Founder Jaye Genung relied on her background in product development, management, and international procurement when launching Gobi Heat in 2016, and turned to China to produce an expanding line of heated consumer apparel and equipment. That helped her introduce the company's first jackets in just about six months.
The time in which Gobi Heat was able to move from an idea to an introduced product is impressive. Genung says her husband-to-be was a plumber at the time and had purchased her a heated jacket made by a tool company, then he challenged her to make a better one. "So I did, and here we are," she says. About three months after officially forming the company, it introduced its Sahara Jacket followed shortly after by its heated hoodie.
Genung says Gobi Heat's products are fundamentally different from other heated jackets on the market. Heated jackets made by tool companies are designed to work with the batteries they're using to power their tools, for example.
"It's a very different proposition than what we're doing, where we're looking at all different lifestyles," Genung explains. "The great thing is we're able to look at what the best battery is for apparel, rather than trying to plug a tool battery into the jacket." She notes that most of Gobi Heat's products use the same battery, so they can be easily interchanged with most different products.
That is not the company's only differentiator, she adds. "We definitely have the warmest jacket on the market and I would consider us the most thoughtful heated apparel brand. We're very thoughtful about our products, the use case, what the person is experiencing while they're needing a heated jacket."
Genung says its best-selling product is now its Terrain Heated Camping Chair. The chair is ideal for car camping, RV life, and game days. Gobi Heat actually already has some chairs with university branding on them.
Gobi Heat's customers vary. "It's soccer moms wearing their Ridge Heated Hoodie sitting on their Terrain chair watching soccer on the Saturday morning, people wearing their Sahara jacket to take their dog out in the morning, golfers using our Dune vest because it still allows an uninterrupted swing. Certainly it's a lot of people who work outside and we have quite an equestrian following," Genung says.
Where Gobi Heat manufactures
Manufacturing in China wasn't Genung's first choice, she says. "I tried to get it made here and it was going to be anywhere from a $500 to $700 jacket. That's If I could get it made and I was not able to get anyone willing to do it back then."
Genung says she continues to seek U.S.-based manufacturing partners. "I actually tried again after the summer OR [Outdoor Retailer] show this year and was never able to get anyone to reliably call back," she notes.
"What I was told at that time was that textile manufacturers in the United States are only interested in dealing with low-labor projects, so tablecloths, sheets, pillow cases, curtains," Genung says. "None of these things are technical garments, and then you have to add the heating system to them. . . . There just wasn't the interest here in it."
Genung also looked into having partners other countries, including Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Taiwan, and even Mexico, produce all or at least part of the heated jackets. But most heated apparel, heated goods, and heating pads are made in China. "That's where the knowledge to do this well exists, and you want to do it well. You're putting a heating system on people's bodies."
Even if Genung had found another cut and sew manufacturer to produce the garments in the U.S. or another country, she says Gobi Heat would still have to rely on China for the heated systems. "So you're still tying yourself to those supply chain issues," she asserts.
Genung adds, "Shenzhen, China, has some of the best engineers. They're some of the best electrical engineers and they have some of the best manufacturing processes."
Gobi Heat has already branched out into other product categories, producing heated blankets, socks, gloves, and base layers and the chair. Genung says the company plans to introduce more new products to expand its offerings and help reduce seasonality.
"That was kind of the original thought behind the chair, and certainly there are ideas and products that are on the development calendar that would certainly lengthen the season if not shift to a second season in the summer," she says. "We try to watch the mistakes of others. I've seen some other brands go into cooling and it's not been my perception that that's gone terribly well. But I have every confidence that we will be able to level out or more level out the revenue."
The company recently moved its warehouse operations to Ohio. "We've made a big step forward into improving our fulfillment and logistics operations," Genung adds. "We consolidated all of our warehouse operations there. Some of our favorite Colorado employees have moved out there and are, as we speak, getting it ready to just run like a finely oiled machine."
That will support the company as it continues to experience growth in the realm of 45 to 50 percent each year. The big push for the company last year was retail, where it saw a 250 percent increase in the wholesale brick and mortar sales, according to Genung. Its products are now found online from Moosejaw and in retailers like JAX, Scheels, and Modell's, as well as RV stores. Still, about 85 percent of the company's sales are direct-to-consumer via its website and Amazon.
Genung doesn't anticipate that sales will slow soon. "I think we still have a lot of rapid growth years just based on the fact that the product development calendar that I've got on deck should continue to serve us very well," she says.