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Bianchi International (d/b/a Gregory Mountain Products)

Bianchi International (d/b/a Gregory Mountain Products)

27969 Jefferson Avenue
Temecula, California 92590-2609
U.S.A.
Telephone: (951) 676-5621
Toll Free: (800) 477-3420
Fax: (951) 676-6777
Web site: http://www.bianchi-intl.com; http://www.gregorypacks.com

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Armor Holdings Inc.
Incorporated:
1968 as Bianchi Holster Company, Inc.
Employees: 280
Sales: $36 million (2004)
NAIC: 314911 Textile Bag Mills; 315999 Other Apparel Accessories and Other Apparel Manufacturing; 316999 All Other Leather Good Manufacturing

Bianchi International, which trades under its own name and that of Gregory Mountain Products, produces an array of backpacks, holsters, and accessories for a range of markets. Bianchi began as a maker of leather holsters for police use. It developed an expertise in ballistic nylon, which it used to win business from the military as well as from sportsmen and shooting enthusiasts. Gregory Mountain Products, a legendary brand of internal frame backpacks known for their fit and durability, was acquired in 1983. Bianchi has a 70,000-square-foot facility in Temecula and another 40,000-square-foot plant in Imperial Valley, located in the midst of southern California's climbing haven. As part of Bianchi, Gregory has ventured into designing customized packs for elite military units, while remaining one of civilian backpacking's most respected brands.

Origins

Wayne Gregory began making backpacks at an early age, 14, when he was a Boy Scout eager to improve on heavy canvas rucksacks. An early head injury had kept him out of most sports, according to a profile in the scouting magazine Boys' Life, but he had become a hiking devotee. He also learned how to operate a sewing machine, learning what would be for him a lifelong craft of repairing and making outdoor gear.

Gregory soon became one of the first employees of the Adventure 16 camping equipment factory in San Diego, California, whose owner, Andy Drollinger, was something of a mentor to Gregory. According to Boys' Life, Gregory also sought advice from Dick Kelty, whose company was known for high-end performance backpacks.

An early venture, Sunbird, was launched by Gregory in 1970 to produce external-frame backpacks. This was shut down within three years, however, as Gregory grew disillusioned with the technology. External frames could support weight, but only at the cost of flexibilitya serious liability in rock and mountain climbing.

Gregory then did freelance designing for several companies in the emerging outdoor industry, including Alpenlite, Gerry Outdoors, Frostline Kits, and Snow Lion. Gregory also ran a backpacking store and in 1977 began making backpacks for sale in the back room. This time around, he focused on internal frame designs and soft packs. He developed the Gregory Active Suspension System, which allowed packs to support more weight while retaining their flexibility and comfort.

Gregory packs became highly sought after. Among the most expensive on the market, they were considered well worth the cost by the climbers who took them as far as Mount Everest. The company also made a Daypack for urban types. It sold for $70 and featured the "unique body-hugging shape" that was Gregory's specialty. Wayne Gregory was a stickler for packs that fit, eventually flying to the Appalachian Trail with a team of artisans every spring to give thru-hikers free fittings and repairs. Gregory packs were made available in different sizes to match different torso lengths. Although Wayne Gregory remained handy with needle and thread, he became an enthusiastic user of computer-aided design and manufacturing tools.

Mid-1980s Acquisition by Bianchi

Bianchi International, a maker of holsters for firearms, acquired Gregory Mountain Products, Inc., in 1983 and moved the business one hour north to Temecula, California. After selling Gregory Mountain Products to Bianchi, Wayne Gregory re-mained with the company to lead product design and became a vice-president at Bianchi International.

Bianchi produced holsters for pistols. Originally known for its leather holsters, the company also used other materials, such as canvas for military products. It progressed to nylon fabric and other synthetic materials, following the same pattern as the backpack industry.

John Bianchi began making pistol holsters in his garage in 1958 when he was a full-time policeman. It was incorporated as Bianchi Holster Co., Inc., ten years later and was relocated from Monrovia to Temecula, California in 1971. First working with leather, Bianchi introduced a number of holster design innovations, beginning with the thumb clasp in 1960's Model 5BH/5BHL. A popular and widely imitated shoulder holster, the Model X15, was developed for "civilian advisors" during the Vietnam Era. Other innovations included the Model 27 "Break Front" in 1970, which was designed to prevent gun removal by an attacker.

Bianchi produced its one millionth holster in 1975. In the same year, it bought Berns-Martin, which had been producing innovative fast-draw leather holsters for law enforcement since the 1930s. In 1978, company founder John Bianchi published a definitive text on holsters called Blue Steel & Gunleather.

The company launched a pistol shooting tournament in Columbia, Missouri in 1979 to raise the profile of the sport and enhance involvement with the shooting community. The National Rifle Association took over management of the event, dubbed the NRA Bianchi Cup Championship, in 1985.

In the 1980s Bianchi began working with woven nylon. A holster of this material called the M12 became the U.S. military's first new holster since before World War II. Bianchi subsequently developed a number of other military products of ballistic weave nylon, which was lighter and easier to maintain than leather.

The 1990s were marked by technical innovations intended to improve weapon retention in various situations. The company also improved the precise fit of nylon holsters to the equipment they carried via its new AccuMold technology. More advances in security followed in 2003, based on proprietary "Auto Retention" technology.

Growing in the 1990s

Gregory had tried its hand at the competitive tent market in the early 1990s. Backpacks, however, were where its success lay. The company's backpack business was growing nearly 25 percent a year, an executive told the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California. By 1993, Gregory packs accounted for 40 percent of Bianchi's revenues. Of Bianchi's 230 Temecula employees, 90 were dedicated to Gregory Mountain Products.

The two product lines catered to markedly different clientele. Whereas Gregory's high-end backpacks were popular with diehard backpackers, or "pine cone eaters" as Wayne Gregory affectionately called them, Bianchi holsters were distributed through gun shops and sporting goods stores. In 1996, the fit was refined further with the new "Adjust-A-Cant" system. This was used in the Reality model, which Backpacker magazine editors pronounced the most comfortable backpack out there.

As new adventure sports such as snowboarding evolved, Gregory developed customized packs to suit their adherents. It even made a little fanny pack that sold for $15. (Its most expensive backpack was $400.) Gregory then had about 18 different product lines in the late 1990s. One thing the company did not make was bookbags. Although most of the five million packs made by the industry every year were destined for the schoolyard, not the summit, Gregory eschewed the low end of the $160 million market dominated by the likes of Jansport and Eastpak. It was, however, the likely leader among specialty packs, one of Backpacking 's editors told the Press-Enterprise. Wayne Gregory added that the company had at least 100 products in development.

In 1998, Bianchi International tapped Gregory's advanced suspension technology for a new line of backpacks for hunters. Gregory Mountain Products did something a little more urbane, distributing a Yahoo! branded line of courier bags and day-packs. Gregory introduced a line of crush-resistant cases in 2000. The AccuCase.range offered protection for sunglasses, CD players, GPS units, etc.

2000 and Beyond

The outdoor recreation industry had seen tremendous technical advances throughout Gregory's existence. In the military mobilization that followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, operations in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan proved that standard Army gear lagged behind its civilian equivalent in design and performance. Military planners turned to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) procurement to supplement outdated, heavy army materiel such as tents and clothing.

Bianchi/Gregory already had a contract to supply Special Forces with its customized SPEAR rucksack system. Designed for long-range reconnaissance missions, it had a capacity of 120 pounds and a volume of nearly 8,800 cubic inches. It also carried an ample retail price tag$1,400. Gregory began tailoring its Denali Pro backpack to Marine Corps and Special Forces requirements. In turn, these modifications improved the civilian product.

Company Perspectives:

We have always been a company dedicated to backpackers, mountaineers, and rock climbers, but we have recently used our vast amount of experience to introduce new products that address the growing adventure race and multi-sport market. You can bet that we will continue to push the envelope, always keeping in mind [the founder's] over-arching passion for ergonomic, innovative design and quality.

Bianchi International had sales of $36 million a year by 2004. Armor Holdings Inc. bought the company that December for $60 million in cash. True to its name, publicly held Armor Holdings produced armor plates for military and commercial vehicles as well as body armor and security-related products for law enforcement and others. These product lines were seen as complementary to those of Bianchi, particularly the military business.

Gregory continued to roll out new designs for the outdoor enthusiast using the most advanced materials of the day. One of these was siliconized nylon, which had the ability to seal up small punctures on its own. The brand had a strong sentimental appeal. One of Gregory's early packs reportedly fetched almost $3,000 from a Japanese collector on eBay. New products were in demand as well, winning more praise from expedition and backpacking experts.

Principal Competitors

American Recreation Products, Inc.; Arc'Teryx Equipment Inc.; Lowe Alpine; Mountainsmith.

Key Dates:

1958:
John Bianchi begins making pistol holsters for sale in his garage.
1975:
Bianchi produces its one-millionth holster; Berns-Martin is acquired.
1977:
Wayne Gregory launches a backpack manufacturing business.
1979:
The Bianchi Cup Invitational International Pistol Tournament is launched.
1983:
Gregory Mountain Products is merged into Bianchi International, and relocated to Temecula, California.
1984:
Bianchi's ballistic weave nylon holsters replace leather ones in the U.S. military.
1998:
The Bianchi Outdoors line of hunting backpacks is launched.
1999:
Bianchi/Gregory wins a contract to supply Special Forces with the SPEAR backpack system.
2004:
Armor Holdings Inc. acquires Bianchi International.

Further Reading

Bianchi, John, Blue Steel & Gunleather: A Practical Guide to Holsters, North Hollywood, Calif.: Beinfeld Pub., 1978.

Brand, Rachel, "EBay Drop-Off Stores Popping Up," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), June 20, 2005, p. 1B.

Crider, Jeff, "Nylon Holster Triggers Sales Increase; Temecula's Bianchi International, Which Has Perfected a Nylon Holster That Is Replacing the Leather Varieties, Is Expecting a Good Year," Press-Enterprise, July 29, 1995, p. C1.

Endberg, Bryan, "Gadget Guru: The Reality from Gregory Mountain Products," Record (Bergen County, N.J.), March 21, 2002.

"Great for Combatand for Camping," Business Week, May 12, 2003, p. 12.

Gorman, Jim, "Leader of the Packs: Backpackers Have Been Good to Eagle Scout Wayne Gregory. So Wayne Gregory Likes to Be Good to Backpackers," Boys' Life, September 2003, pp. 46ff.

Riedman, Patricia, "Interactive: Online Brands Spread the Word with Traditional Merchandising," Advertising Age, June 15, 1998, p. 60.

Scally, Robert, "Backpacks Carry Load of Business for Holster Maker," Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.), July 18, 1993, p. G1.

Thurman, Ross, "Anti-Gun Battles Rage, Bianchi Builds Power Packs," Shooting Industry, March 1, 1998.

Frederick C. Ingram

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