In today's fast-paced business climate, it's often better to be nimble than big, and that's exactly what Dakota Outerwear of Minot is.
Founded in 1988, Dakota Outerwear broke into the business by designing a jacket hood for the United States Air Force. Doyle Roe, manager, said they got even more into clothing design after the hood.
"Another gentleman I had, him and I started driving basically to many, many Air Force bases. Minot and Grand Forks helped us out the most," Roe said. "We'd go to the bases and find what they wanted designed. They helped us design a boot, clothing, and the business kept growing and growing."
Roe said they rented an old vehicle and traveled to various military bases for six months to find out what the men and women who actually used the clothing wanted. Today they service around 100 military bases in the United States and all over the world.
"We are one of the companies that has been designated by the Air Force to carry one of their patterns that they currently use now, the ABU (Airman Battle Uniform) pattern," Roe said. "And we were proudly, maybe the first or second actually authorized to do that in the commercial market."
Unfortunately for Dakota Outerwear, budget cuts have lowered their military orders, forcing them to find new avenues for their clothing. Enter the boom in the Bakken.
"We started looking at the oil field and looking at the prices that the people had to pay for their fire-rated clothing. It's ridiculous. A lot of it was made offshore, China, wherever, and we've always been strong about keeping everything in the U.S.A. as much as we possibly can," Roe said. "Ninety-nine percent of our stuff is U.S.A.-made for the government. So we thought, well, we're going to try the oil fields."
Roe said they started catering to the oil industry about six months ago, and a lot of people came in from the oil fields and talked to Dakota Outerwear about what they wanted in their clothing. He said major companies also came calling, wanting their lines to be carried in the store.
"Of course you have to take your markup then, too. So you're out there raising the price and it's just too much gouging as far as I'm concerned," Roe said. "So we decided to make our own garments."
All the clothing is designed by the staff in Minot, and then manufactured in Minnesota. Roe said they have contacts with all the major oil companies operating in North Dakota and the response has been wonderful. They've set up a couple of dealers and continue to look for more people who might be interested.
Roe is counting on the same business practices that made them so successful with the Air Force working with the oil fields, as well. While the quality of the clothing is top-notch, it's the superior customer service Dakota Outerwear offers that Roe believes will bring in more and more customers from the Bakken.
"We're going to offer service, and that's how this company's always been. If they tear their fire-rated clothing, get a rip in it, why throw it away? If it's my garment, bring it in and I'm going to repair it and there's not going to be a charge to it," Roe said. "We're not going to charge to repair a garment that I make. We're going to stand behind our garments, we're going to offer them service. If they need something in the middle of the night, they'll have our cell phone and we'll come up and get it for them. They can tell us what they want."
Roe said they designed a parka for temperatures up to -60 F for Pumpco Energy Services, along with a bib, and are in the process of designing a special garment for a hydro excavation company that can withstand cold temperatures along with wet conditions.
This personal attention to detail is what sets Dakota Outerwear apart from other sellers in the area who only carry what the manufacturers give them and nothing else. Roe said custom designing their clothing to fit the specific needs of a specific person or company is what keeps old customers coming back and brings new ones through the door.
"We're going to service them, we're going to find out what they need. We'll design it, we'll put together a prototype for them, then they go out and use it, abuse it, see if it's going to work for them," Roe said. "And at the same time, of course, we'll still be doing our military bases."
Roe said they offer free embroidery work so customers don't have to deal with multiple companies just for one piece of clothing. They also tailor the clothing to fit each individual customer. Roe said some of their customers only have 26- or 28-inch inseams, which usually leaves their pants a little on the long side.
"Well, they go walking around most of the time and they got their pants dragging behind them. Here we'll put their name in the computer, we'll cut it down so all they have to do is call in and say such-and-such is coming in," Roe said. "We'll have the pants ready, we'll have them cut and sized for them. They can pick them up within a half an hour. So it's service we really want to offer."
In addition to the employees in Minot, Dakota Outerwear also employs 41 prisoners in Jamestown through Rough Rider Industries to do various tasks, which Roe said has worked out wonderfully for everyone involved.
"They continuously train the prisoners on how to sew and so forth, and they do quality, quality work. It's fantastic," Roe said. "So that's been good for us, it's been good for the prison to keep some of the prisoners employed. So that works out nice."
Like just about all the businesses in Minot, Dakota Outerwear is looking to take on more employees. Currently, they need help in the shipping and receiving department. Anyone interested can stop by the store north of Minot or call 839-8455. Roe said good employees are by far the most important part of the company, and he appreciates every one.
"That's what makes it," Roe said. "It's not that I do it, it's that the people here are dedicated and they just love to do what they're doing."
Roe mentioned many people think Dakota Outerwear isn't open to the general public. While that might have been the case in the past, times have changed.
"Yeah, we are open to the public," Roe said. "Anybody can buy here."
A lot of Dakota Outerwear's stock is good winter clothing, such as socks, shirts and coats. They also sell rain suits, boots, sunglasses and other items.
Getting into the oil industry hasn't just been a good financial move for Dakota Outerwear. Roe said they've met a lot of fantastic people who have come to work in the Bakken from all over the country, and he can't think of one who wasn't friendly. The admiration goes both ways, too.
"They come in and they go, 'Wow, we've never gotten service like this anyplace in town.' I go, 'Well, that's what we've always built the company on, is service,'" Roe said. "And we're going to continue to do it that way."