Steve Speck, co-founder of EXO Mountain Gear, talks business, the backcountry, and his line of lightweight, heavy-hauling backpacks that are growing in popularity and reputation.
In a market, like the outdoor industry, where product loyalty can be likened to religion, the hopes of starting a new company can be intimidating and unsettling at best. Steve Speck and Lenny Nelson, relying on their backcountry hunting and backpacking experience, chose to defy the odds and build their own platform worthy of the miles and payloads they had experienced over the years.
EXO Mountain Gear (EXO) is that end result. Talking with Steve via phone, I had the chance to learn more about their product, business plan, and early success in addition to the expectations Steve has for EXO in the future.
Like most entrepreneurs, Steve and Lenny had experiences with other products and had found those experiences leaving them wanting more. Both backcountry backpack hunters, they decided to try their hand at building their own platform.
We had no background in sewing or frame assembly, but we knew what we wanted and what we thought would work so we started researching and learning what was necessary to build a product we would felt would meet our expectations. -Steve Speck
Research and development are a large part of any pack company and EXO is no exception. The reliance on their own experiences, as well as hunters’ input nationwide, further support their mission to produce a consistent and fully functional product. This partially outsourced R&D approach provides valuable feedback on which future alterations can be based.
“We’ve probably made 100+ tweaks and adjustments from the 2014 to the 2015 models based on the feedback we’ve received from customers,” said Steve.
Chances are that if you’ve participated in an online forum discussion regarding an EXO product, Steve has seen or heard about your comments. This freedom of information and feedback supports their current choice of not having a compensated prostaff.
“Our customers’ feedback is usually more honest and critical than a paid opinion or review would produce. We really value this feedback and have a goal as a company to always be listening to our customers, never resting on our laurels.”
That choice notwithstanding, there are some pretty popular hunting shoulders that don the EXO. Thanks to the existing clientele of S&S Archery, Steve’s other business, and relationships and fans of their (Steve and Lenny) production company Pure Elevation Productions, the early success of the EXO line can be at least partially attributed to supportive friends and very happy customers. Steve told me;
“Word of mouth, the Born and Raised guys, and Mark‘s writings have really helped in getting the word out about our pack. We consistently hear our customers say our packs are ‘a well thought-out product.'”
Building on a grassroots platform is just where Steve likes EXO to be. They are a direct sales only operation that can be accessed via their website, http://exomountaingear.com/shop/.
This business model allows for the folks at EXO to continue producing a high-end product at a midrange price. Even with this seemingly small scale operation, meeting demand and ironing out timely production wrinkles are welcome challenges that EXO is facing, head-on.
When asked about the future of the EXO line and/or product expansion and diversification, Steve responded,
“We want to be a backpack first company. Producing a consistent, efficient, and respectable product for our customers is our top priority.”
Steve’s humility aside, in my opinion, the EXO 3500/5500 occupy a space in backcountry hunting gear that is simple yet sophisticated, fully applicable, and on track to satisfy a growing customer base that knows what they want and how they plan to use it.
Photos courtesy of Steve Speck