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Sunday, Mar 3, 2024

Hands On Strategy

The announcement of Mechanix Wear Inc. that it would enter the hunting glove market showed just how far the local hand wear industry has stretched in its quest for growth. The Valencia company said last month it has signed a deal with Mossy Oak, a division of West Point, Miss. company Haas Outdoors Inc., company to develop a line of camouflage gloves. And Mechanix is just one of several large specialty glove makers in the region. XProTeX Sports Group Worldwide LLC, also of Valencia, makes baseball batting and football gloves. Ironclad Performance Wear, which makes gloves for construction, automotive and outdoor, is located in El Segundo. And two mountain bike glove companies that are no longer in the area were founded in the Valley. Answer Products now does business in Mequon, Wis. and SixSixOne has moved on to San Diego, but still bears an L.A. area code in its name. Pete Vitiello, vice president of operations at XProTeX, used to work for SixSixOne and said that many managers and employees at the different companies know each other. “We’re all friends. We’re all in this together as far as running businesses,” he said. “I couldn’t direct you to another hotbed of glove manufacturers.” Another possible reason for the cluster of local manufacturers: the industry has seen strong growth as consumers demand more specialized forms of hand protection. Where once there was the simple heavy duty work glove, now both professionals and home improvement buffs can choose from multiple models. The International Glove Association, an industry trade group based in Brookfield, Pa. with about 45 member companies, said sales of gloves were up nearly 17 percent last year. The players Mechanix Wear got its start selling products to NASCAR pit crews and has expanded, most recently adding its line of camouflaged hunting gloves. “Over time this brand started to have legs outside of automotive. We really cover every single hand in every single occupation,” said Michael Hale, product manager at Mechanix. A key part of Mechanix’s growth strategy is that it has a hand in several niche markets. After its 1991 start making gloves for pit crews, the company began making gloves for military and oil drilling applications. It also makes cut-resistant gloves for factory workers, purchased by such clients as Kellogg Co. of Battle Creek, Mich. and 3M Co. of St. Paul, Minn. Hale said these different product lines have helped grow the company to its team of 80 employees with offices in Canada, Italy and Uruguay. “It’s truly a global footprint – or handprint, I should say,” he joked. The company’s partnerships with other companies, such as Mossy Oak, allows the company to draw on the expertise of businesses outside of glove wear. “We are not hunters,” Hale said, “But we know a good thing when we see it, and we know a partnership could lead to a good thing.” Ironclad, a Mechanix competitor, actually created its own line of camouflage hunting gloves first. The publicly traded company partnered with Realtree a division of Jordan Outdoor Enterprises Ltd. of Columbus, Ga., on the project. Hale said the difference between Mossy Oak and Realtree’s camouflage patterns are really a judgment call by the hunter. “It’s basically Coke and Pepsi,” he said. Ironclad, which has 30 employees, saw revenue grow by 30 percent in 2011 to $2.6 million. It has lines of construction, automotive and outdoor gloves. In contrast, XProTex, founded in 2008, has just three employees and sells only two types of gloves – football and baseball. The company is looking to add lacrosse gloves, which could expand its grip on the East Coast sports market. Why L.A.? Roger Gauvin, business development manager at apparel design and development company TAG Industries in Newbury Park, thinks it’s really more than coincidence that so many glove manufacturers call L.A. home. He notes local companies have splintered off. SixSixOne was an offshoot of Answer Products, for example, and several employees who leave one glove company just move to another. Gauvin used to work for Answer and then SixSixOne. His colleague Bob Arnold is an investor in XProTeX. Ironclad’s vice president of sales is an alumnus of both Mechanix and Answer. What’s driving it all, said Gauvin, is a developing demand for both hand protection and dexterity. For example, he noted that XProTeX’s baseball gloves have provided increased protection over time, but motocross athletes have requested less protection in recent years, preferring a lighter feel while on their bikes. “Working with top athletes really influences what happens out there,” Gauvin said. Dan Loyd, store manager at Roadside Lumber & Hardware Inc. in Agoura Hills, said that his store mainly sells gloves for contractors who do framing and other construction work. But he has noted a desire among many people for all sorts of protective gloves.

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