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Interview with William D. Spalding II with THLETE CAMO

William D. Spalding, II is William’s passion has always been about living and pursuing every experience in the outdoors to its fullest. He has trekked on almost every continent across the globe. With many trophies that have met the criteria for inclusion in the Rowland Ward and Boone Crockett record books, he lives and dreams the pursuit of wildlife. If he is not hunting then he is hiking up some mountain with his skis on his back or chasing down his kids to keep them out of trouble.

Professionally, he has served in many leadership roles over the course of his career. Most recently, he ran strategic operations for the Ambulatory Group for Lifepoint Health that spans 2600+ providers and 70+ hospitals across the nation. He has served on several Board of Directors and/or Trustees within Lifepoint Health’s population health organization, AdvantagePoint Health. Prior to Lifepoint Health, he ran a very large multi-specialty group of providers and cancer treatment centers across North Carolina. He graduated magna cum laude from The Citadel in 2009 in business administration and received his master’s in business administration at Vanderbilt University in 2013.

 

Why were you motivated to purchase the Thlete business?

Serendipitous. We started doing market research into the outdoor sector because it aligned with our passion for the outdoors, and within this, we identified favorable growth trends and attractive margins within the apparel business. From there, we started attending industry tradeshows and contacting various participants in the outdoor apparel sector. At the Field and Stream Tradeshow in Madison, Wis., we met Mike Zaudke, President and Founder of THLETE. We loved his products and proprietary camo pattern and were impressed with Mike and his business model. The relationship evolved into an acquisition discussion with the intent to take the THLETE brand nationwide through robust marketing, a refined and enhanced e-commerce platform and an expanded product line with enhanced designs and fabrics.

What are the key distinctions of Thlete gear compared to other camo in the market?

The foundation of the THLETE brand is our state of the art, proprietary “Dead Fall” camouflage pattern. Our team at THLETE is comprised of dedicated hunters with years of whitetail hunting experiences across the USA. We know what works, what does not work and what is available in the marketplace. In addition, the high-performance hunting apparel market is hyper competitive, with significant competition among various businesses ranging from mega-brands to small niche players. As a result, we needed to create a proprietary camouflage pattern that was purpose built to meet and exceed the needs of the North American whitetail hunter.

Our customers have numerous options to choose from in the high-performance hunting apparel marketplace. Many of our competitors offer a variety of hunting systems (i.e., base, mid and outer layers) for various stages of the whitetail season (i.e., early, mid and late season). If you price out these various systems for the entire whitetail season, the costs can get very high, very quickly. At THLETE, our design philosophy is based upon our core jacket and pant systems (i.e., Phantom System) that will provide comfort and functionality for the entire season at temperatures ranging from 60 – 30 degrees Fahrenheit. From there, we complement our core systems with various base layers, vests and jackets designed to be layered with our core system to extend longevity in colder temperatures and/or provide additional comfort within the target temperature index. We have achieved this result through innovative fabrics, insulation and product features. We did so with a purpose in mind, high quality, cost effective, functional and comfortable system for the whitetail hunter.

 

What has reaction been like so far with the new pieces?

The response has been great! Our biggest stream of new customers is referral from existing customers via hunting friends and/or outfitters. We get so excited when we see hunters who invested in our brand through purchasing the gear and demonstrated success in their pursuit of whitetail deer. In our efforts to reach new customers, we have popular and successful outdoorsmen hunting with our clothes to give our customers an unbiased opinion on our garments, and the responses these individuals have given us has been awesome.

In regard to what is in the pipeline for new products, we have a new early season camo pattern that has the same unique properties as our Dead fall Pattern, and to complement this pattern, we are establishing a new early season system like our Phantom Series. The core theme to our new pieces is how to tackle warm and humid temperatures when chasing whitetails across North America. We are told over and over again, “I need something to help me be successful when it is 80-90 degrees in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, etc.… “We aim to solve their core issues to help them be successful in chasing whitetails.

Who is your primary customer and how are you reaching them?

THLETE’s focus is on the North American whitetail hunter, and we design and manufacture all of our garments with this core customer in mind.

From development of our proprietary “Dead Fall” camouflage pattern, our fabric selections and our unique garment design philosophy, we strive to offer the North American whitetail hunter with an innovative, cost effective and purpose built garment that yields effective concealment, functionality and comfort over the course of an entire whitetail season.

A customer needs to see your product multiple times before purchasing it, and in this new e-commerce world, a potential customer can see our gear in four different mediums in the span of 15 mins on the internet. After this saturation point, you have to convince the customer of the superior attributes of your products to win them over, and they, in return, become your biggest ambassadors. Deer hunting is such a competitive and micro social world, so if one of your hunting partners raves about a piece of gear, then the odds are in your favor that they will be purchasing it because they want to have the advantage in terms of whitetail hunting success.

We have an extensive list of tradeshows that we plan to attend over the course of 2019-2020 to allow potential customers to see, feel and discuss the gear with the THLETE team.  We encourage folks to check on website (www.thlete.com) to see our schedule, so they can make plans to travel to the nearest event.

Finally, we are partnering with outfitters, brand ambassadors, hunting experts and media personalities to showcase the products effectiveness across the expected mediums our customers are on – social media, podcasts, television, Google search, digital advertising, etc.… A direct to consumer brand must find the customers much like a hunter goes after whitetail deer with scouting, proper game plan and the ability execute a good shot when the moment arises.

How do you see Thlete growing in the next couple of years?

By continuing to challenge the status quo and seeking innovation in our fabrics and designs, we are going to be putting the best possible product in the hands of whitetail hunters who demand high performance and functional garments.

Our product road map is very much centered around the whitetail hunter in North America, and we are looking at helping you achieve success with our gear in a much broader aspect of whitetail hunting. How you hunt deer in Florida is vastly different then in Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We have all deer hunters in mind, so you cannot rule anything out. 

What are your biggest challenges in achieving that growth?

I think the company is faced with three major challenges for growth where two are tangential and the other is a systemic issue across all of the whitetail hunting world.

One, you have to build trust with the customers. Being a clothing and gear provider in the whitetail hunting sector, a customer is looking to build a relationship with your brand. I like to equate this to a marriage in some ways because it’s a long-term commitment with the camouflage pattern, layering system design, price-point and ultimately, the expectation of hunting success. You have to be committed for the long haul if you want to be successful in this sector.

Second, we are at the nexus of a very competitive landscape with established brands, so we have some daunting tasks ahead of ourselves. We HAVE to bring to market functional garments that deliver long term value to the whitetail hunter.  We HAVE to deliver competitively priced garments. We HAVE to deliver a superior shopping experience on our e-commerce platforms. We gladly accept the challenge because we love what we do.

The third major challenge, which I noted earlier is more systemic, is chronic wasting disease (CWD) affecting the wild whitetail deer population on a much broader scale. I cannot stress this enough that this disease has the potential to fundamentally alter how the public views deer and deer hunting because of the health concerns and the associated regulations needed to manage a high risk CWD zone. For our company, a core premise of our success and growth is tied to an expanding market of hunters who love to hunt, and we fear that CWD could impact hunter participation rates in the wake of this disease spreading.

William D. Spalding, II Thlete
William D. Spalding, II Thlete
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Kevin Paulson

Kevin Paulson is the Founder and CEO of HuntingLife.com. His passion for Hunting began at the age of 5 hunting alongside of his father. Kevin has followed his dreams through outfitting, conservation work, videography and hunting trips around the world.

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