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After a hiatus from the U.S. market beginning in the late ’90s, Mont
Bell Japan is returning to the U.S. beginning this fall for an initial
introduction of select product in a number of REI stores. That
introduction is part of an overall deal crafted with Isamu Tatsuno,
founder and CEO of Mont Bell.
Under the agreement, Mont Bell, currently a $160 million company,
purchased REI’s money-losing store in Machida City, Japan, and turned
it into a Mont Bell store. That store’s signage still carries a small
REI logo according to Tatsuno. In addition, Mont Bell will sell a
select number of REI-branded products for the Japanese market. REI, in
turn, has agreed to carry a selection of Mont Bell products (some
outerwear and one sleeping bag, we’re told) for the U.S. market in its
six flagship stores and for sale on its website.
Beginning in Spring 2003, Mont Bell plans to open a very select number
of specialty retailers in the U.S. through the efforts of its lone
representative, James Heiden, based in Mont Bell-USA’s new Boulder,
Heiden told SNEWSÂ® that all products will carry U.S. sizing and be
warehoused here in the U.S. All customer service for the products will
also be handled through his office in Boulder.
For more information, contact Heiden at email@example.com or by phone at 303-449-7681.
Tatsuno has been burned before in the U.S., so it is of little wonder
that he is moving very slowly and deliberately this time, maintaining
control of his brand’s image and product distribution. His past two
experiences in the U.S. — watching helplessly as a moderately
successful Mont-Bell USA line was deep-sixed along with the Outdoor
Industry Group’s (Moonstone, Mont-Bell, Wild Roses, Quest) messy
bankruptcy proceedings, and a somewhat bitter lawsuit with Mountain
Hardwear over sleeping bag technology rights — left Tatsuno with an
unpleasant taste for U.S. business practices. His passion for the
outdoors and the quality of his designs and products are undisputed
however, so it is no surprise to us to see him venture back into a
climate where he believes opportunity still exists for an innovative
brand that will only be distributed at the specialty level. Still don’t
know Mont Bell? Consider this: Sierra Designs licenses his patented
stretch stitch technology (the one that caused the lawsuit with
Mountain Hardwear) in its sleeping bags. Mont Bell has offices in
Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and now the U.S., and is a Japanese distributor
for Perception, Atlas snowshoes, and other U.S. and European companies.
In addition to its own stores in Japan, Mont Bell sells its brand to
other leading Japanese outdoor specialty retailers.