The State of GORUCK 2019: Elite, not Elitist
The first time I visited Normandy I was 23 years old and knew nothing of warfare or the sacrifice it entails. I was drawn to visit because the war in Afghanistan was new, and my generation’s call, and I was too scared to figure out the fastest way to get there. I was hoping our first guys in would end the war so fast that I could go back to my normally scheduled life, and I wanted to be there fighting beside them, and I knew I needed to find some way to answer a call promising a lifetime of regret if I turned it down. All those thoughts and more.
I went to the museums at Normandy and read the history as you might a textbook. I tried and failed to process the idea that our guys were sent by the boatful to storm beaches with perfectly interlocking German machine guns staring down at them. Hitler had poured 11 million tons of concrete to fortify his Atlantic Wall, and our boys’ job was to storm it. And as they fell, the plan was to send more bodies. And then more, and then more. Until what, I thought, the Germans run out of ammo?
The sacrifice was too great for me to comprehend when reduced to words and statistics. And then I went to the American Cemetery on the high ground above Omaha Beach. All my confusion died in a heartbeat and staring out at that sea of white sacrifice, walking around with my stomach a clenched fist in the back of my throat — and then they started playing taps and I leaned up against the chapel right in the middle of the grounds, put my head in my hands, and wept.
No matter how you find your inspiration, it’s not worth very much if you do nothing with it.
I needed to go home to America, where my journey will always begin, and before too long I found myself in the Army with a lot of other great Americans of my generation.
Unfortunately, the rest is not history. I was lucky and the guys I served with kept me alive, and then my time was up and I drove off Fort Carson toward the next chapter. Meanwhile, two of the guys I went to war with in 2007 as part of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group died in Afghanistan this year, 2019, Will Lindsay and Ryan Sartor. So many memories come rushing back. Both were family men, Will had four daughters and a wife and Ryan had three kids and a wife. At my worst, I feel guilty because they stayed in and continued to serve, and I moved on, and their service cost them their lives and created a hole that their families and our community will feel forever. But thoughts like that don’t really get us anywhere and if you’re looking to make sense of why them and not me, you’ll be wiser to wait till you get your audience with God himself. Life goes on and I am better for having known them, and knowing that such people exist in this world.
Returning to Normandy this year for the 75th Anniversary, I felt ties to that greatest generation of warriors that several of us got to meet. We even drank beers with them this go round, and it was a fuller picture than I had seventeen years ago, a full lifetime for many who never left Normandy. Warfare is not universal, but sacrifice is, and so many of us have an American Cemetery we walk through, and it’s hard, and it’s important to visit and pay our respects. Not just for them, but for us. It makes the rest of our lives deeper, and richer, and inspires us to give more to others and to fight for the causes we hold dear with all the time that we have. I will always be drawn to Normandy, that great muse of sacrifice that is the most American place on planet Earth. Hopefully someday Emily and I will get to bring our kids and let them make of it what they need to, in their lives. What we owe them and what we all owe our next generation are not the answers. We owe no less than what we were given, to keep it going, our dream that is America. And the more we give, the more we sacrifice, the stronger it grows.
Normandy was the most meaningful trip I’ve taken in a long time. A reminder of what matters most and what that can cost — that who we share our lives with matters most of all, no matter how much time we have.
ELITE, BUT NOT ELITIST
That’s what Special Forces is all about, it’s certainly a hallmark of the Greatest Generation, and that’s been a northern star, the ideal for me my entire life. It’s not about titles or accolades, it’s about doing the job at hand and earning the trust of the people to your left and the people to your right. Your reputation is everything, it’s even more important than rank. Money is not the currency for what you can do in that world, your reputation is.
In business, though, dollars are like oxygen and have to be part of the scorecard. We’ll spend a fair amount talking about the GORUCK brand in here (which I enjoy more, personally). But let’s start with GORUCK’s revenue through 2018:
31% growth in 2018 is a good year, the story of that of course requires some explanation as there were two main drivers that fueled year over year growth. The first was the introduction of the MACV-1, our jungle rucking boot and first ever footwear. This was good for over $1MM in revenue in 2018 and it gave us a lot to talk about, which leads to brand awareness and therefore sales of other products, like GR1. The second was our price increase. Yes, because of a price increase we were able to grow more, though this happened through strategic discounting to walk that pricing strategy forward. Let’s use GR1 as the example. We launched the increase in price from $295 to $395 in August, but kept it at $295 while we forecasted a future price increase. Don’t be surprised if you see other companies use this strategy in the future, it worked really well and gave our core community of people the opportunity to purchase at that day’s pricing, before the increase. It seemed like the right way to go about it (Lead with Transparency), it proved hugely successful and we were able to pull about $1MM forward in August alone above what we had forecasted. So, after a so-so first half of the year, Christmas in July was huge, August was huge, and Q4 was huge for us as well. All things considered, great year for the bean counters. If only it were as simple as ensuring 31% growth every year by doing more of the same.
I had zero misgivings about the need for the price increase in 2018, because it was absolutely 100% necessary. The unit costs had become too high, there was no middleman to cut out, and the price to the market had to go up. Let me illustrate this a little bit specifically. We paid various prices for various pieces of gear in 2010. Same with 2019. Here’s how that evolved over time, counter to how it should have evolved according to the laws of economics. In 2010, we ordered ~1,000 units of various products (3 rucks and a hat). In 2019, we ordered ~39,000 units. In that time, we saw a 38% cost increase from our various vendors. That means if we paid $100 for something in 2010, now we pay $138, averaged out. Given the increase in scale, this is the opposite of what should happen. In Economics 101 you learn that with greater volume of production come efficiencies of scale that will drive the cost down. If you make a million of something, the per unit cost should be a lot less than if you make one. What we saw instead was a 38% price increase and a 3,800% unit growth. This is madness. What will happen in another nine years? Another 38% cost increase? That would mean $190 cost to us, averaged out. If you don’t like a $395 GR1 or a $495 GR2, how would you feel about a $495 GR1? $595 GR1? A $795 GR2? I don’t feel that great about it at all. Elite, but not elitist is the goal. At some point, the cost is too high, the price tag is too high, and price alone removes accessibility for people who don’t make a million bucks a year to join us, to join the community and this movement that we’re a part of. We enjoy our working class roots and our inclusiveness. At some price point, too many good people won’t even want to join because it appears elitist, like we’re some sort of fashion brand, which I will fight till my dying day not to be, and that fight is going really well and I’d like it to continue.
Here’s the announcement you won’t want to miss:
- We’ll continue to build limited edition GR1’s in the USA; Black GR1’s and a couple other colorways will be built overseas (specifically in Saigon) moving forward. Rucker and GR2: same deal. The price on rucks built overseas will be less, so this is in essence an announcement of some (but not all) overseas manufacturing and a price decrease to our core rucksacks.
- For example, GR1’s Built in the USA version has been at $395. The models built in Saigon will be at $295.
- The model for us, USA vs overseas is this: where we can provide more value through customization and limited edition colorways and features, we’ll build those in the USA. We’ll build classic versions to scale, at quality, overseas.
In terms of scale rucks, GR1 Black and GR2 Black and the Rucker and a couple other colors have moved to overseas production. The black Built in USA options currently on our site are all that remain from domestic production. When they’re gone, built in Saigon versions will be for sale at a reduced price of $295 for GR1. The Limited Edition GR1 Built in USA options will cost a premium above that. A lot of Limited Editions moving forward will run through GORUCK Workshop, where you pre-order a colorway or a style that will not see mass production. Timeline to deliver will be something in the neighborhood of three months, and you’ll have to put your money down at the outset and we’ll have a better gauge for demand before we move to production, therefore reducing overall inventory holding costs of our USA Built Limited Edition GR1’s. Time will tell what the blend of GR1’s that we build becomes. What styles, where we build them, etc. That will be a question only our community can decide. We’re now positioned to scale up to whatever you want, which allows us to provide the most value, to you.
There are plenty of benefits to American manufacturing: communication with vendors is easier, quality oversight is easier because they’re closer, there are low minimum order quantities (~75 units vs. 1,000 units), moving to market is quicker, and there’s the support of American jobs, which has always been important to me. We intend to continue to support and utilize our American vendors (we have four), but not for the items that represent real scale for us.
We already have a lot of experience with ‘Limited Edition’ GR1’s, built in the USA. Last year we did a Workshop where you all got to choose specific features you wanted on your GR1: more Velcro or less, side handles or bottom handles or none, MOLLE or none. This is in our wheelhouse to do in America, and over time I would love to see us build this program out even more with many different color varieties. This year has seen a large introduction of new colors to GR1. Perhaps in time we’ll offer GR1 in new fabrics, new colors, and let you choose the features you want.
Nothing we offer is at low prices because we’ve chosen quality and value over price, but we will also not see the kind of price inflation we were forecasting for current and future American production. We are happy to continue to build best in class rucksacks in America and charge a premium on them. This is what American manufacturing does really well, and we have ten years of experience doing it, and we’ll continue to do it.
QUALITY – WORTHY OF THE GORUCK BRAND
We have long since said that quality is life or death to us, and that Green Berets are judge and jury of GORUCK quality. That statement remains true, now and forever, no matter where we build our stuff. Specific to Saigon, Christian, our quality control manager, is overseeing the production and has built our own quality control ecosystem at our factory there. He’s been sending samples back for us to test, use and abuse for the last year. The rucks are consistently flawless and worthy of the GORUCK brand. In our factory in Saigon, the infrastructure for scalability is world class and significantly more advanced than it is in America. This is a fact, not a feeling or a judgment. Their incentive to scale efficiently is on full display with the amount of automation, the enormous capital resources in machinery that they have on hand, and the excellent working conditions. You can’t get high quality out of a sweatshop, not now not ever. That’s where you get low cost items, and we don’t do that. So, no sweatshops. Not now, not ever. We want the best and nothing less, and that involves and requires a world-class operation. There is no such thing as a rucksack that will have patterns cut by hand coming out of Saigon. Laser cutters ensure that the patterns are perfect, every single time. That’s just one example. That said, I’m not here to compare quality potential based on country of origin. It’s possible to build anything in America that’s best in class. USA Built GR1’s are proof, and will continue to be proof. But the cost in time, labor, and oversight is prohibitive at any kind of scale (which limits the scalability of our community). You have to hire more quality control managers, do more line inspections, and as you scale up, the vendors have a hard time finding labor to scale up with you. So they charge more to offset their step up costs. Very few Americans who were born here want to choose sewing as a profession. This is a fact, not a feeling. Virtually all of the work is done by immigrants chasing the American dream for themselves and their family. And on the inside of that, and being a part of their success is and will continue to be very rewarding and important to us. There is no America without the American Dream.
In terms of rucksack quality, we stand behind everything we build with our Scars Lifetime Guarantee. If the rucks coming out of Saigon were not consistently 5/5 stars for us, we would not be doing this. I’m simply not willing to take GORUCK in a direction that involves reduced quality. We are only willing to increase quality, and to do it whenever possible. Too many of my buddies use our gear in war and in their daily lives and I won’t be getting calls from them in this lifetime about how our stuff sucks. That’s not gonna happen. We are and will remain best and toughest in class. The negative reviews that I’m willing to accept, that I love in fact, are when people say that our gear is too tough. My buddies don’t ever send me those notes, by the way, and probably wouldn’t unless we built rucks out of steel, so we’re good.
TL;DR NOTES ON DECISION TO MOVE SOME MANUFACTURING OVERSEAS
- Elite, not Elitist. That’s our goal as a brand and our way of life. Limiting ourselves to domestic production is to limit our scalability, including our goals to grow our community into the tens of millions (and beyond) of active ruckers, all over America and the world.
- Quality is and remains life or death to us, and all rucksacks come with our Scars Lifetime Guarantee, no matter what.
- American manufacturing is not going away for GORUCK. We will focus on limited edition colorways, fabrics, and feature sets on our American built manufacturing. If you want a USA Built GR1, you will have a lot of options to do so, and we have no plans of changing that.
This diversification of manufacturing happened more by accident than according to plan. In 2019, on the back of the price increase, our rucksack sales have flatlined, albeit with greater profit because of the price increase. And while growth is our goal and we would like to not charge $395 for GR1 anymore (we aren’t), that’s not really how this came about. I didn’t sit back at HQ and analyze costing sheets to determine that this was unsustainable moving forward, though it was relatively easy to connect those dots once we got into the details.
This story started in Tokyo, by accident and not design. There is an Official GORUCK Club there with about 300 members, and it’s managed by a couple (Jess and Becks) who have become good friends of ours. It’s not uncommon for events we run in Tokyo to have 500 participants show up, and their Ruck Club get togethers resemble a rucking parade party on the sidewalks of Tokyo. For some time now, their members have also been buying our gear despite the high costs to begin with, and on top of that duties and shipping. When we started building boots in Saigon, we did a large direct shipment to Tokyo for their members, which saved them a lot of money and allowed us to move the boots there faster. Saigon to Tokyo is a lot faster than routing through the USA. And I also found my flights home from Saigon routing through Tokyo, so I would frequently stop and spend time with them and their Ruck Club. They’re a great group of people and if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by sometime. At other Japanese events outside of Tokyo, we’ve shipped pallets full of gear. So we started exploring options of distribution inside Japan, and building that out. And a part of that was to build GR1’s in Saigon or elsewhere closer by, and ship them directly to Japan for their market at a lower price point than what we currently have. Well, that posed all sorts of logistical problems because nothing was as simple as a turnkey operation (if you’re out there and you know of one involving a Japanese website with Japanese distribution with Japanese representation in stores, please comment or send me a note), and the minimums for rucks were 1,000 units but that was nowhere close to where we needed demand curves to be. Could we sustain that just in the Japanese market? We weren’t sure. We decided to go through the vetting process for the factories in Saigon that were referred to us by, among other places, the leadership team at our footwear factory, and we were upfront that we wanted to slowly build out our international presence in Asia and Europe and that that had to be done with overseas manufacturing. They were receptive enough to go through the process with us. As we started understanding the quality potential at scale (aka the rucks they built for us were flawless on first counter samples, which is almost unheard of) with one factory in particular, we grew to trust that the quality was in line with our Special Forces life or death quality standards. We still plan to increase our presence in Japan, and in Europe (though Brexit has cooled those waters a bit because we don’t understand distribution center implications yet), but the first step became to build and create a process to scale efficiently with best and toughest in class quality out of Saigon. Then distribute to America and to the world from America. And eventually to establish international distribution outside of America.
That’s the plan, that’s what we’re executing, and we’re not looking back. American manufacturing remains our reality, so does overseas manufacturing. And people remain the focus of our brand, as they always have been.
Of course we considered the brand implications of moving some of our production overseas. We started out in 2010 exclusively with American manufacturing (three rucks and a hat). I did not consider overseas production, which is good because they would not have considered me or us to be a very good partner and they would have been right. We hustled our way forward one year, one purchase order at a time, and yet our roots are in American manufacturing and I believe in those roots and it’s to our benefit to maintain them as a business and as a brand. Lower order quantities allow us to provide greater value to many, and on the apparel side, American manufacturing allows us to develop new styles and move them to market sooner and at reduced volumes than what we would see if we had to debut every new product with 10,000 units. You’ve seen this most recently with The American Waterproof Jacket, a best in class rain jacket built in the USA at a significantly higher cost than if built overseas. But we got to control the development, and the testing, and we got to micro-manage the quality control, which is vital when you’re developing both a new process and a new product at the same time and they’ve never been tested on a production line. There’s a lot that can go wrong, so you surge to it to make sure that doesn’t happen. We’re still breaking a lot of rules on how things should be done, and we’re doing it one day one year one product at a time, keeping quality (and not cost) as the absolute non-negotiable in everything we build. Then, to make it feasible, we are only building 500 units. This will get enough of the product out into the market and let word of mouth aid our own marketing efforts as we continue to build a reputation for quality in absolutely everything we do. Once you debut something and reviews are good, it’s a lot easier to scale.
The boots are another example. We simply could not get these boots built to the same quality in America, which is not set up to scale performance footwear production to the quality that we have seen out of Saigon. America has less automation and tons of additional costs. MACV-1 is the most expensive shoe our factory builds, primarily because our quality standards are higher. Mind you, they do 4 million pairs a month, have 25,000 employees, and world class automation. I’ve toured Danner’s factory, I’ve toured ours in Saigon. The scale of the operation is not in the same league, which is probably one of the reasons Danner (who has been in the work boot market forever) started doing so much offshore production. It’s really expensive to do premier quality goods, and ~prohibitive in America. When we debuted the boots, there was some trepidation that the market (aka you all) would have an enormous backlash because they weren’t built in the USA. Instead, the conversation centered around whether GORUCK was more than just a rucksack company. There was no trust yet in the product, though there was trust in the brand. This is a great motivator for us to continue to never accept anything but the best. Many have trusted us with their dollars and their feet so far, and it’s working out well. The only real backlash we got centered around the price of the boots, not where they were built. $195 is expensive for a pair of performance boots. Less so perhaps when you consider that every pair comes with our Scars Lifetime Guarantee, and that reviews have consistently shown them to be great for getting the job done in Baghdad and NYC, just as we intended. It was, of course, risky to enter the footwear market, but time has begun to prove us right that we could build a premium boot and grow from there. From the community, there was barely a mention of the fact that the boots were built in Saigon. It came down to the quality and the performance. The explanation of why we were building them in Saigon seemed to satisfy the questions out there. Worse boots made in America for double the price didn’t seem like a good slogan, so we didn’t go with that one, or do that. The more Google becomes a thing that everyone is around all the time, the more consumers demand to know the story before voting with their wallets. I don’t blame you because I do, too. So it seems like the right answer to Lead with Transparency and provide the backstory on why we do what we do.
I understand that some people, and particularly those who found us specifically because of our American manufacturing, will be disappointed. So am I. I long ago had the vision of us being some sort of Henry Ford of rucksack producers, and doing everything in America. We tried that, we failed at it. It wasn’t close to success, either. Our vendors consistently raise prices on us and display great stubbornness at sharpening their pencils. Maybe with wages continuing to increase, and a shortage of workers, it’s simply not possible. I get that, too. If I had to forecast out into the future, the vision that people have, that I had for bringing tons of jobs back to America through American manufacturing will simply not come true. There will be and is a large push to automation, with more robots and more machines, and a human will walk around with a clipboard while robots are building and assembling wares of all kinds. T-shirts are the easiest and would be a good first place to start. At that stage, the location of the robots would ideally be closer to the market where you’re going to sell, so American manufacturing will thrive again in big ways. Tons of stuff will be made in the USA. Perhaps, many moons after that, just as the computer evolved from mainframes to personal computers, everyone will have a futuristic “3D Printer” or, even more exciting, a “3D Builder” that can build you anything, right in your home. When I think about the future, I’m very, very excited. Yes, we’ll have to evolve as a nation, and we will.
Counter to business school doctrine, I believe that the branding department is more important than the marketing department. It’s a minor, but important point. Your brand has values, these are non-negotiable. Life or death quality standards is one of ours. If you let marketers make up values to sell more in a particular season, to choose the brand, you lose the identity you’ve worked hard to create, as a brand. So the brand dictates what we’re doing, then it’s on the marketing department to communicate that. I believe that American manufacturing is an important part of the GORUCK brand, but I also believe that it’s about a lot more than just American manufacturing.
We’re focused on training, and traveling, and rucking. On our events as highly aspirational ways to prove your training, to join a great community, to be more active. And speaking of which, we’re doubling down on our community in every way through the growth in Official GORUCK Clubs (276 and counting) and a community-centric rucking app. Our community has been overwhelmingly built through rucking and fitness and training, not because we talk about stitch counts and manufacturing. Rare is the manufacturing company that has a community of people who stop each other in airports to talk about the ruck on someone else’s back, which patch they’re sporting, what their next adventure is. But for us, it’s the norm. Just as it’s the norm for someone to post a pic of their ruck at an airport bar in Terminal A of Airport Y and say next one’s on me if you’re around. Or, I’m meeting at public Park Z at 5pm, come and join for a ruck if you’re around. Fight Club anyone? I’m really proud that so many people have found this community and get so much value out of the people in it. Pushing and inspiring each other to be more active is a recipe for a great and meaningful life and you have to choose wisely the communities, the people you spend your time with. I choose our community and I do so proudly.
On the business front, we have a lot of competition in the training space, and we’re cool with that. More people should ruck than run, that’s just a fact, for their goals in life: weight loss, cardiovascular health, caloric burn, strength gains, sustainability, reduced rate of injury. Leading people in the direction they want to go is a winning strategy. Rucking should be bigger than running, and that’s our goal (yes, it’s a big one). The only problem to date is that people just don’t know about it, and it’s our aim to fix that.
As a brand, the fork in the road was pretty simple. Either focus on training, rucking, and community — or focus on American manufacturing. Doing and owning both is too confusing for us and for everyone. One way is about showing people and testimonials and supporting Ruck Clubs and creating a Rucking Revolution, the other way is about showing factories and sewing needles and talking about stitch counts. Behind the scenes, both matter hugely to us. We cannot and will not grow in the training and community space without the highest quality gear we can possibly build. But we can’t grow as an organization in accordance with our highest, most important values if we focus on sewing needles as the first message people see of the GORUCK brand. Humans are more important than hardware and we choose people and an active lifestyle that in every way is buttressed by our community. And we choose to build some rucks in America, and others overseas. The world is not burning down, people. It’s going to be OK.
This has not been an easy decision, though it is 100% the right decision. I hope you’ll support us now and moving forward. You have been integral to how we’ve gotten to where we are today, and we owe you an enormous amount of gratitude.
And now, we have a lot more to discuss.
THE RUCKING COMPANY
We have doubled down on GORUCK as The Rucking Company, to help create a more active world through rucking. I believe that rucking is today where running was in 1967. Only the weirdos do it, most don’t even understand what it is. All that is going to change as more people out there, your friends and mine, are exposed to it. In time, there will be hundreds of millions of people rucking, it will be a billion dollar activity, and it should be bigger than running because more people should ruck than run based on body types, current activity levels (which are decreasing), and fitness goals. But let me be clear: rucking is a strategic growth driver for us that doesn’t fuel any real growth, right now. People don’t know what it is yet, so it’s an education campaign. Meanwhile, we have to explain our products, too, which is a double challenge. That takes time, dollars, and more importantly people’s attention, which is the hardest thing to come by these days.
TRAVEL // TRAINING
Here’s what you’re going to see from us as a brand. There will be a separation of the products we sell between travel and training, with rucking as the foundation for both. The campaign around rucking is a strategic priority, but not a tactical one in the short term. Rich, Dan, and I have written a book, but it’s gotta go through the publishing channels. Agents and publishing houses and editors and that takes time. Rucking needs a large scale PR campaign, not just a grassroots one. To do that, we have to build a bigger network and reach potential, which we are. At the same time that that’s going on in the background, there is more focus on merchandising better, which basically means better communication of our products and how you (and new people) should use them. Here’s the simplest example to demonstrate this.
We’ll explain GR1 as the perfect travel and EDC (every day carry ruck), and the Rucker will be for training, rucking, and the GORUCK Challenge. GR1 for Travel, the Rucker for Training. Since forever we’ve said GR1 is one ruck to rule them all. And it is. It’s the most versatile, toughest everyday carry (EDC) on the planet, and if you’re gonna have one ruck for the rest of your life, it’s GR1. If you’re gonna do 100 GORUCK Events, GR1 will hold up and thrive. But the Rucker is specifically built for GORUCK Events, and rucking with stable weight high on your back, and the GORUCK Challenge, and it’s the best tool for that job and for training and Ruck PT. We see GORUCK at the intersection of Travel and Training, but it’s important to have some separation for people to more fully understand how to use something and assess its value to them, in their daily lives.
Product differentiation is its own form of education, of making communication more effective. The GORUCK brand will thrive in both environments, travel and training, with rucking as the foundation. Don’t expect us to start promoting roll bags any time soon, or ever. There is a list a mile long about how if you want to be more active, get stronger, be safer (rucks are a lot quieter), and have more fun, you should abandon the roll bag mentality and travel with a ruck on. If you’re into fitness and want to be healthier, roll bags are the enemy. We’ll get into that over the coming months and years. Travel is an underdeveloped “segment” for us, mainly because we have not talked about it in a concerted way, and we haven’t done enough explaining of our gear and how and why it’s best in class for travel. All that is coming.
Here’s a sample list of travel gear: GR1, GR2, GR3, Kit Bags, Field Pockets, MACV-1 Boots. And training gear: Rucker, Ruck Plates, Sandbags, Gym Bags, LowTop Shoes (coming soon).
It doesn’t mean there isn’t crossover: of course there is. I travel with a GR1 (and a Sandbag) to train on the road because I also travel with a laptop. Kit Bags are actually substitutes for Gym Bags, you can train and do events in your MACV-1 boots. There’s an inherent versatility to our gear that has existed from the foundation. But giving people a relevant starting point that doesn’t require ten hours of research is the goal.
This will extend to apparel as well, though it gets even a little messier there because foundationally it was designed and built to adapt to both travel and training. Let’s talk about GORUCK Pants, as one example. These are the flagship item to date, and they have plenty of applicability to travel and to GORUCK Events. Not either, both. But it’s confusing to lead with both stories. If you own a pair, do you usually wear them for training or travel? Probably travel or everyday wear, like I do. And an occasional event. Are they great for rucking? They’re the best. Do you train in them at the gym or in a field? Probably not. I personally hate wearing shorts when I’m going to get muddy, it’s the old Army training mentality in me where there was no such thing as shorts, but I’m probably in the minority. A normal day is I’ll bike to work, ruck during a meeting or two and when Monster needs to go out, and on Wednesdays I’ll join in our Ruck Club’s fun, then either bike or ride home. All in Simple Pants because they’re really versatile. But, bottom line: you can expect to see more of a travel angle on the pants, both Simple and Challenge Pants. With a nod to how extreme you can push them, how active you can be, and here’s the proof (pictures from the Challenge etc.). We even talked about making Simple Pants for travel and Challenge Pants for training, but is that the reality? Lots of people just want to travel with more pockets, and that’s cool by us. Ruck up and go see the world like that, I’ll have my Simple Pants on. Lead with something people can understand better on a product by product basis, then sell them on the story and the versatility.
There is specific apparel out there that will fall more directly into the Training category, like the American Training Shorts, which sold out in all the relevant sizes in a couple days. I get the sense (it’s not hard when people vote with their wallets) that the universe expects more of us in the fitness realm, and that the travel/EDC part of our universe just needs better explanation. In terms of gear R&D, the training world will get more of our R&D focus because we already have so much stuff that is perfect for traveling.
One GORUCK. That’s been the deal and is the deal. What continues to happen, and more so every year is that the gear drives the business and the events drive our hearts. Is that a problem? No, it’s the reality.
Numbers-wise, participation remains flat despite healthy growth at the company level. If we could figure out a way to grow events every year, that would be awesome. But that’s just not our reality. Our reality is that Events are a vital component to our brand, they’re hugely aspirational, and they very directly turn GORUCK into an experience company, not just a things company. We’ve talked about this already.
Within the GORUCK Events world, we’re also seeing the need to better communicate what we do, who they’re for, how to train — all that good stuff that you ask yourself when you see something new for the first time. What’s this? And you have a short attention span and if they don’t get you, poof you’re gone.
Events are in the process of getting their own website, separate from GORUCK.com, which will be about better communication of our gear. There are a ton of technical reasons why this is happening, the first and most important is that our ecommerce platform is not an events registration platform and we’ve forced it in there to the detriment of both the merchandise and the events. Separating it out will make everything easier to manage and run.
But that’s not a good enough of a reason unto itself. I wonder, we all wonder, if Events have been hamstrung because it’s so attached to the gear. Is it confusing? There are very few to no companies out there who do both, who manufacture gear and produce events. It’s a long and difficult story to tell succinctly. So perhaps a better question for you is, would it be confusing to you if you didn’t already know us? When new people come to our site, do they leave with answers and clarity or do they leave with confusion? We believe too many leave with confusion. That’s bad for business and the brand.
Confusion is the enemy. It costs you time and creates a lot of missed opportunities. If you’re looking for an event, is it crazy to assume you would be OK if the website were exclusively focused on events and training? If you want gear, here’s a link out to that part of the universe. Most people come to our site through Google search anyway. If you search GORUCK events or GORUCK Challenge, you’ll get a link to where to find events. If you search GORUCK, you’ll get a link to both gear and events on Page 1. Ads can segment people out better according to interests. If someone is only interested in a GR1, we should not be serving them ads for the GORUCK Challenge. To do that, we’ll have to wait a while after they’ve got the gear — grin. We have to get more sophisticated, we have to evolve, and that means the people on our team here have to be given the tools to be more successful. Separating out the events website is a vital part of that.
The 2020 Schedule. We’ve questioned a lot of assumptions this year in an attempt to double down on you, our community. Instead of just sitting at HQ figuring out what events will happen when, we’ve taken it grassroots style to the Ruck Club Leaders all over the world. Yes, we have a baseline schedule, but it’s a fraction of what the 2019 number of events were. The Leaders are currently talking with their communities to figure out when they want events, and which patch they want. We’ve even opened back up the classic GORUCK Tough patch with a focus on Teamwork, Leadership, and Communication through shared good livin’. We’re significantly cutting the number, the sheer volume of our longer events like the Heavy (24+ hours) and the HTL (~48 hours) in an attempt to do fewer, with bigger classes, and to make them more fun. Yes, GORUCK style. We want to bring more energy to every class with more Cadre and more participants. None of us know how this will turn out, but initial reaction has been strong on the feedback front, and to paraphrase G.I. Joe, knowing what your reaction is, is half the battle. I suspect that this process will get more dialed in every year, there will be more annual weekends in specific towns all across the country and the world, sort of how marathons happen annually on the same date, and I definitely expect there to be a lot more Star Courses, which we’re doubling down on. Ultimately, it’s up to you all to vote and to show up.
In terms of the Rucking & Endurance events that we offer, the Star Course is the most basic and accessible with the distance being the most obvious form of differentiation. A 50 Miler is a lot different than a 12 Miler, for instance, and people understand that, no confusion there. It’s a straightforward event. Ruck the miles to train for the event and you’ll be ready. There’s no Ruck PT, it’s just walking with weight on your back, on a team, seeing some of the best sites your city has to offer. When you’ve checked all the points off your list, come find us and the other finishers at the finish line for a cold beer.
At a personal level, the 50 Miler is my favorite GORUCK event to do as a participant. I did the first one in DC and I did the 75K in Normandy this year. The scenery was great, but the time with the team is what made it so special. I’ll look to do one or two a year (I have a couple 26.2’s under my belt this year, too) — but I have no interest in doing it solo. Not to say that will never be an option at the Star Course, but just to say that the time with Emily in Normandy was really special, rucking from Pointe du Hoc to Omaha Beach along those cliffs is one of the best rucks on planet Earth because it’s one of the most meaningful. And as with all that’s best in life, it’s better when shared.
We’re going to be offering more distance of the Star Course in 2020. In addition to 50/26.2/12 Miler events (Star Course Endurance Series), look for us to scale up a separate event entirely that is the Star Course Sprint Series: 5K/10K/15K with a 3 hour time cap, primarily on Sundays. There are a lot of reasons for this:
- Different distances creates greater accessibility, and for our community to grow we need to create events where people can learn what we’re all about, and what our community is all about. We’ve seen a lot of new people come into the community through the Star Course, and we want that to continue, only more so. These will be three hours in duration. Community on the front end, community on the back end, some miles in the middle, with the community too.
- Sundays are typically the best day for us because we will already have a Cadre in town, which lets us spread the overhead of travel, per diem, hotel costs out over another event. The other events (Challenges or the Star Course Endurance Series 50/26.2/12) will be over on a Saturday night, and this Sprint Series will happen on a Sunday morning. Our goals are to maximize the time in any city that our Cadre can spend leading/managing/running events, and to draw as much of the community in that city out as possible.
- The Star Course is absolutely the future for us in terms of how we’re going to enter foreign markets. Special Forces led GORUCK Challenges have done great in America where there is absolute love of our military and our SF guys. Overseas it’s less of a draw. But the Star Course has done great and will continue to do great. Countless Europeans were willing to sign up for the 75K Star Course in Normandy, but had no interest in the Challenge. 75K is no joke, it was about 49 miles. Anyone who can complete that, I want them on my team. We’re going to be looking for Event Directors who live abroad to get trained up and start managing these for us in Europe and Asia first and foremost. The first place we’re starting is with our international Ruck Club Leaders, who are already leading and organizing events on a weekly basis for their members. Bottom line: expect a lot of growth of these all over the world. And if you’re on the fence about giving one of our events a try, this is the best place for you to start.
There is a lot of change, and a lot more focus on leading events that you, our community wants to do and will show up for. Our Cadre quality scores are through the roof high (4.9/5 on average over all events), but no matter what we work for you and you vote by showing up. In sum, we’re engaging the community first in order to build out the best schedule possible, we’re reducing the number of our longest events that we’re running in 2020, and we’re doubling down on the Star Course with a lot more events, all over the world.
The manufacturing announcement will garner all the headlines in this year’s State of GORUCK. I’m cool with that, it is a big deal and we aren’t taking it lightly. Some corners of the Internet will blow up, I’ll be accused of selling out and so much more. This all comes with the territory — I can take it, even the baseless stuff. You can’t have a community if you’re only willing to tolerate agreement, and for me, the more active the community, the better. Iron sharpens iron and that’s the environment I come from, it’s the environment our team of 100+ Cadre and 35 employees operate in, and frankly, that’s the environment where I thrive. So I welcome the feedback, the questions, and even the criticism. Life is boring without it. But what I really love is seeing and hearing your individual stories of what this community has meant and means to you. From increased confidence, to finding a place where you belong, to preventing suicide, to weight loss, to getting stronger, to a healthier body image, to appreciating that the finest moments in life are the simplest ones, to prioritizing people over things, to understanding that you are capable of so much more than you thought possible, to a desire to serve something greater than yourself.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this State of GORUCK, same as always. But what was different this time, what kept nagging at me was why Normandy was so important. It felt almost out of place somehow at the beginning, and then anywhere, as if maybe it’s so important it can only exist on its own. But yet I didn’t dare move it, or any of the pictures that spoke most to me. And why was it so important for me to talk of Will and Ryan and their families and their sacrifice, to connect it all together with the other parts of this year’s goings on. I’m still making sense of Normandy, and Will, and Ryan. I stare at pictures and a flood of emotions come racing back. I suspect I’ll never be able to comprehend or understand how or why the universe bent the way it did. Those are the thoughts that keep me up at night, that I think about most of all because they’re impossible to ignore. And when I don’t have the answers, which I never will, those answers that I don’t have inspire me to keep fighting for the way of life that they best represent. I need my reminders and my inspiration just as you need yours. The Greatest Generation, and Will, and Ryan, and so many more represent the highest ideals of who we are all supposed to be, no matter the cost. To separate their impact on me from my vantage point of what we’re doing at GORUCK would be impossible, and an incomplete story to not mention them in this context. To walk the beaches of Normandy, to see your friends buried too soon, to know the sacrifice their families are enduring. Do we make them proud? Do we honor the values they sacrificed their lives to serve? When you ask yourself the most important questions in your life, it’s not your head that gives you the best answers, it’s your heart. And I’m at peace with the answers I have to those most important questions.
I can imagine my kids reading these words someday far off into the future, and having their own questions or wondering this or that. Maybe I’ll even still be around and they can just ask, and I hope they do. The nuts and bolts of our way forward are pretty straightforward. Do right by people, do what we think is right and keep going. But it’s the personal side to all of this that will pique their curiosity the most. When is it the head, and when is it the heart? How do we find the right answers? Or more importantly, how do we ask the right questions? Visiting Normandy is hard and it makes me sad because I keep thinking of what their sacrifice cost, all of those thousands of brave, young men. It wasn’t just their too young lives cut short, it’s far graver than that. They never got to return home to America to live out the rest of their days in peace. They never got to start a family or to fall in love and watch that grow with time. They were all too young to experience the best, simplest moments in life that mean so much more with age, and perspective. They missed out on the opportunity to continue to serve America, and our communities, and the families they didn’t have. The totality of loss to them and to all of us is staggering and losing Will and Ryan binds our American generations together through sacrifice, and it increases my sense of loss exponentially because I knew them both personally and in my mind I’m staring at their faces, into their eyes, right this second. No matter how noble, sacrifice is always hard to deal with, at a deeply personal level, and it’s even harder when it feels so at odds with how you feel the universe should go. A 33 year old father of four daughters with a loving wife who dedicated his entire professional life in service to America coming home in a flag draped coffin feels pretty off to me, and it’s pretty hard to make peace with.
But sadness is not the lingering cost of sacrifice. Life does, eventually, go on. Sometimes because of their sacrifice. And we do remember the glory of their spirit. I want my kids to take away how grateful I am for the opportunities we have in life, what reminders to that look like for me, and I want them to know where the energy comes from, deep inside of me, to fight until my dying breath for a future and a way of life I believe in.
So wherever they find the inspiration, wherever we all find the inspiration to serve something greater than ourselves, that call speaks to our hearts and it’s that call that I hope never dies. And as long as we keep answering it, it never will.
Thanks for the support this past decade and then some. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have, in the comments section.