If name recognition alone were the key essential to the success of a business, then the namesake Mossy Oak would be among the top billings in the outdoors field in this country. It’s probably hard for many business people to believe that a multi-million dollar operation could have been founded on the simple principle of creating a line of clothing that would allow hunters to remain undetectable by game animals in the woods.
What a crazy idea indeed.
However, back in 1986 when West Point native Toxey Haas created the first now-famous Mossy Oak camouflage pattern Bottomland, the whole concept of hunter concealment was still a very novel idea.
It’s anything but that now.
These days, Haas Outdoors Inc., aka Mossy Oak, has grown into the most highly diverse, multi-faceted outdoors company in the industry with numerous new camo patterns, product lines, product licensing, hunting videos, television show production, BioLogic food plot products and even a real estate concern known as Mossy Oak Properties.
In 1986, during my tenure of employment at Mississippi State University my office was in Hattiesburg, but I made numerous trips to Starkville.
As a freelance outdoor writer, I had gotten wind of a rumor that had been circulating for quite a while about a young man working at the Bryan Foods plant in West Point who was dabbling with a whole new conceptual design for a hunting camouflage pattern to improve on the old military standard of the day. I finally got a name, and then called the Bryan facility and set up my first meeting with Toxey Haas.
I met Toxey at his modest home to be shown the only set of sample demonstration camouflage he had created up until that time. That was one shirt, and one pair of pants. To be honest Toxey’s very first camo pattern as I remember it was called Hill Country, which was comprised of grays, black and tan in the “oak bark” looking pattern. I am not sure on this, but this pattern did not last long on the retail scene and was soon replaced by Mossy Oak’s bedrock pattern known as Bottomland. This was the camouflage pattern credited with initially securing their decisive share in this unique but rapidly expanding marketplace.
Toxey has never looked back since.
In that first meeting, Toxey laid out the early stages of a formal marketing plan. He had no product press releases, no brochures and no outdoor media exposure lined up. Of course, at that point he also had no inventory to sell, but that all changed very quickly. I recall creating a mock-up brochure for him, but my real claim to fame was having written the first article on Toxey and Mossy Oak in National Hunting and Fishing Guide Magazine in late 1986. Maybe I should have taken the sales job he offered.
The hunting camp marketing mentality
Having sharpened his marketing skills working at Bryan Foods after graduating from Mississippi State University in the early 1980s, Toxey Haas possessed not only product development creativity, but the savvy to position his company in the marketplace. Naturally, hunters identify with other hunters and above all Haas started out as a hunter.
In my opinion, the success of Mossy Oak over the years has in great part been due to two essential factors.
Number one has been the team members he selected to join him along the way to creating the top hunting camouflage company in America. Top on that list is Toxey’s first salesman, Bill Sugg Jr. With pent up energy to burn, “Sugg” hit the ground running back in 1986 selling and promoting Mossy Oak clothing to retailers all over the country.
Today, Bill serves the company as president and chief operating officer. Every time I run into Bill at national outdoor shows, he is the first to extend his hand for a shake behind that immense classic Southern smile. He treats all his customers and employees the same way.
The other early member of the team who has been most instrumental in putting the Mossy Oak brand on the national map is Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland.
I first met Ronnie in the late 1980s when he hosted me on a turkey hunt near his hometown of Natchez. I have had the distinct pleasure of hunting with him several times since and even sharing lunch at his Mom’s house.
Ronnie came to Mossy Oak as its public relations director, but his true forté was his talent as a wildlife and hunting videographer. I might go so far as to suggest that “Cuz” is the Dean of Modern Hunting Film Making.
After many years in the field and miles of video tape recorded, Strickland remains at the helm of Mossy Oak’s television and media production division. “Hunting the Country” is North America’s highest rated outdoors television show mixing exciting hunting segments from all over the country with hunter safety, instruction and Ronnie’s own unique brand of humor. Mossy Oak also produces other outdoor television shows and hunting videos.
Certainly, other team members have made great contributions, as well, including Toxey’s father Fox Haas, Bob Dixon, Glen Cunningham, Sammie Knight and Pam Strickland among many others. The deal is the business has always been operated like a team or a bunch of folks going to hunting camp for the weekend to share a common enjoyment of the great outdoors. They have fun together and they work hard together.
Secondly, in all of this it has been the consistent display of Mossy Oak’s kindred relationship to the hunting community through its advertising campaigns that has brewed the recipe for their business success. Hunters can easily identify with another group of other hunters sitting on the front porch of an old camp house all busting out in laughter. We’ve all been in similar situations. This customer identity relationship translates into brand loyalty. Customer loyalty transfers into benchmark revenue. Essential customer loyalty is the cornerstone of business success and Mossy Oak has learned well how to maintain that connection.
As a final testament to the success of Mossy Oak as a company, one might argue that location can be one of the main tenants of business efficiency. If that were true, then surely a move from the rather small isolated community of West Point would have been dictated long ago for the Mossy Oak conglomerate except for one overriding and compelling factor: it was home.
If indeed, home is where the heart is, then Toxey Haas’ home is in the country. That is Mossy Oak Country. And that speaks well for Toxey Haas, his company and Mississippi.
John J. Woods of Clinton is an award-winning outdoor freelance journalist. His column appears monthly in the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at email@example.com.