Renowned for product innovation and for supplying functional, practical hunting and shooting clothing at sensible prices, Deerhunter now distributes its products to over 40 countries. Lars Borch, sales and marketing manager, tells Helena Douglas how the company evolved
Deerhunter, the Danish shooting clothing brand, came into being in 1985 when the father of the current owner became dissatisfied with the hunting clothing available on the market. A keen hunter, already running F Engel K/S, the family textile business, he set up a company to manufacture practical, technically innovative hunting clothing. The business took off and today Deerhunter, run by Lars Engel, is one of the leading suppliers of hunting clothing in Europe; in 2009 it was granted a warrant to supply the Danish royal household.
Lars Borch, Deerhunter’s sales and marketing manager, joined the company in 2012 and is an avid hunter and fly fisherman. He explains how the Engel family’s proactive attitude has helped drive the business forward: “The Engel family takes a dynamic approach to business and is good at identifying business opportunities. So, while the company is only 30 years old, it is already relatively large and its risk is spread over 40 markets. Furthermore, Deerhunter staff are well-trained, clever people and they all support the family’s dynamic approach to business.”
Deerhunter employs around 40 staff, with most of them based in Denmark. Its clothing, which fits into the top of the middle market, is made in a number of different factories around the world. It operates fully owned manufacturing facilities in the Baltic countries and outsources manufacturing to a number of other countries. Furthermore, it focuses on manufacturing clothing with membranes and does not make accessories or footwear. “We simply do what we’re good at,” says Lars.
The UK market is significant. Deerhunter products are managed by a network of five independent sales agents who work on a commission basis and sell into a wide range of retail outlets. Following a sale, the order is sent direct to the central warehouse in Denmark with products delivered into the UK just two to three working days after the order is received.
“When I ask our UK dealers and trade accounts to tell me what Deerhunter’s biggest strength is, they always say our delivery performance,” says Lars Borch. “We are fast! Order on Monday and it will be on your desk by Thursday at the latest. And that is because we stock our products in the thousands. We are among the strongest in Europe for holding stock and more than 98 per cent of all our orders last year were delivered in a couple of days. But I want to stress we don’t sell to online dealers; we only sell to retailers who have a shop where customers can walk through the door and try the products on.”
The UK market is different to other markets in terms of what customers want, as Lars explains. “The British market is traditional – some would say conservative, but that is not meant in a negative way. British hunters have a certain style, whether they are deerstalking or game shooting, and they will be well dressed in a suit and tie. They have great respect for tradition. You rarely see this element of dressing up to go hunting in other countries, where shooters tend to wear more sporting clothing and more camouflage.”
To meet the demands of the British market, Deerhunter developed its deluxe DXO Bushwood tweed collection, which is based on classic, traditional designs but uses modern fabric technology. “We developed the DXO range mainly for the UK market and we work hard to create specifically targeted clothing. We also offer the ivy-green Tempest range of washable, non-rustling, silent clothing developed in conjunction with professional deerstalkers in Scotland. That range is dedicated to hunting in the Scottish Highlands and includes a smock. Interestingly we can only sell smocks in the UK; in other countries we would be asked why we couldn’t afford to put in a zipper all the way down the front.”
Development of new ranges and items of clothing is ongoing, with this autumn seeing the launch of the Cumberland range in solid green and in orange blaze camouflage silent fabric, as well as the Blizzard, Eifel and Saarland ranges designed for hunting in extreme cold weather.
Deerhunter’s philosophy is that its clothing is not just a product but something that empowers people to do the hunting they love. “Before I worked at Deerhunter I worked in the furniture business and that was very much about buying or selling a product. But at Deerhunter we work with the products every day – we wear the products, and we really get to know them. We are driven by passion!”
As to the technical side, Deerhunter has its own washable waterproof membrane, Deer-Tex, which is 100 per cent waterproof, windproof and breathable. It also has its own proprietary camouflage patterns: the Innovation DH, which is a light pattern designed for European hunting, and the Equipt, which is suited to open plains or forest areas thanks to its grey/brown and green shades.
“We take a scientific approach to what we produce but we take an emotional approach to marketing,” says Lars. “We have an overall marketing policy but we try to adapt it to the taste and needs of each market we sell to. We try to operate relationship-based marketing, meaning we are developing long-term relationships with our sales reps, many of who have been with us since the start, and with our customers. It is important to develop that trust – the business is certainly not all about pounds and pence.”
The ideas for new designs and products are generated by the Deerhunter Team in close cooperation with Lars Engel, who runs the business. “We travel a lot and get a lot of feedback and demands from the market. So if there is a general trend for a new jacket, we speak to our various sales staff and to the trade and establish if there is a volume need. If there is, then we make a prototype and ship it to the markets for testing, and ask our staff and agents to evaluate it in terms of design, quality and price. If it is suitable then we move on to manufacture it. It’s a long process and we are very much a market driven company. We don’t do anything unless the market is asking for it or we can see a demand for it. But one thing we stand for is innovation.”
Future plans include focusing on existing markets rather than targeting new ones. “The UK in particular is a good market for us,” says Lars. “So we plan to put more resources, more people, more time and more support into the UK market to back up our sales staff and the trade. We have hired a lot of new staff over the past 18 months and established a completely new sales organisation in the UK, with five staff travelling on the road every day. The thing that makes this business unique is something quite rare. All of our staff are dedicated and passionate about what they do and about hunting, and that is true for our sales agents and our customers. So we become friends on top of being colleagues, we enjoy talking about hunting and fishing, there is a common bond and that makes it far easier to do business together, which, of course, is great for Deerhunter.”