Many hunters recognise the Realtree brand; with it’s popular, distinct camouflage patterns used successfully worldwide. But not everyone understands the humble beginnings of the Realtree brand, and the fascinating story behind it’s global success.
The Realtree story started 27 years ago in 1986, in a front garden in the USA.
It was in his parent’s front yard Realtree Founder Bill Jordan sketched his first camouflage pattern. Bill discovered that he could create a three-dimensional appearance that would match different terrains, by layering the images of twigs and leaves over a vertical bark background.
At the time Bill was trying to find a way to separate his first company ‘Spartan Archery Products’ from its competitors. Spartan manufactured and sold t-shirts to large retail customers across the US, but it was tough going with low profit margins and high volumes. Bill was forced to scrimp, penny pinch and compete in fishing bass tournaments to provide an income to keep the business up and running in these tough times.
Bill took his newly created design to local mills and navigated the printing process so he would have a set of camouflage clothing to photograph. However the invisibility power of the camouflage was proving too effective! Trying to get the camouflage pattern to stay on the fabric without rubbing off proved a major challenge.
Ever resourceful and recognising the importance of promoting the patterns from the beginning, Bill resorted to sending photos every month for eight months to buyers for hunting clothing across the US. There was increasing pressure for garment samples from interested parties, Bill recalls “I didn’t have any garment, but I couldn’t tell them that, so I just sent them some more photos.”
The first Realtree patterned samples were finished just hours before their official launch at the annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) show in 1986. The SHOT Show is renowned as the largest, most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement industries; currently attracting buyers from across the US and the world.
Anxiety levels were high; with no manufacturer, no money and dressing mannequins at midnight just before the start of the show. Unable to pay for the cost of the booth in full, Bill found himself ducking out the back every time the organisers visited the stand looking for payment! Although Bill did find a way to pay his obligation by the end of the show.
But Bill’s huge risk was about to pay off. By 10am on the opening day of the show Bill found himself standing in good company; with the buyers from Bass Pro Shops, Oshman’s and Wal-Mart’s, the largest retailers in the world.
Wally Switzer of Wal-Mart could clearly see Bill’s passion and determination. Unable to fund a clothing manufacturing business, a relationship was built with Eastbank Textiles where Wal-Mart would buy the fabric from Eastbank, who would then in turn manufacture the garments and see how well they sold. And this is how Realtree and its licensing business was born.
The Realtree story is truly inspirational with Bill and his then small team celebrating every small success. Today there are over 1,500 licensees and 10,000 products, with Realtree employing more than 80 people in Columbus, Georgia.
Technology for producing the camouflage designs has moved forward significantly; with sophisticated computers, digital cameras, and photo-realistic printing, light years ahead of Bill sketching designs in his parent’s front yard!
The licensing business model is reliant on volume, with Realtree receiving small
Commission every time one of their camouflage patterns is used in manufacturing approved products such as tools, equipment and clothing for the hunting and lifestyle markets.
With a global enterprise, Realtree understand that each international market has its own unique requirements and commits to working with their partners to provide a valuable connection to the outdoor pursuits sector.
Most importantly Realtree aim to be much more than a brand; they aim to represent wearing Realtree as a way of life and a badge of honour, promoting good hunting practices. Bill Jordan says, “Our patterns not only allow the outdoor enthusiasts who wear them to be more effective in the woods, they also allow them to show their love of the outdoors in their everyday lives.”
Realtree aspire to be at the forefront of innovation, constantly evolving with new patterns to build on the global success of the portfolio of the existing nine designs, including the legendary Max-4.