Today, I have a very different sort of interview set up. I am interviewing one of the nicest dudes from the Aloha state in Mr. Doug Pothul!
You may be asking, who in the holy f*ck is Doug Pothul? Well, give me a second to explain. I asked Doug to give me a bit of a run down of his BJJ journey and questions about his immense rash guard and BJJ Gi collection which has a ton of us “GI Addicts” jealous of him. Doug Pothul runs a page on Facebook called “BJJ New and Upcoming Gear Offerings”. The page has really blossomed and actually has helped several less fortunate members get a GI or a deal.
Doug has also now joined ‘Grapplers Review”, it is a fellow review site which inspired me to speak about gear and products.
I hope you enjoy this fun and different interview
1. Doug, what is your rank and school?
DP: For jiu jitsu I’m a blue belt under Jason Izaguirre, a Royler Gracie black belt here in Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii. Years back I achieved a 1st Degree Brown Belt in Chinese Kenpo under Al Dutton in Springfield, Massachusetts. Al trained with heavyweight karate legend Joe Lewis, unarguably Bruce Lee’s most accomplished student. I started training Kenpo at age 12 back in 1974.
2. How long have you been training BJJ for? What drew you into it?
DP: I’ve been training since September 2011, just before turning 49 years old. I was drawn to BJJ many years ago when a good friend of mine, Chris Laird, then a purple belt but now a black belt under Grandmaster Relson Gracie, when he lent me some of his old VHS tapes of Rickson. As a life-long martial artist, after viewing those videos I came away with the feeling that I had wasted my entire life in karate, and that jiu jitsu was far superior. I remember telling Chris when I returned his tapes, “Nothing on this planet that walks on two legs, short of a sasquatch, could beat this guy.” And I still feel that way.
When I moved to Kailua from Honolulu “town,” I was a widower with three young children. They were all in soccer and basketball then. Every afternoon I was running pillar-to-post taking them to one practice and then another. Saturday, game day, was the worst. I could never watch all three games and was always trying to arrange a ride for one of more of my boys because it was physically impossible to get them to all three of their games on time with overlapping games in different areas of the island. So when we moved, I found that “Gracie Jiu Jitsu” that I had seen on Chris’ VHS tapes years earlier and enrolled all three of my children. But it took me four more years to start. Now I wish I didn’t wait so long.
3. What was the first GI you bought? and why?
DP: My first gi was one that they sold at my academy, a white, pearl weave Atama. I had one gi, and only one gi for the first year of my training. After one year, when I decided that I was going to stick with it, I bought my second gi, another Atama pearl weave, but this time it was blue. That I found on Craigslist locally. It was $100. I still have that 2nd gi, it’s one of my favorites and I rarely use it. It just fits so perfectly (when I’m not chubby like now.)
4. What ignited your 40+ GI addiction?
DP: Well, as far as 40+ I’ve lost count. It’s somewhere between 50 and 60 or so now I think. I don’t keep track anymore. But I do keep them separate because some kimonos I have promised to give people a “first right to purchase” because they’ve been good to me in helping me find and buy certain gis. Others I’ve bought for friends in sizes other than my size (typically A2) because they didn’t have the money to buy them at the drop, so I did and I’m warehousing those until they have the money to buy them from me (at cost of course I don’t profit from my friends), and then there are the ones I have that are to be donated to needy BJJers who can’t afford a new or nice gi. And as some people know I run a program that puts gis and gear into the hands of those less fortunate of us who still love BJJ.
5. What is the most expensive purchase you’ve made?
DP: For a single gi it would have to be the BNIB Shoyoroll White Illest. That purchase was arranged by a friend and I can’t disclose the price that I paid. But next it would be the two Navy Illest that I bought for $400 each. One has since been traded for three other gi’s.
6. What GI is your least favorite and favorite?
DP: Well, some that I’ve sold that I didn’t like were my fault. I bought three Vulkan Pro Light gi’s, and I liked them as a “daily training” gi, but I bought A3’s when I should have purchased A2’s. They were early purchases of mine and are a decent gi, I just bought the wrong size.
I also didn’t like my first gi, the white pearl weave Atama. The top was sandpaper.
There was a Vulkan Ultra Light that I bought in a group of three gi’s from a friend. I didn’t even want to try and put it on. It was so light and thin that I knew it wouldn’t last a week.
But I guess the best answer here as far as least favorite would also be called my most disappointing gi. And that’s a DFKC Art Suave that I pre-ordered. I put it on once and it just fits poorly in several different places. It’s sitting in a bag in my closet now, waiting for me to sell it. Or I may review it and give it a chance before kicking it to the curb. If I don’t like it, then I can donate it.
As far as my favorite goes, well before naming my top three in rotation it’s important for you to know that most of my gi’s, over 90% are BNIB. And most of those I’ve never even taken out of the bag, much less tried on. So those can’t be considered when naming my top three.
The top of my rotation are: Shoyoroll Americana, CTRL Gigante, and Scramble Athlete.
And the interesting thing about all three of those gi’s is that I bought them used. I have a major phobia when it comes to taking a BNIB gi and wearing it. Sure I’ve done it, but I still regret doing it.
7. What makes you buy so many?
DP: There are probably many reasons. I’m bored. I don’t work. I have time to always be looking for deals. It’s an extension of BJJ which I’m passionate about. I’m good at finding deals. I like to “collect,” but I’m not a hoarder of lots of things. Plus, I think my girlfriend would prefer I spend my days hunting down deals on gi’s rather than chasing other women or drinking or some other nefarious activity. So, it’s harmless and so far it’s been a good investment. I could easily liquidate my collection (and may do so) and not only get all of my equity back, but probably make 30% or more on my investment.
I’ve only really collected coins in my lifetime, not other knickknacks or trinkets or anything else. It started with coins when I was a child, and now it’s kimonos. If I had Jay Leno money, maybe it would be something different (like cars). But I don’t, so I can’t.
8. Best advice for a company who is looking to make it big?
DP: First of all it is important to look at the landscape as far as who is out there now. And of those, who is successful and who isn’t and why. And then step back and consider the hurdles and issues that are intrinsic with this specific type of business. Those being:
** Demand, related to Undersupply vs. Oversupply
** Production vs. Production Capacity
** Preorder delivery delays
** Capital/Equity/Debt relationships and requirements
** Quality control out of PRC and Pakistan for manufacturing
As far as who is doing well, there are old-time companies like Fuji, Atama and Tatami to name a few. They make quality products and have a faithful following. Yet most of their product is traditional in nature. And there is nothing wrong with that. We can’t all be wearing tie-dye kimonos. But that doesn’t draw a passionate following.
Then there is Shoyoroll, a company that is in a league of its own. No other company has what they have with respect to the loyalty, passion and outright seemingly insatiability of its cult-like followers. Nor do any other company’s kimonos go up in value 25%, 50% or more overnight from the drop. And I don’t know anyone who has 50 Atama’s in their closet. Yet some of us have 50 Shoyorolls.
Riding the wake of Shoyoroll is CTRL Industries. CTRL puts out a quality product with distinctive designs and in limited quantity. Some may argue that CTRL is a few years behind and following the business model established by Shoyoroll. That being: low production numbers of one-time batches that are unique in design and therefore project an urgency to purchase. Hence CTRL’s last two drops (Journeyman and Voyager) selling out in minutes. Which is funny because the drop immediately before that of their Consigilere took days to sell out. Then only a few months later the Journeyman hit and within seconds I was shut out of buying one in my size. As were hundreds of others trying to buy one.
Of course there are many, many others out there that are producing quality products and making positive changes in the industry and BJJ community. Due to my activities in my now nearly 3,000 member Facebook group that is full of BJJ gear-heads like me, I have gotten to know several of these brand owners. And I’ll have to say that all of them are determined to provide high quality product and secure a foothold in the industry for the long term.
Getting back to your question: as far as my best advice to a company that wants to make it big. Well, I have the following thoughts as to what is important.
Customer Service. Nothing is more important than keeping the customer happy. If they are happy, then they will tell a friend and keep coming back. If they are unhappy, then they will tell a hundred friends and not come back.
Quality Product. It goes without saying that whether your business is hamburgers or airplanes you need to produce a quality product. If not, then you’ll spend more time trying to win over new customers when you should be spending time building relationships with your current customers.
Listen To Your Customers. If people want a green gi; then make a green gi. If they want one that fits grapplers who are 6’8” and 150 lbs, then make it (in limited quantity with that example). But whatever it is, listen. That doesn’t mean you actually ACT on every customers idea, but at least listen and consider them.
Avoid Pre-Orders. For those of you who have never done this…don’t. And for those of you who have offered kimonos for preorder…you know what I mean. And it’s not the brand owners fault. The concept of a preorder makes great sense on paper. But all too often it doesn’t work out that way in practice. There are exceptions, like with Origin. But that is because Origin controls 100% of the manufacturing process in house. Very few companies can say that. And if you rely on a third-party manufacturer, then you are asking for trouble when it comes to delivering on preorders.
Avoid Debt, and Reserve Capital. With a background in finance and marketing (for commercial real estate), I know this area all too well. For the larger companies this shouldn’t be an issue. Most of them don’t have a large inventory at any given time, and that is good. And with the low barrier to entry in this business, we have an innumerable number of one-man shops who are trying to gain a foothold in the marketplace and able to do so quite literally out of their garage. The danger lies when these small companies that produce a handful of kimonos here and there want to move up and compete at the next level. That’s when the risk vs. reward equation can become unbalanced and even a single, small hiccup can result in total devastation.
It’s an interesting time in this business. Lots of growth potential and market share to be had. But with that there is potential for lots of corpses by the side of the highway as well.
9. What upcoming GI release intrigues you best?
DP: My problem is that I want to try them all. And now that I’m reviewing gear and kimonos for Grapplers Review, I have the chance to do just that. But that conflicts with my review process in which I donate all the gear that I review to others who are less fortunate and in need of BJJ gear (primarily kimonos). So I don’t even WANT the brand owners to send me gear in my size, because I need to avoid the temptation to keep it. And the huge benefit that the brand owner gets via the donation process is that their kimono (for example) will be used and used often by an active BJJer who will provide Grapplers Review feedback throughout the first year of use as to the fit, feel, durability and function under “combat” conditions. Then we update the review and everyone learns from the process.
That being said, and while hating to single out a few while potentially leaving out the many, I’ll have to say that what I’m looking forward to is as follows:
** Most new offerings by Shoyoroll and CTRL since they seem to be leading the industry. Especially the Shoyoroll Absolute which is going to be manufactured in Los Angeles.
** Origin’s new gi’s that are 100% made in America.
** Grab & Pull’s new kimonos that will be made in the UK.
But I don’t want to leave out many of the smaller brands like Vandal and Lanky who make great gear now, yet are among the sea of small BJJ manufactures struggling to get a foothold and gain market share in the industry. The great thing about being a consumer of BJJ kimonos (and rash guards), is that virtually every week there are new and exciting opportunities to consider.
10. How much $ have you spent on GI’s?
DP:: I used to keep track. I actually have a spreadsheet that details each kimono that I purchased, where I found it, the condition and price paid. But because of all the donations and trades that I’ve made, I don’t bother updating it anymore. With, say 60 gi’s in my house now, and 30 rash guards, you can do the math.
11. You seem to give back as much as you put in, what advice do you give companies to build a better bond with their customer?
I think that customer service is the most important aspect. Delivering a quality product and doing so on time also of course. Most of this is covered above. But those three aspects are at the top: Customer service, Quality Product, On time delivery.
In business I used to live by a few rules. And they probably apply here as well. Those are:
** Exceed expectations
** Differentiate yourself
** Be creative
** No matter how good it is, it can always be better so continually look back at your successes as well as your failures and figure out how to do it better tomorrow.
Of course, it goes without saying that you also need to be honest, respectful and work hard.
Check out these links to keep track of Doug’s and others collections/addictions:
BJJ Gear and Upcoming (https://www.facebook.com/groups/BJJNewAndUpcomingGear/)
Here are some pics of Doug’s collection..drooling is permitted.