When Brian Abrams runs a marathon, hes just getting warmed up.
When he downhill skis, cross-country skis, runs, bicycles, and kayaks solo through each stage of an Ironman competition and wins, hes getting in shape to do what he likes.
The 41-year-old Spokane businessman leads expeditions to Mount McKinley and climbs glaciers in the Canadian Rockies.
I like to compete, Abrams says. It keeps me sharp. Thats both in the field and at work.
The two Spokane Valley-based companies that Abrams owns, Integral Designs USA Inc. and Adventure Tech Inc., make and sell products that help adventurers get where theyre going or keep them from freezing once theyre there.
Integral Designs manufactures high-end mountain gearsleeping bags, tents, shelters, and clothingand Adventure Tech sells those goods along with outdoor gear that isnt made in-house, such as footwear, ski equipment, and climbing equipment, to government agencies via mail order.
Like Abrams himself, the end users of his products usually are physically fit and serious about what they do. Regular buyers range from retailers like Recreation Equipment Inc. (REI) and L.L. Bean Co. to specialty military units like the U.S. Navy Seals.
With a highly coveted license to use Gore-Tex material, a waterproof fabric developed by the W.L. Gore & Associates Inc., of Newark, Del., and an expanding relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense, Abrams two companies have grown substantially in the past six years.
Between them, the two companies now employ about 50 people and post more than several millions of dollars in sales annually, Abrams says.
The Gore-Tex details
Abrams started Adventure Tech in 1992 as a retailer of high-end outdoor gear, buying goods from top-end suppliers and selling it to government entities, usually elite military forces like the Navy Seals or U.S. Air Force paratroopers.
Recognized as an expert in technical mountaineering, Abrams also would train the military units to use outdoor equipment. For example, if Adventure Tech sold ski equipment to a special forces unit, Abrams would go to the training site and conduct a two-day seminar on backcountry ski traversing, he says.
During his first year in business, Abrams contracted with a clothing manufacturing company in New York state to make his top-end goods. When that company failed to pay its Gore-Tex bills, Abrams says he paid the bill for the company. Shortly thereafter, Gore offered him the license that would allow him to make products using its material, he says.
Abrams says that while he wasnt seeking a license from Gore, he was fortunate to be offered one. He says it would be nearly impossible for a company the size of his to acquire a license now. Gore issues only a few licenses and, if approached, usually wouldnt consider granting a license to a company as small as Integral Designs, he says.
Gore owns proprietary technologies for Gore-Tex, which is known scientifically as a polymer polytetra-fluoroethylene (PTFE) laminate. Those technologies have resulted in a range of products, including fabric laminates.
Gore-Tex is significantly more expensive than other fabrics. Abrams says one roll of Gore-Tex, which is 400 linear yards or the equivalent of 200 jackets, costs $10,000 wholesale. That comes out to $25 per linear yard, compared with $3 per linear yard for a common cotton fabric.
Consequently, Gore-Tex products made by Integral Designs are more expensive than a lot of other outerwear products. Gore-Tex jackets made by Integral Designs range in price from $150 to $400. Its down sleeping bags made with a highly water-resistant outer Gore fabric go for between $300 and $600.
Theyve got you good, but theres nothing else like it in the world, Abrams says.
With the license to use Gore-Tex in hand, Abrams joined forces in 1993 with a fellow avid outdoorsman, Brian Gross, who owned Integral Designs, then based in Calgary, Alberta. He later bought Gross interest in Integral Designs and started a small manufacturing operation in a 12,000-square-foot building at 4124 N. Burns Road in the Spokane Valley.
Needing just a small corner of the building at the time, Abrams and five employees began working on the first order, which was a one-year contract for 400 woodland camouflage jackets each month.
After one year of concentrating on that single order and learning how to operate a manufacturing facility, Integral Designs began accepting more orders. Abrams says the company outgrew the Burns Road building quickly and moved a few blocks east to its current home, a 20,000-square-foot space in the Spokane Business & Industrial Park.
In addition to the industrial space, Abrams maintains an office in the Burns Road building and still operates a small manufacturing plant in Calgary.
Navy Seals and L.L. Bean
Sales through Adventure Tech, the mail-order sales company, continue to grow in the company niche: mountain gear and clothing for military units and other government entities. Abrams says 95 percent of Adventure Techs sales go to branches of the U.S. Department of Defense. The remaining 5 percent goes to other government entities, such as the National Park Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and Alaska Fish and Game.
Meanwhile, Integral Designs makes products for a broader range of customers. For example, it contracts its manufacturing services to other companies, sewing and assembling outdoor goods under the contracting companies label.
L.L. Bean contracted with Integral Designs last year to manufacture a line of L.L. Bean sleeping bags, called Burrito Bags. To date, Integral Designs has made about 20,000 sleeping bags of that wrap-around style for the national mail-order company, Abrams says.
Integral Designs also wholesales items labeled with its own name to retail stores, including Fitness Fanatics in the Spokane Valley, the only Spokane-area store that carries Integral Designs-branded merchandise, Abrams says.
Although little of its business comes from Spokane, the company takes on small local projects occasionally. For example, Integral Designs has made fleece vests for Avista Corp. to give to its employees for safety-recognition awards.
Abrams says Integral Designs future product lines will be developed in the same manner that he established the current lines: by following his passions. New products are added to the companys mix as his personal interests expand, he says.
We didnt sit down and come up with a big, sophisticated business plan when this started, Abrams says. We do the stuff that we like.
If I decide to become a fanatical racquetball player next week, well probably develop a shirt for the racquetball court.
Lately, his favorite thing is racing in cross-country skiing marathons, which he prepares for by skiing in the dark with a headlamp, either before or after work, five times a week.
As he says, he likes to compete.
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