Mark Rolfes, the new director of global sales for Mechanix Wear Inc. is spending his first weeks on the job studying the company’s layout, and his goal after coming aboard March 6 is to take the Valencia-based company into new markets overseas.
“Mike Hale, CEO of Mechanix Wear, and Barri Waalk, the COO, approached me and said we’d love to talk to you about an opportunity to take this company to the next level,” said Rolfes. “At the time, to be honest with you, I wasn’t interested. But they made a compelling argument for me to make a transition. I joined a good team, so there’s nothing broken, it’s just more refining.”
By his own account, the company, which designs and manufactures high-end supported gloves used by auto racing mechanics and others in various industries, is experiencing boom times, with sales figures routinely seeing double digit growth.
They have a great reputation in the field and they’ve grown on that,” he said, noting that the company’s rapid expansion also presents challenges.
“Picture a stagecoach blowing across the desert. The (driver) has lost the reins and the horses are running like crazy,” said Rolfes. “Now I’m trying to grab the reins and put some controls into place – not a bad problem to have.”
For the moment, he’s commuting from Huntington Beach, a drive that can range from 90 minutes to 2 ½ hours, but there’s no time for relocating to something closer just yet. “It’s been a whirlwind getting started here,” he said. “I haven’t even gotten to that.”
His priorities are focused on the company, where he said he will probably first work to “beef-up” the sales team. “It’s an efficient sales operation, but it’s a few people doing a lot, and they need some help,” he said.
He spent the first week studying the existing structure, from product mix to pricing, customer base, sales force, internal operating systems, quality of the sales team and how much coverage the company has across the globe. His focus now is putting the right assets into place with some reorganization and restructuring as well as best business practices to drive future growth.
At the risk of sounding overconfident, Rolfes feels he’s prepared to meet the rigors of the job. “I have a very, very deep industry knowledge of the commercial market on a global scale as well as retail,” he said.
The new overseas office, still in the works, will be located in Perth, Australia, and will be the company’s base of operations for Asia and the Pacific Rim. “There’s an existing crew there, but we may be adding on to it,” he said.
International market experience
This isn’t the first experience with a firm that had sizeable growth. Before coming to Mechanix Wear, Rolfes was vice president of U.S. sales at Pelican Products in Torrance, a company that manufactures air-proof, dust-proof and watertight equipment cases, coolers, phone cases, luggage and tactical and diving lights. According to Rolfes, over the course of his tenure, Pelican went from a several million dollar company to one that’s “pushing half a billion dollars.”
“Pelican is the best in class products, and when they called me I would not have even considered the position had it not been that Mechanix Wear is the best in class in the category that they supply – a high-end glove line.”
At Pelican and his previous position as national sales manager for the Bata Footwear Company, a manufacturer of industrial and chemical protective footwear, he has handled the global portion of the business as well as U.S. sales, so operating in the international arena won’t be new to him.
The countries that Mechanix Wear’s new office will be targeting are a huge slice of the international pie. “China, Japan, South Australia,” said Rolfes, adding, “the entire world.”
With recent talk of trade embargoes and tariffs you might think that opening new channels of distribution in Asia would be risky, but Rolfes pointed out that most of the company’s manufacturing takes place in Southeast Asia.
“Even though we’re making these products in Asia, we can sell them back to Asia. We see the opportunity to sell from the United States to Japan, South Korea, China. There’s a huge opportunity for our business.”