Some thoughts about the recent GoLite Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
In 2008 or so, the GoLite Jam II was a popular pack.
At roughly twenty ounces in a 3000 CI/50 L package, it was a frameless rucksack that was light, affordable at less than $100, durable for such a light pack, versatile and had ample carrying capacity.
It was a wonderful pack. Well suited for many activities ranging from day hikes to multi-day backpacks to even quick winter outings.
A well designed classic in my opinion.
Fast forward to 2014.
The current Jam is almost a pound heavier at 30 ounces total with no discernible change in the basic functionality versus the older design of the pack. And while still a reasonable bargain at $110 (assuming you can find it in stock) there are other companies that make something similar in functionality that weigh less and are only a little more money.
That example, in a nut shell, is part of why I think GoLite recently filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
GoLite lost their focus, Rather than play to their traditional strengths of making affordable, light and simple gear, they tried to expand their gear and other offerings. They tried to be many things to many people…and did not succeed.
A company that was once at the forefront and effectively straddled the line between a cottage gear company and something larger such as REI, lost their way.
More offerings for running, adventure sports and “life style -type clothing” seemed to take away from their original, core focus of simple, functional and lightweight gear that was not terribly expensive. Their core gear, such as the Jam packs, started getting feature-creep and added weight.
I think GoLite lost their direction. What do they want to be? Sell functional gear for backpacking and related activities? Try to sell higher profit margin lifestyle clothing? Concentrate on more glamorous, popular and higher earning Done-In-A-Day gear? Be a strictly online retailer? Work with other retail stores again?
At less than 200 employees, including their retail stores, GoLite is a fairly small company. They have to concentrate on one market and do it well. Not several markets with gear and clothing that does not stand out.
I have some of their lifestyle clothing (button downs, short sleeves and so on) and while the items are nice, I only bought the clothing because it was on clearance. In fact, I am wearing a short sleeve GoLite shirt as I type this article. I certainly liked some of their clothing.
However, most consumers aren’t going to go out of their way to buy their clothing. It does not have the name recognition among the general public as with a Royal Robbins or Eddie Bauer. And, while the clothing is nice, it is nothing special.
Likewise, with their Tumalo rain jacket and Bitterroot parka. On sale and clearance, they were excellent buys. But,at their current full price of $75 and $200 respectively, there are other options that may be better esp on sale or clearance from such places as Sierra Trading Post or REI Outlet.
I was accused of focusing too much on the product as the cause of GoLite’s stumble. It was argued that GoLite always being out of stock was the real cause. That may be correct as I am merely doing some Monday morning quarterbacking for sure. And being out of stock does not help their bottom line.
However, the transitioning to “brick and mortar” stores at the expense of their core, direct sales does seem to play to “What exactly does GoLite want to be???”. Their diverse product line was perhaps a bit too much for a company this size, and overall name recognition, to be effective in any one area. (UPDATE: And apparently their CEO agrees with me. 😉 )
In short, I believe being out of stock frequently was a symptom, not a cause of, their current financial woes. Not having the capital to pay for the gear and clothing with their manufacturers I suspect had an effect on their supply chain a wee bit. Owing 1.3 million to one manufacturer is perhaps not good for the supply chain…. And how did they get low on cash? See the reasons I stated earlier. Just supposition, but I think my reasoning is pretty solid: If people aren’t into the product enough to meet your expenses, does not matter how much product you have to sell.
Chapter 11 is not necessarily a fatal blow. They may able to restructure or perhaps even be acquired by a larger entity that may give GoLite some needed capital to help regain its focus.
If GoLite can rediscover an earlier ideal of “champagne gear at beer prices“, (as opposed to “good white wine at expensive craft beer prices” 😉 ) with perhaps some good innovations, they may regain their footing.
GoLite had some wonderful gear and while they not have been as innovative as smaller and leaner companies, some of their gear and clothing was a great place to start for many people. A way to go lighter without breaking the wallet and having to make sacrifices in comfort and safety.
We’ll see what happens in the months ahead.
With a bit of luck and a renewed focus, perhaps GoLite can further contribute to going lighter for the general public.
If not, they may join the ranks Alp Sports, Frost Line, and other gear companies that were influential but are no longer here.
No matter what happens, GoLite is a company that signaled the coming of age of the lightweight backpacking movement. A pioneer in many ways. From garages and basements for manufacturing and orders via websites to having the gear sold by REIs and other mainstream sellers. Lightweight gear became accepted and, dare I say it, even fashionable because of GoLite in part.
Good luck to GoLite where ever their next steps may take them.
UPDATE 10/27 – Looks like GoLite is liquidating their assets after all..unless another buyer can be found. Seems like no one is interested in the GoLite name at this point.
UPDATE 11/14 – The carcass is now being picked clean. The company is now having an official “going out of business” sale. RIP. Just beware of the so-called sale prices (from Reddit). :O