As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Techmanski.
Andy is the Founder and CEO of FORLOH, a new premium, technical hunting, fishing and outdoor apparel brand with apparel that is 100% Made in the U.S.A. Before switching paths to pursue his passions for hunting and American-made manufacturing through FORLOH, Andy worked in the energy sector as CEO of Whitefish Energy Holdings, an energy construction company. Prior to joining Whitefish Energy Holdings, Andy was the Senior Vice President at Arctic Arrow Powerline Group, a consulting firm in the energy industry. On his new career path, Andy is excited to combine his passion for hunting and vision for American-made manufacturing to his latest business venture. Andy’s vision for FORLOH is for the brand to become a global leader in the hunting and outdoor apparel industry. Andy is based in Whitefish, Mont., where FORLOH is headquartered.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started Forloh out of necessity, because there wasn’t anyone daring to build highly technical outdoor apparel in the USA. One hundred percent of our supply chain is American. I felt like as a consumer the premium hunting brands were making concessions in quality of fabric. I hunt very hard, and put a lot of miles into a season, usually in the remote stretches of Montana wilderness. My apparel was breaking down, in some cases within one season. I felt that there had to be a way to build better products. So I started a 5 year research period, to investigate the feasibility of building FORLOH.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I wasn’t an apparel designer or garment producer before FORLOH. So when we started, I was pretty naive. I hired a lot of people way smarter than me that combined have a couple hundred years of outdoor apparel production experience. When we first started I was extremely excited, and even more so when we designed out our first garments. I remember saying to the team, “Okay let’s get to work on getting this built, and how long is it going to take?” They all looked at me with a puzzled expression, because the way I said it, I think it was perceived that we should be able to build this stuff in a few weeks. Then came the education. Fabric development, trims selection, cut and sew production development, etc. That education took a year in the making! Now we are actually back to where we started and can actually produce new products inside weeks, because we have the supply chain up, running and humming like a well oiled machine.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My grandfather was an entrepreneur. He taught me that perseverance, and good old-fashioned hard work, could accomplish just about anything. He taught me to not be afraid to roll my sleeves up and dive into something I believed in. I think people that own businesses have a different perspective on life. We certainly have a higher tolerance to risk. Never be afraid to work hard for what you want to achieve.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
3 pillars: Build the very best products with ZERO concessions using the best and latest technologies, Build it 100% in America, and Build it for the family to be able to enjoy the outdoors together.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
We are living in uncertain times with this year of COVID-19. It is hurting businesses’ ability to stay alive, let alone thrive. We hadn’t launched yet when the pandemic began to affect commerce and there was a lot of uncertainty around our ability to become a viable business. Lots of questions were circling around how do we do this in a time where it would be nearly impossible to be successful. We simply didn’t give up. We found other ways to use our supply chain for the betterment of the situation and to create an impactful business, while keeping our factories open. This was done by pivoting to building Medical Isolation Gowns, using the same fabrics and factories that were already building our products here in the USA. We kept people employed, and in the process were able to make over 5 million gowns that went directly to US hospitals and governmental groups, which in turn helped protect medical workers and save lives by limiting the spread of COVID-19. And this was all done before we even launched the outdoor apparel side of the business!
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I don’t speak “give up”. We never give up, and when things get harder, we gain even more veracity.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
We must be the light at the end of the tunnel, constantly guiding our employees on the same path. In tough times, everyone is looking for answers and direction to keep them focused. Keep this direction short and to the point. Be able to bend to change, but be able to make that change quickly and effectively.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Be positive at all costs. Try to always embody the vision of the brand, and make sure you are diligent on reinforcing how strongly you feel about the mission the company is on.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Honestly and straight to the point. I am not a sugar-coat-the-message kind of guy.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Make them! At least then you have them. If you have to change or adapt, that’s okay and probably realistic to expect. But without a plan you will be lost forever.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Manage realistic expectations, with realistic budgets and never let your view of both be blocked by over ambitions. You have to be able to shrink or grow as quickly as your market will allow, but be nimble enough to make these changes quickly, otherwise they will be costly.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I can share one that a lot of people fall for, and I have a couple of times. Growing too fast! When you have a really good business model, market or product, and you know this product will make the world a better place. The temptation is to throw everything including the kitchen sink at it and many times this can lead to mistakes in budgeting, managing timelines, and expectations. The hardest thing for an entrepreneur to do once they have committed to a new venture, is to put the brakes on, even a little bit. We see the vision clearer than anyone. Hire people that are the yin to your yang, and will add voice of reason, structure, and tempered pace. You need to stay realistic.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
As discussed above, if you feel that your segment is slipping because of variables that are out of your control, you need to assess quickly and come up with a plan to mitigate and change direction. We found gowns, you may find something else. The point is don’t give up, realize you have resources that can be retooled or retasked and seize what opportunities you can while you can.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Always work the hardest you can for what you love and always love what you are working for
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas or way of thinking
- Embrace change
- Surround yourself with people that are more talented than you
- Be honest and be vigilant in everything you do
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two both by a brilliant man, Thomas Edison:
- “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
- “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
I encourage readers to follow FORLOH across our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. They can also find me on LinkedIn. And of course, be sure to check out our gear on FORLOH.com.