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Interview: Steve Turner (Black Eagle Fightwear)

Interview: Steve Turner (Black Eagle Fightwear)

Bekend als sponsor van waarschijnlijk de meest succesvolle broers in het Nederlandse BJJ, de gebroeders Westra, maar helaas ook van de problemen rondom zijn vorige Predator pre-orders. Black Eagle Fightwear is het bedrijf achter de bekende Predator reeks en in een exclusief interview met ArteSuave verteld hij over het afgelopen jaar. Hoge pieken, diepe dalen.

Steve Turner, man behind Black Eagle and the well known Predator gi’s. Tell me something on why Black Eagle started doing their own BJJ Gi’s.

Well, you have to go back to 2007, when we were the first company to bring BJJ uniforms into the UK.BJJ was quite young then, but we began developing a Gi in conjunction with some of the UK’s best athletes, which resulted in Black Eagle being the first UK brand for BJJ uniforms.

The Predator really took off big time. People praised them for their cheap price, but excellent quality. You decided to sponsor 2 up and coming purple belts in the Westra brothers. Predator was everywhere. Did you expect this kind of success?

I was somewhat surprised by the success, but I knew we had a good quality product, and that people were looking for something that stood up to the tough needs of training and competition, and at an affordable price.

Fast forward to october of 2012. A new version of the Predator was coming up. What was your intention regarding the new and improved version of the Predator?

We always look at where we can improve our products, in cut, fit, weight, all aspects. Our intention, always, is to push the boundaries of what is competition legal, to give customers the best possible product we can achieve.

It started with a very cheap presale. People we’re stoked to get this kind of gi for (at the time) only 35 pounds. Did the presale exceeded your expectations?

Not really, we just decided to offer people the chance of a good product at a good price. We were basically letting people tag onto to our main stock order, and letting them taking advantage of that cost wise.

Then all of a sudden things get quiet at the Black Eagle front. What happened?

Well, rightly or wrongly, we went quiet for a number of reasons! As well as our own brands, we also supplied other brands in our traditional martial arts ranges, and had been for a number of years. Suddenly, and for reasons I still do not know today, one of those brands decided to stop supplying us. Our usual contact had left, someone else took over and suddenly everything changed! This left us in a very awkward, but not insurmountable position. It certainly affected our sales, but, not to the extent we would see in the coming weeks. This was compounded by another supplier doing exactly the same thing to us! I won’t mention names, for obvious reasons, but, suffice to say, the actions of these suppliers combined to effectively wipe a very substantial part of our business out almost overnight! Then, come November/December, the delays from the factory doing the pre-sale predators started with delays.As if this wasn’t enough, our Bank refused to help (see below for more on that).

So, you can appreciate, we couldn’t do anything, or even say anything, but we were focused totally of resolving this.

Was it the same factory making the Predator as before?

Yes, it was. Despite one or two previous issues, they courted us for another chance, made lots of promises and convinced us they were genuinely prepared to work with us to develop the product to the right level of consistent quality and price. I am a great believer in working through issues, it strengthens relationships and both parties can, and often do, gain a greater understanding. I don’t believe in chopping and changing suppliers unnecessarily.

Looking back, where do you think things went bad? Was it maybe the really small margin you’ve operated on on the presales? With a sales price of 35 pound you mustve been on the absolute edge of profitmargin

Well, if you take account of the two supplier actions, then the factory starting to delay on a weekly basis, things started to get a little disconcerting for us. Yes, the £35 was low, but that was not the issue. The issue was, as with most brands, was the fact we had already paid an amount up front to the factory, so, getting delays was, to say the least, worrying. When even they started ignoring us, I became very concerned.

Things were silent for a long time. Do you think it was de best option to keep things silent?

Well, if I were the customer, I would have to say no! But, in all honesty, we never saw this coming the way it did, and when the worst came, we were caught in a Catch 22 situation! We did contact all the pre-order customers directly, and some we managed to sort out amicably. Although we tried to explain something to them, the reaction, as you would imagine, was pretty hostile. At the end of the day, things were completely taken out of our hands, but, regardless of what we have suffered, we are still trying to do something to help!

Our focus during this period was to try to secure products, across all disciplines, we put the whole thing down on paper for our bank to consider, explaining to them the situation etc, doing the usual forecasts etc., but where the refusals of before was maybe unsurprising in this day and age, what they did next certainly did surprise us! Our bank took the step of basically shutting off access to our account due to ‘risk reasons’, with no other explanation whatsoever. So, not only were we faced with the financial loss due to the factory’s actions, we were faced with our cashflow being effectively shut down!

That left us with a pretty big mountain to climb.

We had no option but to seek advice, which we did, and to take the necessary action to protect not just the business model, but all that went with this, which, from our perspective, included those customers who had pre-ordered! It was crucial that we got the right advice and acted appropriately, so, again, we were just simply not able to say anything at that time.

Whats the main thing you think you’ve learned from this?

Now, we are using only people we know and trust, people we have previously evaluated and made the necessary checks on. We clearly made errors, looking perhaps at the costs rather than the reliability of both supply and product, and that is what clouded our judgement.

We’ve also learnt that communication, even when things look as bad as they did, is probably no bad thing. We hope that people will understand, though, that when faced with so many obstacles and uncertainties, how you communicate that without causing more concern is difficult. I took the decision to ensure we had secured something regarding furture stock of BJJ before saying anything at all. Was that right or wrong? Well, I would say the answer is not as easy as it sounds.

Where to go from now?

Well, I fully understand that confidence in us has taken a knock, and we will have to deal with that in terms of getting products back in stock, and build the products back up. I want to get back to having regular stocks, reliabe products, and, although people will laugh at the irony, the customer service levels we were always striving to provide. The reaction from a good number of customers has been brilliant, with messages of support etc., which is a great boost for us. I’ve never taken loyalty for granted, but, clearly, we, and our Predator branding, does have a strong loyalty among the BJJ community.

You just announced the new Gi, the Tamashii. Why did you stop with the Predator brand?

We haven’t actually stopped the Predator brand. The Tamashii was always a work in progress (the Kanji actually says ‘Predator’). We’d been working on this with one of our own suppliers, and when they told us they could produce in less than a month, we decided to run with it! If we had decided to switch to the original Predator requirements, we would have ended up with more delays and also probably annoyed this new factory with an 11th hour change, so continuing with the Tamashii was, for us, the only option.

The good news is that, now it has been tested, and proven to be a better product that our original Predator, we are now able to focus on those. And, encouragingly, we have already started receiving emails from academies with ball park order requirements!

Any last words for your customers?

Yes. Although we have done so to many already, I can only apologise for this whole saga. I will accept the blame, I have to, but I hope that people will understand that we were also victims in this.

The Tamashii gave us an opportunity to get something, at least, back on the shelves. And the good news is that we have now managed to put together a firm order from this new factory for our Predator models in both White and Blue, and also in Ladies cut! We also have a special entry level model as well, aimed at beginners and academies.

Many cutomers have shown incredible loyalty to us throughout this saga. We have learnt a lot of lessons as well, especially in who you can trust.

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