We’ve underestimated your appetite for the details. I spend a fair amount of time on social media, primarily Facebook (GORUCK Tough Group) and Reddit. And it’s pretty great from my vantage point to be able to keep my finger on the pulse of what people are saying, and doing.
Change is hard and there’s been no shortage of it this year. Interestingly enough, from my vantage point, some of the smallest changes to our gear have caused the most alarm. Remove a buckle and all the sudden we’re Robber barons or worse. I get it, the Internet isn’t the South, where I’m right at home, and it’s kinda funny, actually, the accusations. Especially to those who know me, and us, best.
But we can do better, and we will and we work for you. Perhaps we have simply better explained the big changes, such as transitioning our R&D shop in Bozeman Montana and moving our Gear Distro from Seattle to a 3PL called Newgistics in Kentucky. Maybe also, they’re easier to explain, and to understand.
But anyway, here’s my humble attempt at more of a round-up of stuff, in no particular order. With a nod to the future where more than just me (the great bottleneck, sadly) are able to communicate our changes on this platform, company wide. This is a long and detailed entirely from memory. The good news is Emily says I have the memory of an elephant, so that’s cool. I’ve spent a few hours on this, which is far less than I usually would on a post of this length.
Most of you will want to spend your time elsewhere, but there are a few of you, and in the Internet world you’re known as influencers, who make the time, who like to know everything about everything. From what I’ve seen, you’re highly skeptical of change, and I’m grateful you choose to focus on us. If we were grabbing a beer, I’d happily answer just about any question you have about anything GORUCK related. I mean, we even publish our financials annually, that’s how important transparency is to us.
Here ya go.
This is nearly always the presumed rationale for all decisions. The assumption is usually that the company is doing everything in its power to lower costs, increase profitability, and screw over the consumer.
In the last two years, GORUCK has shifted from managing everything associated with building gear, to outsourcing more to our vendors. Meaning, we want to just order the piece of gear (GR1 etc.) and not the raw materials. This is called FOB for Free On Board. It’s happened gradually across all our gear vendors, which number 4 at this point, 3 are consistent work horses for us. Each has had to review every piece, and re-price it for us, factoring in their own increased workload. In that transition, we saw direct prices raise considerably. Some vendors more, some less. And not all pricing changes have come in at the same time, hence some staggering, a bullwhip if you will, in some pricing changes. Doing a thorough review of all FOB prices, which are increased, has naturally changed the nature of how we calculate our pricing and our margins. Prior to that we didn’t factor in the overhead cost of carrying Raw Materials (RM’s) or the management thereof. Sure, we assumed overall company overhead, but not to the degree that our prices went, and have gone up.
So, there was a time when we wondered if we took much thinner margins on something like GR2 and sold it for $300 instead of $395, could volume growth justify it? With FOB pricing increases, that didn’t make sense anymore. There are more cases like this. Ultimately, for a long time I think we drastically underestimated the true cost of our gear. Our loss, your gain.
There’s an inherent desire of our vendors to charge us more, too. Sometimes we eat it, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we have messed up and charged too little because we looked at our pricing sheet incorrectly. For instance, if our price sheet still had a non-FOB price on it, but we ordered it FOB, but we still looked at the non-FOB price, we’ll lose money. We make mistakes, we own up to them, and we move forward. Sometimes, we’ve asked you to bail us out, and you have. I’m always grateful, but I ask sparingly.
The conclusion is this, though. If you’re looking at us as a huge conglomerate with a team of bankers running the place, you’re way off. We have under 30 full time employees to run two entirely different businesses: Gear and Events. Most or all of the gear change decisions that anyone ever mentions I’ve been highly involved with (I respect gear dorkery), which makes it easy for me to explain the why. If I’ve forgotten any, ping me in the comments.
Gear Ops and Scaling Quality
Our focus is on the execution of building and scaling quality gear. As opposed to more new stuff, all the time. New gear has to be learned by sewers, which inevitably leads to problems, if you’re doing too much and stretched too thin. As we were, on the gear front, into last year. To that end, we’ve added layers of Quality Control (QC), in liaising with our vendors. Instead of receiving gear in Seattle, then QC’ing it, we have a Quality Control Manager (Christian), who spends his time on the road at the vendors during production. And we’re training more people to do this job so he can reduce his Frequent Flyer miles and have a more normalized life. (I’m thrilled to get him down to Jax Beach in January, permanently, btw). Upstream QC (at the vendor) is a superior way/process to do QC, and the way we have to do it to be a real gear business. The quality of our gear is a reflection of the strength of our partnerships with our vendors. Our QC team also includes Scars, which allows us to quickly solve problems we see coming in through the door. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
Over time, we’ll rebuild the R&D shop out of HQ, fully integrated with both marketing (explain the stuff better) and our Scars quality team. This is a long term play and totally necessary for our vision.
Speaking of Scars. Over the years, the biggest source of problems we’ve seen is related to the difficulty of building our rucks. Even with efficiencies of scale, it’s about a 4 hour build for one GR1. A centimeter here or there off, and the whole thing eventually fails, which mean we have to repair and/or replace it. That’s the enemy, we’d rather build it right the first time, and we have every incentive to do so. Most rucks don’t and will never need Scars, but when they do, we’re usually out all the profits of that ruck. But a service that keeps us sharp, and I love it, and have no plans to change our existing policies.
The one thing we have done over the years, with Scars, though, is say that we’re not going to cover zipper replacements. It’s hours of work, you have to cut each stitch out by hand, and it’s almost always operator error if zippers break or become malfunctioning. Meaning, it’s preventable. One caveat is that if your laptop zipper on your GR1 busts, we’ll close it shut and you can continue to use your GR1 as a dayruck, just without a functioning laptop compartment.
The Cut Out for Hydration Bladder
The cut out hole between the laptop compartment and the main compartment. Yes this allows you to use a hydration bladder in the laptop compartment. We removed this area for multiple reasons. (1) It’s an inferior way to carry and ruck with water. This dates back to the Camelbak I had in Iraq with a similar set-up. Sure, it works, but it’s lumpy and not ideal. If we advertise or even allow it, people will do it, then they’ll tell us it’s uncomfortable. I’ve seen this plenty. Part of what we’re trying to do is set people up for max success. Naturally, some people will prefer it there. Others would prefer more MOLLE, and carrying handles all over the place. At a certain point, everyone wants something. My goal is a highly functioning ruck, built to quality as consistently as possible. (2) It’s an easier build for our vendors. That area with the cut-out added a lot of detailed stitching, and it’s one of the reasons why we saw more Scars cases than we should. For a long term approach, it’s a lot more realistic to scale quality rucks without this cut-out. No, we did not see a price decrease because of this. In fact, as mentioned, all the rucks have increased in cost to us. Our strategy with this is to decrease Scars cases, which will over time alleviate the concerns that “GORUCK’s quality has gone down”, which is something I wish never to hear. It’s absolutely a fact that the quality of the rucks will increase by removing this section. In terms of function, some will wish it were there just in case. I don’t think that justifies keeping it, so I made the call to remove it.
They’ve been gone for a long while. We never saw one Scars case of 1000D bottom, despite thousands of colored rucks having it since 2010. Using 1000D instead of 1050D has no practical function or toughness decrease. I’ve heard some mention they liked the shinier 1050D better, aesthetically. Not much I can do about that, 1000D looks really similar.
In terms of process and sewing, 1000D is tough to sew. It’s thick and burly. 1050D is even tougher to sew. Doing double passes, two loops around with a sewing machine, (which is rare but we do it because it increases durability) on all the rucks, over time this area with 1050D is harder to manage, and it’s like a speed bump that messes up the flow because it’s a different fabric. So yeah, over time we’ll see more consistently better/higher quality builds by switching to 1000D Cordura for all bottoms.
GR1 Shoulder strap construction. If you don’t look really closely, you won’t notice. We had difficulties verifying that the straps were backtacked/bartacked (it’s evolved over the years) into the seam tape on the interior. This is really important to us, because if it’s not done correctly and we can’t verify it, and it fails, this means the shoulder straps will fall out under less strain than promised. Translation which I share with our vendors: my buddies in Afghanistan have our rucks – the worst thing that could happen is the shoulder straps fall out and are non-functional. It’s life or death at that point. So we have to be able to verify that these are done correctly. It’s always possible to miss something by a centimeter here or there. This will cause them to fail prematurely, but the remaining backtack stitching will still hold in time to get back to your firebase.
For a while we forced the vendors to leave excess webbing, so we could see it. But that led to other problems. As it turns out, this construction was very difficult with two piece of webbing together, sewing it into the seam. This is maybe the best example of why to change pattern pieces/construction techniques. We revisited this with the process of building the Rucker, which uses only Cordura fabric to sew into the back panel. But we didn’t want to change the aesthetic of GR1 if we could avoid it, so we married up the box stitched webbing with the Cordura and sewed that in. It reduced the bulk and offered no loss of strength. In fact, because of the difficulties the machines had sewing through both pieces of webbing, it’s possible that we increased the max break strength on both rucks. The Rucker got a more streamlined attachment (easier to construct) but without reduction of max break strength, from our tests in Bozeman. But they look different, and the box stitch is classic GR1, and I definitely didn’t want to mess with it too much, so it looks basically the way it’s always looked.
A couple years ago we tested it and I thought 500D was a superior fabric for this ruck, which is not meant to carry the same amount of weight as all the others because it’s so much smaller. When it came out in 500D, many people told us we were skimping on fabric costs. The reality is that I prefer it out of 500D because it’s less abrasive, especially if you’re wearing a tank top or something. That’s why I made that decision back then. But our messaging is easier anyway if we just say it’s 1000D all the time, for everything we build. So it’s 1000D. No plans to change that anymore, it does feel tougher when it’s 1000D, and I like things to feel tougher, too.
Re-build v2 10L Bullet. It was either rebuild it more streamlined or stop selling it. The v1’s we sold plenty of, and I love that ruck. But my best guess is that all the costs factored in, we lost money on it. So we streamlined it and made it 20 LB Ruck Plate compatible. Compare the two side-by side sometime v1 to v2. You’ll notice the v1 has significantly more pattern pieces, including on the back panel, and everywhere. Each of those had to be cut, prepped, sewn, etc. It was too much labor and needed to cost a price the market wouldn’t bear. I say that because it didn’t.
15L Bullet. Some have asked if we’ll ever bring it back, in its original form. I’m not opposed, but don’t have any plans to do this anytime soon. People really wanted this once it was gone, not while it was for sale. Such is life sometimes.
GR2 compression straps
These almost never made it on GR2, which by the way is my favorite ruck we build. The v1 prototype of GR1 had compression straps (we didn’t focus on GR2 out of the gates at all) because most or all assault packs have them, too. I never used them. We added them to GR2 because we thought it would further differentiate it from GR1. We really didn’t give it enough thought way back when, I don’t think. Years later, after going everywhere with my GR2’s, the only time I used the compression straps was when we went camping in Montana. That’s it. And we’ve gotten out of the practice of telling people to go camping with GR2, even though I would. (Until we have a new ruck come out ~next year). The rest of my GR2’s existence, 99.9% of the time, those buckles went unused. Every time I opened and closed the ruck, I had to mess with them. I talked to Jack about it, he had the same response. And I remember talking to Tyler, who helped design our Firearms gear and is a huge gear dork like we are, and he showed up in Bozeman with his GR2 and his dangling gypsy camp compression straps and I talked to him about them, and he said man I dunno, I like them. I asked him if he’d ever used them, and he thought about it for a second, and said, you know, I don’t think so. So goes it. Everyone is trained on “features” – does this bag have this or that, oooh that’s cool. I prefer to think about the people who don’t want excess stuff all over the place, too. For me, it wasn’t functional enough to keep. In fact, it was too gypsy to keep. So I made the decision to lose them.
Sure, it saved us $1/unit in buckles etc. before we transitioned to FOB and those savings meant, I guess, the price didn’t go up by an extra $1. Maybe. If there were a feature on GR2 that would cost $5 that would make it a better ruck, I’d happily add it. Like I said, it’s my all time fave.
We removed the buckles a couple years ago because they suck on there – I think it was a mistake they ever had them. They worked for a while to keep the contents tighter in the Sandbags, which protects the zippers a little more, but over time the compression slips out and when you pick them up and the buckles are on your neck, you hate it. After I did the 9/11 Memorial WOD with Cadre Danny Boy at Balance Gym in DC a couple years ago, I decided no more buckles, ever again, on the Sandbags. That decision happened fast, we didn’t really make an announcement about it or anything, but we did have to reshoot all the pics and stuff, which is a huge time suck. Change is expensive, and not only when I have to, I mean get to (love you all) spend a lot of time explaining it. 🙂 Anyway, I received zero complaints about this from you all, I guess you liked this decision. I was chatting with James Vreeland (Selection finisher) at my dad’s house about it for this past Selection, he was like yeah, those buckles sucked on your neck, I’m glad they’re gone.
We removed the MOLLE on the side a long time ago. It wasn’t as functional as we had hoped, and we had thoughts of grandeur at all the accessories we could design that would make it work better. It turns out that it’s better with a “normal” pocket there. Never got any flak for this one, either. Guess y’all agreed. 🙂
This is the last run that will have the zippered pockets on the sides. Get ‘em while they’re hot. Our goal in 2017 is to differentiate them more from the Kit Bags on features, aesthetics, and price. Kit Bags will continue to have more pockets, and cost more (than the Gym Bag) because of it. I think the Kit Bags have the better story, by a lot. We’re on the verge of telling it a lot better, too. The reason why we added pockets to the Aviator’s Kit Bag, etc. We’re also considering adding exterior Spearhead embroidery onto the Gym Bags, TBD.
10L Bullets and Ruckers
All will have some exterior embroidery next year (and some SKU’s this year coming before Christmas), just a spearhead on the exterior. It’ll be, in most cases, the same color as the webbing, and right above the MOLLE webbing on the right side of the ruck as you’re looking at it.
There are zero plans to do this for the Original Rucks – GR1, GR2, Echo. The overarching goal is to differentiate the Rucker from GR1, but also use our less expensive rucks as more branding opportunities. We do not have plans to put GORUCK on the exterior (which we do on the Sandbags). It looks better on the rucks, I think, with just the Spearhead.
Rucker v2 – date TBD (2017)
Rucker will see further differentiation from GR1 as well, in some ways. And I’m promising evolutions to this ruck. We’re exploring additional Velcro to the exterior, adding MOLLE to the interior, and removing the extra sheet of Cordura in the interior. The Rucker, bottom line, needs further differentiation from GR1 besides just price and the lack of a laptop compartment. All this said, I use my 20L Black with blue Rucker these days more than any other ruck I have. Back and forth to work from the house (I work on desktops at home and work), to the pool with the kids in the summertime. I expect the price to stay the same.
We will make more, but don’t have a schedule for more right now. Once it’s gone, it’ll take a while to come back (per norm with this stuff). And we only built 100-200 units of each. All that said, the Firearms Training has seen a lot of growth, I think we’ll really marry up the gear and the events (better than we do now) in 2018. By marry up, I mean we’ll be firing better on all cylinders of operations, marketing, and inventory.
We’re debating whether to continue to make these, or how much to prioritize having them in stock. Hat production in America has been difficult, and demand has been hard to predict. Some of our hat inventory we ordered over two years ago because of minimum order quantities at the vendor being so high. Probably because their other clients are places like the National Guard. TBD but I’d like to keep it around, mostly for emotional reasons since I remember for years joking that all we had to sell gear-wise was three bags and a hat.
Yeah, in late 2017 is the plan. We’re likely to do a pre-sale on this prior, to gauge demand. We’re terrible at guessing who wants what, when. Our team is planning to converge on Bozeman in August of 2017 to take it on some adventures.
We’re integrating water bladder functionality for the next version. It’ll be 2017 sometime.
Pre-Orders and “Customization”
We’ve wanted to do this for a long time, in a scalable way. If you want GR2 with compression straps or a new color scheme, for instance, we can do a new PO, they just have to be in quantities of 100-200. That means, find your friends and tell them about that specific url that would be on our site. Then it would require more waiting, once you’ve already paid. Not sure what demand will be if you repeat this out over the entire line of gear, with color and webbing options outlined. We’re also not sure how to best process your ideas for requests. Meaning, we don’t want to publish all of them because we want to build anything we would take funds for or else we’re in a territory where we owe refunds, or credits or something. We haven’t worked out the whole system, so we haven’t executed this. And it’s highly IT dependent, which has never been our strength. Of note, we can/could do the same things for Events. I’m confident this will happen in 2017, though, to some extent. The goal being, if you want something, and ~100 other people do, too, we’ll happily build it for you all. And send it with love 🙂
Quality remains life and death to us, same as always my buddies take our gear to war and I care a lot more about them that I ever will about money. It’s also the greatest challenge any manufacturer faces, to scale quality. Simply put, it’s hard. We’ve doubled down in every way (resources, focus) on scaling quality. From training more people to more oversight at the vendor level to pattern changes that are designed to increase quality at scale. Sometimes this ruffles some feathers, but the goal is clear: scale quality.
Our Scars Lifetime Guarantee is a valuable service, and a really important one for us. It’s a window into how we’re doing on the gear front that is important to us, that we would not otherwise have. It stands directly in between R&D work and scale production, which are two completely different processes. As a company, we’ve transitioned from a high velocity R&D team that could build more stuff than our team could support, both Gear Ops and Marketing-wise — to a company focused on scaling quality gear that already exists. As we plan for slower growth of new products, we’ll make a bigger deal about them when they’re launched. It’s less sexy but more effective than go go go all the time (that’s the job of our Events). But when you have growth plans and a lifetime guarantee on your gear, you better make sure you can grow well. We were on the verge of not doing that a couple years ago. Now we are in a much better position to scale the highest quality gear possible.
Perhaps the news blog would be best suited for any/all of these kinds of updates. What do you think? I’m surprised at the fascination many of you have with this stuff. I guess I shouldn’t be, since I’m also pretty fascinated with it, and nobody is a unique snowflake. If you want more, let me know in the comments, via carrier pigeon, take your pick.
Most importantly, thank you. If you didn’t care it would be because you either didn’t know about us or you didn’t respect us or you didn’t care. I respect your passion, and we’re grateful for your support.
OK I’m outta diesel on the ol’ keyboard and gonna go grab a cold beer to fill the tank. What are your questions at this time?