in support of the mission. With that, here were our highlights, lowlights, and lessons...
We hired a new leader from within the PAX
As order volume and our support workload continued to grow in pace with F3 Expansion, we turned to the PAX for help. The response was overwhelming. I had the pleasure to connect with many great F3 guys about the opportunity, and we tapped Robert Cannon, F3 “Gnarley Goat” to be our first F3 Gear Brand Manager. Goat jumped right in and did a phenomenal job organizing our new product wish list and communicating with regional leaders about gear orders. This hiring process reminded me that our community of F3 brothers is an incredible resource!
And we lost him! 😱
I can’t deny it was painful to lose our new star employee, but it was for the best. Goat was wisely plucked up by the Nation’s Nantan, Slaughter, to build out a training organization - a task Goat is ideally suited to crush. The fit and opportunity were so good, I couldn’t help but be happy for them both. But that left us with big shoes to fill, and we again reached into the PAX and found another HIM ready to roll. F3 Apollo, Addison Stevens, of Katy TX stepped in as our 2nd ever F3 Gear Brand Manager and has done an exceptional job getting up to speed and supporting regional orders. If you don’t know Apollo yet, you should. Outside of talking gear, he’s doing some amazing work with veterans and mental health.
Around the same time, we also picked up Noah Clark, F3 Mugatu, to help manage our e-commerce platforms and guide new product development.
Throughout this process, I’ve learned that hiring great people is the best thing you can do for your business, but you also have to be ready to let them go when it’s best for them. It’s bitter-sweet but worth it.
We conducted a meaningful survey of the PAX
Over 700 guys invested their time to provide feedback on their experience with the F3 Gear Store. We got invaluable honest feedback about the good, bad, and ugly. Our top-level scores on service and satisfaction were all high, but there were plenty of gems and constructive criticisms in the comments. We spotted some trends in products that were not performing well and removed them from our offering. We also received a ton of great product suggestions. We plan to do that again at least every other year, but our door is always open for your feedback.
We pulled off an excellent in-person F3 Gear Store experience!
In support of the 10-year reunion in Wilmington, our team wanted to bring the online F3 Gear Store experience to life for the PAX in attendance. I conducted a scouting trip to Wilmington to meet Gravity and secure a prime location. Our team began stockpiling popular inventory items for several months leading up to the event and we rented a large trailer to transport the gear from the warehouse in Mooresville to the venue. Apollo flew in from Houston the day before and we worked together with the warehouse team to count and box up the stock.
After a lot of work, the store took shape and we opened for business as the PAX arrived for check-in. Over the weekend, I learned that you guys are passionate about F3 Gear, I learned that Apollo is a much better talker than I am, and I learned that finally meeting some of you guys face to face is a true pleasure.
We ran out of stock! 😱
Like many other businesses, we suffered global supply chain challenges that hurt our ability to serve you. Our shirt distributors were especially hit hard leaving many styles with no stock in popular colors and sizes. We tried to combat this as much as we could by pre-purchasing and warehousing large stocks of our best sellers, but even that was not sufficient to prevent disappointing some of you. The disruption is beginning to show signs of improvement, but we continue to manage this tightly. We’ve updated our processes and added new tools that help better predict demand spikes and shortages. For any of you that got caught up in this mess and didn’t get the shirt you wanted, I’m sorry! We’ll get it right!
We were thrown a huge curveball from a key factory partner
Perhaps my biggest disappointment of the year was the demise of a good relationship with our factory partner that produces our MudGear performance shirts. I spent years building trust with suppliers and factories to create a truly American-made performance shirt that I was proud of, but it all started to fall apart during Covid.
The first sign of trouble was a worker shortage at our yarn producer that “indefinitely delayed” production of our main body fabric. We scrambled to find another acceptable fabric blend made in the USA, but I knew changing the fabric would create additional delays for re-sampling our cut patterns and re-testing the garments for durability, colorfast, and ability to screen-print. It was a huge disruption to our timeline, and we were already getting low on stock. To make matters worse, none of the new fabric samples were working out.
About that time, I received a call from our main factory partner that crushed all hope. They had been acquired by a Private Equity firm and my primary contact had been let go. Furthermore, the direction of the new company was to eliminate contracts with smaller producers and focus all efforts on their largest customers. They would no longer be able to make MudGear shirts, period.
I was left in a position of extremely low stock, no yarn factory to make my fabric, and no factory to produce the shirts. I wish I had a diversified supply chain and a backup factory solution, but the reality is that those things come at higher volume levels. I was lucky to have a spot on the factory production schedule at all, and the volume was too low to have split it.
In desperation, I reached out to the one contact I knew would not let me down: Quadruple Respect Legend, F3 Horse of Charlotte Metro who originally helped give me my start in the shirt-making business in 2012. Back then, Horse guided me in making Version 1 of the MudGear Performance Race Jersey with a hand-picked team at as his own factory in India. Before my quest to build an American-made performance shirt, the V1 MudGear was our flagship product, and was well known for its great fit, comfort, and durability. Ironically, the V1 MudGear was the most requested product on this year’s F3 survey even though it has not been offered in years.
I visited Horse with my tail between my legs and begged him to help me breathe life back into the V1, and he graciously agreed. I’m happy to report that we have successfully sourced our original fabric and we are currently working towards production. If all goes well, we’ll have a grand relaunch this summer.
Making our products in the US is still our priority when we can do it with good quality and deliver it at a reasonable price. While the cutting and sewing will be done overseas, it’s in an American-owned factory with all the design and creative work managed here in Charlotte. In this case, I’m just thrilled to have an option to still deliver this great product with a trusted partner and friend.
From this experience, I’ve re-learned that you can’t always get what you want. And I’m reminded to never burn your bridges.
We launched some great new products
- Lifestyle tees including Gloom Life
- Temporary Tattoos
- The flashy Tech Air Jersey from Cognitive MTB
- F3 Nation 10x10 canopy tent covers
- Ranger panties
- MudGear Ruck Socks
- 2nd edition of Freed to Lead dropped
As always, if you have great suggestions, please get them to me and Apollo by replying to this email.
We found new makers in the PAX
Speaking of great new products, you’ve probably seen (or have!) one of Bilbos’ hats
We grew and improved our ability to handle more orders
In mid-2021, we recognized the holiday season would overtax our team and we added two additional people in support and operations. They have helped us keep our heads above water, and we have hit new highs in our capacity. In 2021, we facilitated over 500 F3 regional/AO pre-orders, and we handled over 5,000 customer support tickets.
Thank you again for being part of the F3 Gear journey - we literally could not do it without you. We can’t wait to introduce some awesome new F3 Gear and MudGear products in 2022 that have been in the works for a while now. It’s hard for me to believe this will be our 10th year of operation!
At F3 Gear, our mission this year (as always) is to help further the Mission of F3. We will serve the Pax with F3 and regional gear that helps to spread the movement. We will help protect the integrity of the F3 brand, and we will take care of our guys with exceptional customer service.