27969 Jefferson Avenue
We have always been a company dedicated to backpackers, mountaineers, and rock climbers, but we have recently used our vast amount of expe rience to introduce new products that address the growing adventure r ace and multi-sport market. You can bet that we will continue to push the envelope, always keeping in mind [the founder's] over-arching pa ssion for ergonomic, innovative design and quality.
Bianchi International, which trades under its own name and that of Gr egory Mountain Products, produces an array of backpacks, holsters, an d accessories for a range of markets. Bianchi began as a maker of lea ther holsters for police use. It developed an expertise in ballistic nylon, which it used to win business from the military as well as fro m sportsmen and shooting enthusiasts. Gregory Mountain Products, a le gendary brand of internal frame backpacks known for their fit and dur ability, was acquired in 1983. Bianchi has a 70,000-square-foot facil ity in Temecula and another 40,000-square-foot plant in Imperial Vall ey, 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 backpackin g's most respected brands.
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 hea d injury had kept him out of most sports, according to a profile in t he scouting magazine Boys' Life, but he had become a hiking de votee. He also learned how to operate a sewing machine, learning what would be for him a lifelong craft of repairing and making outdoor ge ar.
Gregory soon became one of the first employees of the Adventure 16 ca mping equipment factory in San Diego, California, whose owner, Andy D rollinger, 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, how ever, as Gregory grew disillusioned with the technology. External fra mes could support weight, but only at the cost of flexibility--a seri ous liability in rock and mountain climbing.
Gregory then did freelance designing for several companies in the eme rging outdoor industry, including Alpenlite, Gerry Outdoors, Frostlin e Kits, and Snow Lion. Gregory also ran a backpacking store and in 19 77 began making backpacks for sale in the back room. This time around , he focused on internal frame designs and soft packs. He developed t he Gregory Active Suspension System, which allowed packs to support m ore 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 Daypa ck for urban types. It sold for $70 and featured the "unique body -hugging shape" that was Gregory's specialty. Wayne Gregory was a sti ckler for packs that fit, eventually flying to the Appalachian Trail with a team of artisans every spring to give thru-hikers free fitting s and repairs. Gregory packs were made available in different sizes t o match different torso lengths. Although Wayne Gregory remained hand y 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 Gre gory Mountain Products, Inc., in 1983 and moved the business one hour north to Temecula, California. After selling Gregory Mountain Produc ts to Bianchi, Wayne Gregory remained with the company to lead produc t design and became a vice-president at Bianchi International.
Bianchi produced holsters for pistols. Originally known for its leath er holsters, the company also used other materials, such as canvas fo r military products. It progressed to nylon fabric and other syntheti c 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 Temecul a, California in 1971. First working with leather, Bianchi introduced a number of holster design innovations, beginning with the thumb cla sp in 1960's Model 5BH/5BHL. A popular and widely imitated shoulder h olster, the Model X15, was developed for "civilian advisors" during t he 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-dra w leather holsters for law enforcement since the 1930s. In 1978, comp any founder John Bianchi published a definitive text on holsters call ed Blue Steel & Gunleather.
The company launched a pistol shooting tournament in Columbia, Missou ri 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 thi s material called the M12 became the U.S. military's first new holste r since before World War II. Bianchi subsequently developed a number of other military products of ballistic weave nylon, which was lighte r and easier to maintain than leather.
The 1990s were marked by technical innovations intended to improve we apon retention in various situations. The company also improved the p recise fit of nylon holsters to the equipment they carried via its ne w AccuMold technology. More advances in security followed in 2003, ba sed on proprietary "Auto Retention" technology.
Growing in the 1990s
Gregory had tried its hand at the competitive tent market in the earl y 1990s. Backpacks, however, were where its success lay. The company' s backpack business was growing nearly 25 percent a year, an executiv e told the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California. By 1993, Gregory packs accounted for 40 percent of Bianchi's revenues. Of Bia nchi's 230 Temecula employees, 90 were dedicated to Gregory Mountain Products.
The two product lines catered to markedly different clientele. Wherea s Gregory's high-end backpacks were popular with die-hard backpackers , or "pine cone eaters" as Wayne Gregory affectionately called them, Bianchi holsters were distributed through gun shops and sporting good s stores. In 1996, the fit was refined further with the new "Adjust-A -Cant" system. This was used in the Reality model, which Backpacke r magazine editors pronounced the most comfortable backpack out t here.
As new adventure sports such as snowboarding evolved, Gregory develop ed customized packs to suit their adherents. It even made a little fa nny 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 desti ned 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, o ne of Backpacking's editors told the Press-Enterprise. Wayne Gregory added that the company had at least 100 products in dev elopment.
In 1998, Bianchi International tapped Gregory's advanced suspension t echnology for a new line of backpacks for hunters. Gregory Mountain P roducts did something a little more urbane, distributing a Yahoo! bra nded line of courier bags and daypacks. 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 advance s throughout Gregory's existence. In the military mobilization that f ollowed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United State s, operations in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan proved that standard Army gear lagged behind its civilian equivalent in design a nd performance. Military planners turned to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) procurement to supplement outdated, heavy army materiel such a s tents and clothing.
Bianchi/Gregory already had a contract to supply Special Forces with its customized SPEAR rucksack system. Designed for long-range reconna issance missions, it had a capacity of 120 pounds and a volume of nea rly 8,800 cubic inches. It also carried an ample retail price tag--&# 36;1,400. Gregory began tailoring its Denali Pro backpack to Marine C orps and Special Forces requirements. In turn, these modifications im proved the civilian product.
Bianchi International had sales of $36 million a year by 2004. Ar mor Holdings Inc. bought the company that December for $60 millio n in cash. True to its name, publicly held Armor Holdings produced ar mor 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, particu larly 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 silico nized nylon, which had the ability to seal up small punctures on its own. The brand had a strong sentimental appeal. One of Gregory's earl y packs reportedly fetched almost $3,000 from a Japanese collecto r on eBay. New products were in demand as well, winning more praise f rom expedition and backpacking experts.
Principal Competitors: American Recreation Products, Inc.; Arc 'Teryx Equipment Inc.; Lowe Alpine; Mountainsmith.