Where Did TreBark® Come From
By John E. Phillips
Oct 11, 2007 - 6:54:26 AM
So, you've got a good idea to make a million dollars in the outdoor industry. You've developed a new camo pattern, a new fishing lure, a better tree stand, a secret deer lure or a better way to keep minnows alive. But millions of outdoorsmen every year have those same kinds of ideas and never make a dime from them.
What is required to take a good idea and make it into a multi-million dollar company? Where do you find someone who's willing to make you rich by promoting your idea, selling it to others and then paying you for it? The simple truth is the person who will make you rich doesn't exist. The people who make it in the outdoors are the boot strappers -- the men and women who bend their backs, grab their own boot straps and pull themselves up. They are hard workers, putting in an average of 12 to 14 hours a day, six and seven days per week. They're risk takers, who are willing to gamble their futures on their good ideas.
Jim Crumley, the president of Trebark Camouflage, headquartered in Roanoke, Virginia, is a man with an idea and the courage to follow his dream. When you look at Jim's story, you'll understand the road you must take if you have a good idea you believe can be grown into a major outdoor company. Jim's love of the outdoors, his entrepreneurial spirit and his willingness to take great risks to find and develop his dream charts the path others must follow for success in the outdoor
Jim Crumley graduated from Virginia Tech in 1969 and took a job as a marketing-education teacher in Alexandria, Virginia. At about the same time he developed what was to become a lifetime love for hunting deer and turkeys.
Crumley had grown up in Bristol, Virginia. During his younger days, the area where he lived failed to support enough deer and turkey to warrant a hunting season. Not until after college when the deer and turkey populations in Virginia had grown and could support a season where Jim hunted did Jim begin to take up deer and turkey hunting.
Jim Crumley's initiation into deer hunting was as a bowman, because he decided his best opportunity to bag a deer would be during bow season. He learned to shoot a bow and began to take deer with his bow. At that time, Jim was wearing both forest-green and tiger-stripe camouflage but leaned more towards wearing the tiger stripe rather than the forest green. Tiger stripe was the third generation of a slowly evolving military camouflage. The first camouflage pattern to receive a patent was developed by a Belgian researcher. Primarily composed of large blotches of three or four shades of black and brown, the pattern was developed at the end of World War II and was generally known as WWII camouflage.
The woodland-green pattern and the tiger-stripe pattern were introduced at the beginning of the Vietnam War. These patterns featured more greens and not so much of the browns and blacks the WWII pattern had.
As Crumley remembers, "I noticed as I watched down the hollow from my tree stand for deer and saw the trunks of hickory, poplar and oak, the woods seemed to have a battleship-gray dominant color instead of green. When I looked down at the ground, I saw more brown color. I decided my tiger stripe camouflage didn't look like the woods where I was hunting."
|Jim Crumley wanted a better hunting camouflage. This idea and his marketing background helped him create the nation's first sportsman's camo.
Jim Crumley left the woods and went home to try and make himself a better suit of camouflage for his hunting. At that time in history, tie-dying, a process by which clothes were tied in knots, dipped in dye and allowed to dry and then the knots were untied, was a popular type of coloring clothing during this hippie generation. The colors were splotched on the clothes in various patterns.
However, Jim did not want to make a fashion statement. He was trying to color hunting clothes that more closely resembled the woods. He purchased a suit of gray work clothes and used brown and black dye to try and recreate the colors he saw in the forest when he was hunting. He tied the clothes in knots and dipped them in both black and brown dye. When Jim presented his new hunting suit to his buddies, they all agreed his new tie-dye camouflage looked terrible -- really terrible. But when Jim went into the woods, those same friends agreed that Jim was hard to find and difficult to see with his new, ugly camouflage.
Jim made his first tie-dye suit of camo in 1972. But this pattern had one problem Jim couldn't seem to overcome. It still was made up of splotches and patches of color that seemed to be more horizontal than vertical. Jim had noticed that not only were the colors in the woods more grays than black and browns, but that the lines in the woods, especially the lines of tree trunks and bushes, were vertical and not horizontal lines.
Once Jim had his colors right for the fall and early spring woods, he next thought about what a deer or a turkey walking through the woods saw. He realized in the clean, big hardwoods where the animals normally fed and moved, they looked at more tree trunks than anything else at their eye level. Jim reasoned if he could resemble a tree trunk, he would be harder for the animals to detect and would blend in better with the woods where he hunted.
Jim used odorless Magic Markers to add squiggly lines to his tie-dyed,camouflage work suit. The squiggly lines gave the camo a more vertical look and made the camo resemble a tree trunk more than the blotches of the forest-green and tiger-stripe camos did. Jim's hunting friends started to
look at his weird, ugly-looking camo in a new and different light. They shot color pictures of him against trees and in the woods. From the pictures, they could tell Jim's new suit better hid him in the woods than the camouflage clothing they wore when they hunted. For six years, Jim continued to buy gray work suits, tie-dye them and draw squiggles on them, each time trying to improve his pattern.
However, Jim wasn't attempting to develop a new camouflage. He was simply trying to have a better suit of clothes for his own personal deer and turkey hunting. He believed by becoming more invisible, he could harvest more game. But a unique factor that added to the eventual success of Trebark camouflage was Jim's educational background. As a marketing-education teacher, Jim taught students daily how to find and recognize new products and sell them or how to take old products and sell them in a better way.
As Jim's friends encouraged him about the marketability of his new camouflage, his love of hunting, his newly discovered camouflage philosophy and his marketing background meshed together like the gears of a high-speed racing automobile. One day, Jim decided he could sell this new camouflage idea and pattern he'd been developing for six years. By 1978, the dream of selling a new camouflage pattern was so strong that Jim decided if he didn't try and sell the camo he'd developed, someone else would.
At that time and place, the only camouflage hunters could buy was the camo that had been developed by the military which contained splotches and horizontal patterns. Not only was Jim having to sell a color of camo no one ever had seen before with his grays and blacks, but he also was trying to sell a revolutionary idea -- a vertical camouflage pattern.
When camouflage meant the difference between life and death in a war, everyone assumed the government had the best ideas. Men had survived conflicts in foreign lands by wearing greens, blacks and browns in horizontal patterns. Now, this young Virginian was coming to the hunters of America with a pattern not only radical in color but that also went against the traditional horizontal lines that had helped men live through wars. Too, Jim Crumley was attempting to change the way people looked at the forest.
In 1978, turkey hunting was becoming more popular across the country as was bowhunting. Jim Crumley hoped to target these two markets with his new idea and unique clothing. However, Jim had another problem. He realized he couldn't hand-tie-dye gray work suits and then put squiggly lines on them with markers and produce enough suits to sell to the mass market. Although his process of making camouflage had worked well for him, he realized he'd have to change his pattern to have it printed onto fabric and then that fabric be cut and sewn into camouflage clothing. Therefore, Jim Crumley, the teacher, became an avid student, learning all he could about printing fabric and making clothing.
|Jim's courage as a businessman allowed him to follow his dream.
Jim drew his original pattern and shaded it the way he believed a tree trunk looked to a hunter at a distance. He also made slides of tree trunks, projected the slides on the wall, put paper on the wall and then traced the designs he saw on the trunks. Too, Jim shaded his designs from the colors he saw in the slides of the tree trunks. He then sent all of his sketches with the proper tree-
trunk colors to his sister, Mary Beth, who had a Master's degree in Art and was a portrait artist. His sister refined the pattern and put it in a form the textile manufacturers could use to make a screen from which to print.
The pattern was finalized in 1979. Once Crumley had his pattern, he called Dan River Mills in Danville, Virginia, and told them about his idea for printing a new camouflage pattern. He explained to them he had his pattern on canvas in a form that could be utilized to make a screen from which to print the cloth. The people at Dan River told Crumley they'd be happy to print his pattern, if he ordered 50,000 yards of fabric at $2.50 a yard. When Crumley totaled up how much buying and printing the fabric would cost, he quickly realized he didn't have the financing to pursue his dream. This point often is where many potential entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry give up. Jim had a good idea, his friends believed in what he was doing, and he had his pattern ready to be printed. However, the volume of fabric he would have to purchase to have Trebark camouflage material to build suits from was well out of Jim's financial reach.
|Original TreBark was a completely different concept in camouflage.
But a bulldog-like tenacity that had the ability to turn defeat into victory continued to drive Jim Crumley. Rather than give up and quit, Jim continued his search for a fabric- printing company that would print small orders of fabric. Finally, his persistence was rewarded when he located Lida Manufacturing, a company in Charlotte, North Carolina, that specialized in printing small
amounts of yardages of fabric for the fashion industry. The president of the company, Ralph Keir, agreed to print Jim's new camouflage pattern.
However, as with any victory, this one had a downside. The only way Jim's pattern could be printed was with a heat- transfer print. For this process to work, the material had to be at least 80-percent polyester. In the 1970s, polyester suits were the rage of the men's fashion industry. But hunters were buying either 100-percent cotton or 100-percent wool clothing. No hunter in his right mind would purchase a polyester suit for hunting.
Jim Crumley faced another major crossroad in the development of his company. He didn't have enough money to have his pattern printed on 50,000 yards of cotton cloth. But he could have his pattern printed on polyester cloth he felt sure hunters probably wouldn't buy. Most would-be entrepreneurs would have given up their dreams at this stumbling block -- but not Jim.
Jim recognized that unless he had his pattern on some type of cloth he couldn't produce hunting suits and wouldn't be able to find out if his idea would sell. He agreed to have his first Trebark pattern printed on 100-percent, polyester, double-knit cloth. Although polyester was soft and quiet, it would fray and fuzz when caught on briars and brambles. Jim decided to have 5,000 yards of Trebark polyester printed, and then he could begin to sew his hunting suits. The fabric cost $2.10/yard for the printed 5,000 yards of fabric -- a total of $10,050. Jim saw this money, which in the late 70Ős was considered a large amount of money, as only another obstacle to overcome if he was to test his new idea.
Jim went to the bank to obtain a business loan to pay for the fabric. However, the bank didn't believe that Jim's new camo pattern was a sound investment. Crumley was 32-years old, had never been in business for himself before and was trying to get a business loan on a camouflage pattern that was radically different from anything on the market. The bank required more security
to recover its investment if Jim's idea failed. At that time, Jim, who was single, had purchased a townhouse some years earlier. The bank agreed to take a second mortgage on Jim's townhouse and loan him $24,000. Jim believed this money would be enough to have his fabric printed, cut and sewn into suits and hats. Also enough money should be left over to buy an ad or two in
national outdoor magazines.
Although this money was an enormous amount for Jim to go into debt for, he still had his job as an administrator with the Alexandria, Virginia, school system. He was convinced his income from his school position would provide enough money to pay back the loan if his idea failed.
Jim Crumley had the same fears and doubts that anyone launching a new business would have. He wondered if ...
These fears are those experienced by everyone who launches a new business. But only by conquering these fears and continuing to believe in that idea could Jim Crumley or any other entrepreneur follow his or her dream.
- people would buy his camouflage or were his friends just telling him this idea was good to encourage him,
- he could sell this new camouflage,
- he didn't sell all the material what would happen,
- he wanted to do something different for his life's work from what he had trained to do if his idea worked.
When Jim received his first sample of fabric from the company, he hired a seamstress to cut and sew his first suit of Trebark camouflage that wasn't hand-painted. He showed the suit to all his friends and the men in his bowhunting club. He sold his first suit of clothing to a man he shot
archery tournaments with -- Johnny Buck. Buck ordered the suit on his charge card before Crumley ever had suits for sale. The jackets and pants sold for $19.50/piece. As soon as the first suit was made, Buck's order was filled.
|Jim wanted a camo that would best match the trees in his hunting area.
Jim Crumley's marketing education and training had taught him that you first identify a product and then identify the market you want to take that product to, which was the bowhunter. Jim decided that to find out if the consumer was as excited about his new camouflage as he was, he should go straight to the consumer and by-pass the store owner.
Rather than having to convince a store owner or a sporting goods dealer to stock his line of camouflage, Jim felt if he could convince bowhunters to buy his product initially, then the store owners would be more willing to stock a product that already had been tested at the consumer level.
"I wanted to build a track record of performance by selling directly to the consumer," Crumley explained. "Then when I went to a store owner I could say, `The consumers are already buying my product. It's to your advantage to stock it in your store.'
"I felt if I could show a store owner I had sold a large number of Trebark camouflage suits by running an ad in a national magazine and told him I had two more ads coming out the next year, the store owner would buy my products. Then he could sell a large number of camouflage suits in
his store based on the two ads I was running the next year."
In July, 1980, Jim Crumley ran an 1/8 page ad in "Bowhunter Magazine" that stated simply, "TREBARK CAMOUFLAGE IS COMING."
According to Jim, "I ran the ad to establish the trademark name and logo of Trebark. I wanted to put a tickler ad in to establish some interest and to make people wonder what Trebark camouflage was."
Two months later in the next issue of "Bowhunter Magazine," Jim ran a full-page, black-and-white ad. But because he didn't have enough fabric to build a second suit to be photographed to show Trebark in the ad, Jim once again turned to his sister, Mary Beth, and asked her to draw a pen- and-ink sketch of a hunter wearing his new Trebark camouflage. When this first ad came out, Jim
had spent all the money he'd borrowed from the bank to buy fabric, have a thousand suits cut and sewn and run his ad. Actually he'd spent more than the initial $24,000 by dipping into his savings to support the idea of Trebark camouflage, which was yet an unproven product.
If Jim's idea was wrong, he not only would lose the $24,000 he borrowed from the bank but also most of his savings would be wiped out. Jim risked not only what he had saved but also his future earnings on the idea that a vertical camouflage pattern that looked like a tree trunk would be bought by bowhunters. This type of risk taking is required for success, not only in the outdoor industry, but in the world of business as a whole.
However, Jim's first orders didn't come from the ad. They came from members of his archery club.
One of the problems with Jim's first ad was the only way people could order this new Trebark camo was by mail. Jim was still working for the school system, he didn't have an answering machine, and he didn't take Visa or Mastercard -- only cash or a money order.
After Jim received his copy of the magazine, he went to his post office box, and there were no
orders. For the next two or three days, not a single order arrived. Jim wondered again if his camouflage would sell. Had he been extremely foolish? Was his idea really marketable after all?
A week went by but still no orders. By now, Jim was really worried. But on a Monday afternoon, a week after the ad came out, Jim's mailbox was bulging with 50 orders for Trebark camo waiting to be filled.
"I felt like one of the 49ers during the Gold Rush who'd spent his entire savings to go to California, looked for months in the hills and mountains for gold and finally stumbled on the right stream," Crumley said later.
Each day brought more and more orders. The orders never quit coming. Jim was so successful he had to have postcards printed up to send to his customers explaining that orders would be delayed because he had only a limited supply of camouflage. Since Jim couldn't have enough fabric printed and the fabric cut and sewn into hunting suits in time to get the suits to the customers who had ordered them before hunting season was over, on the postcard he gave his
customers an option. They either could have their money back or receive their suits prior to the next hunting season. No one asked for a refund.
Jim Crumley received 2500 orders for that first Trebark camouflage. He made a profit and reordered fabric.
Jim's first year in business was 1980. In 1981, he gave up his position with the school system, which was another risky move. He lost his retirement program, his health hospital benefits and the security that comes with a steady job because of his belief that the camouflage business would continue to grow.
Although Jim Crumley's faith in his product was rewarded, his problems weren't over as his business grew. The first and most obvious problem was using the 100-percent double-knit polyester fabric which had a shine to it. Hunters preferred a dull finish to their camouflage clothing. By this time, polyester-double-knit was out of fashion. Some hunters just wouldn't wear
the Trebark clothing because of the fabric from which it was made. In warm weather, this clothing was very hot. But too it was very quiet, stretchable, non-shrinking, and non-fading because it was heat-transfer printed. However, when a hunter walked through briars, he looked like a fuzz ball when he came out the other side of the briar patch. Jim had to change his cloth to cotton blend or 100-percent cotton. Originally Jim had thought once he proved that consumers would buy his product by mail order, he then would go to the retail stores, show them the orders he'd received and hopefully, convince them to stock his product on their shelves. However, Trebark was such a dramatic success that retailers began to call Jim and ask him if they could buy his products. Jim had created such a demand for this new camouflage through the vacuum system of marketing that this demand was driving the sales of the product. Now the demand to buy the product was greater than his ability to supply. Jim had to develop more innovative ways to make camouflage suits than he initially had considered.
In the beginning, Bristol Products, a company in Jim's hometown, had agreed to make Jim's first suits because of his friendship with Chris Horner, son of the owner of the company. But this company was primarily in the team sports business and had agreed to cut and sew the first suits to try and help Jim get his business started. Jim's second year of business required him to not
only find a new textile manufacturer to print his pattern on 100-percent cotton or cotton blends but also a new cut-and-sew company that would take his fabric and sew it into camouflage suits.
Often novice entrepreneurs assume that as soon as their companies are successful, all their problems are over. However, Jim Crumley learned the more successful he became, the more problems he created. Even though Crumley had made back his initial investment, now he needed to borrow even more money to buy more cloth and to have more suits sewn. Once again Jim
Crumley was willing to bet his future on Trebark camouflage.
He took the money he had received from his 12-year retirement program with the school system and invested it all in his company. He also contacted some individual investors from whom he borrowed $5,000 each at 16-percent interest, because he was convinced he could make enough
money in his second year to pay off his investors and still make a profit.
Fortunately for Jim, his second year in business, 1981, saw 7500 orders arrive -- a tripling of orders. Jim was able to pay off his investors, earn a profit and once again buy fabric and make suits to prepare for the third year of sales. At every crossroads where larger amounts of money had to be borrowed to build inventory in hopes the next year's sales would be enough to pay off
the loans and make a profit, Jim demonstrated courage and bet the farm on his idea.
The third year Trebark was in business, Pat Snyder, a buyer at Cabela's decided to test Trebark camouflage in the Cabela's catalog. Cabela's gave Jim a programmed order. The first order of approximately $35,000 worth of two-piece suits and coveralls was to be shipped to them by the end of June. The second order of $35,000 worth of camouflage was to be shipped at the end of
July. About four orders of $35,000 each were scheduled to be shipped at the end of each month during the summer.
But when the Cabela's Hunting Catalog came out at the first of July, the demand was so great that at the end of July the company called Jim and asked that all their orders be shipped immediately. The orders for Trebark were far greater than Cabela's had anticipated. Even in the first month, the company was backordering. Jim knew he couldn't meet the overwhelming demand Cabela's was asking although he was racing to produce suits. Trebark had created a nightmare for Cabela's.
"And I really believe they didn't think we knew what we were doing," Jim said. However, Cabela's and everyone else in the outdoor industry saw that Trebark camouflage pattern not only would sell but was in tremendous demand.
Cabela's was only one of Jim Crumley's problems. Sporting goods dealers were now calling every day wanting suits made of Trebark camouflage. The young man who had hoped he could sell 1000 suits three years earlier was now having to develop new and better ways to produce more suits to meet a demand he couldn't supply.
At that point, Crumley went to the Graniteville Company, a South Carolina textile manufacturer of woven fabric, to have more of his fabric printed. Jimmy Jones, of Greensboro, North Carolina, a representative for Graniteville, saw the tremendous demand for the Trebark camouflage and recognized the potential. He suggested that Jim and Graniteville consider a licensing agreement
which would allow other clothing companies in the industry to buy the Trebark camouflage pattern on cloth and cut and sew their own suits for resale. Then, more consumers could buy the Trebark pattern from more companies. Jim and Graniteville would make a profit from selling these companies Trebark fabric.
The Graniteville deal was sealed in 1985. That same year, What began a few years before with the help of then PSE Director of Marketing/Advertising, Rich Walton, Precision Shooting Equipment (PSE) was licensed to use the Trebark camouflage pattern its on bows. The Trebark pattern now became established nationwide.
Toward the end of that same year, Jim Legette, the president of Fabric Distributors (now Intex) in Greensboro, North Carolina, entered into a licensing agreement to produce knit fabrics in Trebark camouflage. By 1986, all the makers of hunting garments were informed they could buy the Trebark pattern to make hunting clothes.
Although 1985 was a tremendously good year for Trebark camouflage, the year also had a downside. That same year, Jim had to invest a large sum of money in a lawsuit against a textile converter who was using the Trebark pattern without paying a licensing fee. In the past, the patterns known as camouflage, which were military camouflage, were considered to be in public
domain. Anybody who wanted a pattern could print and use a military pattern without having to pay a licensing fee or without having to obtain the permission of the artist who had developed the pattern. But when Jim first invented his pattern, one of his hunting buddies who was a judge suggested that Jim hire an attorney and obtain both a copyright and a trademark to protect his
pattern from being utilized by anyone without his permission. Jim realized if his pattern ever caught on, he would have competition. Jim went to the extra expense of hiring Burns, Doane, Surecker and Mathis, an Alexandria, Virginia, law firm specializing in patients and copyrights, to represent him in obtaining both copyright and patent protection on the Trebark pattern and trademark protection on the name. When the textile converter started using Jim's pattern on fabric and attempted to sell it, Jim decided he would fight for his copyright and his trademark.
|"I've studied deer and deer hunting all my life and I've been fortunate enough to get a shot off at some really nice trophies."
No other camouflage company ever had taken a step like this. The court's decision would establish a precedent for all camouflage patterns that followed Jim's original design. Jim successfully proved there had been an infringe
impression of bark could be copyrighted even though the other company argued that bark could not be copyrighted. But a Federal court agreed with Jim. Now no one can use a copyrighted camo pattern without the permission of the individual who holds the copyright.
Today, Jim Crumley's Trebark appears in several different original camouflage patterns and is the most widely distributed camouflage pattern in the U.S. No longer a cottage industry in the hills of Virginia and North Carolina, today the Trebark pattern is sold nationwide and in Canada, Italy, Spain and most countries that allow hunting.
When Jim Crumley first developed the idea of a vertical pattern for camouflage and broke the barrier which dictated that camouflage was made up of splotches and patches and color, mostly greens and browns, and of horizontal lines instead of vertical lines, he breathed new life into the hunting clothing market. Because of Jim's vast vision, boldness, and courageous entrepreneurship, he opened the door for many other camouflage manufacturers and garment
makers and created a boom in camouflage that's helped produce a wider variety of patterns and colors than anyone ever would have believed in the 1980s.
But Jim Crumley has not finished his course. He's not someone who sits back on his laurels and talks about the good ole days. When Jim's company first began, he experienced the excitement that came with initiating a new idea. Today the Trebark Company is continuing to grow and to bring new ideas, patterns and research, into every area of the hunting industry where camouflage
can and is used to aid the hunter.
With all the success Jim Crumley has had, you may wonder when he will slow down and take a well-deserved rest. However, you don't know the man if you think that. Jim Crumley will leave the hunting industry when he ceases to have new ideas and no longer is able to fight for market share and better products for the hunter. As an outsider looking in and from having known Jim
Crumley for many years, I bet Jim will retire when he's looking up from a hole 6 feet in the ground.
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