Remember the Snuggie? It’s a freaking blanket with sleeves, but would it surprise you to learn the guy who invented the Snuggie sold over 200 million dollars’ worth?
Yep, there’s a fine line between innovative entrepreneur and crackpot inventor.
Today’s story is about a really innovative entrepreneur: a rain gear manufacturer who doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a manufacturer of rain gear. Terry Prillaman founded Galway Bay apparel nearly 10 years ago with zero experience in the golf apparel business, armed only with a personal aversion to rain, sweat, and dropping his pants on the golf course – plus the testicular fortitude to believe he could come up with something better.
No Experience Required
Before 2009, Terry Prillaman’s only connection to golf apparel was wearing it.
“I manage people’s retirement plans,” he tells MyGolfSpy. “I started Galway Bay because nobody made a pair of slacks that would keep me warm and dry.”
We’ve all played golf in the rain and cold. And we’ve all come to accept the limitations of cold and wet weather gear: restricted movement, ill-fitting and uncomfortable. And, since we look silly golfing in the rain anyway, we don’t really care what it looks like. All we want is to stay reasonably warm and dry.
“I’m in Atlanta, we play golf year-round,” says Prillaman. “But today, it’s 38 degrees, and it might drizzle, so you could play. But you’d have to put on some long underwear, some warm pants and then some rain pants.”
“I’d go over to the golf course looking like I gained 30 pounds. You could hear me from a block away as I shooshed in with my pants dragging on the ground and I’m like, ‘I hate this.’ But that’s it, that’s what you do.”
That’s Atlanta. In the North, golf season can start in early March and run into late November. You’ll be wearing long johns and the warmest pants you can find for those early and late season rounds. If it’s at all drizzly, you’ll also have to pull on a pair of bulky rain pants.
“The simple question is why would you wear two pairs of pants in the rain when one pair will do the trick, and fit you properly?”
What Prillaman has done with Galway Bay is perhaps the very definition of niche product development: slacks you can wear in the rain, cold (without long johns) or in fair weather, and that wouldn’t look out of place on Casual Friday. And not for nothing, Galway Bay’s pants and jackets finished tied for first in MyGolfSpy’s 2018 Best Rain Gear shootout.
That’s quite an accomplishment for a 9-year-old company whose roots can be traced to Oscar Robertson, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and an entrepreneur’s insatiable curiosity.
Big O and The Mounties
“I’ve always paid attention to clothing, even as a kid,” says Prillaman. “Back then, everybody wore canvas Converse sneakers. When I saw Oscar Robertson wearing some leather basketball shoes, I went off the deep end trying to find out where I could get some.”
That same curiosity prompted Prillaman to seek out better rain gear.
“I never really thought about it until the winter of ’09, when I’d go play golf every weekend,” he says. “I’d have to wear all this stuff. So I started Googling for waterproof pants that were slacks that would also keep you warm, and there was nothing, and I mean nowhere. Not here, not overseas, not anywhere.”
It was at that moment Prillaman heard the sweet sound of opportunity’s knock.
“I started researching fabrics, and finally found a company in Canada that made fabric used for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I thought, okay, that’s what I want.”
Next came the first run of 1000 pairs of what were essentially waterproof slacks from a company no one had ever heard of. Now the challenge was to move them.
“I did a booth at the PGA Merchandise Show, and that was worthless,” he says. “But I did meet a guy that had a Sirius XM radio show. He had me on, and that just lit it up. I sold 800 pairs in about 4 months.”
Galway Bay’s offerings have evolved since those early days, with jackets, vests and half-sleeve tops since added, but always with the notion that it can’t be a me-too product.
“If I made over-pants and made them out of Gore-Tex, it’d be fine, but it’d be the same thing every other high-end company’s got,” he says. “Why would you buy mine when you could buy the same thing from a company you know about?”
“I have to think differently. I know people don’t like having to wear two or three pairs of pants just to play golf, so what if I make something that’s one pair, easy to wear and actually custom-hem them? They look good, you put ‘em on, and you’re good to go.”
The Anti-Swamp Ass/Anti-Perversion Crusade
The difference between waterproof and water resistant is simple: waterproof means you won’t get wet at all, and water resistant means you won’t get wet right away.
Waterproof means all seams are sealed, and there’s a membrane in the fabric – usually a laminated polyester, sometimes Gore-Tex – that keeps water from penetrating. There’s also a topical chemical applied to the fabric to make water bead up so the fabric won’t soak it in and get heavy. Depending on how often you play in relatively serious rain, the question is: how waterproof does a garment need to be?
“If I make it to withstand four hours of solid rain, I have to shrink the pores in the membrane so small that I’ve just created a sweatsuit,” says Prillaman. “No water gets in, but no moisture gets out. You try to find that fine line between waterproof enough to keep you dry, but comfortable enough so you can wear it and not sweat.”
“If you go Gore-Tex, you’re going to sweat. If you go cheap laminated poly, you’re gonna get wet. I try to be above that level in waterproof, but not so non-breathable that it’s not comfortable.”
“Which is worse, swamp ass or getting wet? I don’t care who you are, and I don’t care what you do – swamp ass is not good.” – Terry Prillaman
Whatever you think you know about rain pants, toss it out. Instead of standard S, M, L or XL sizing, Galway Bay pants are sized like, you know, pants. You can buy 34-32, or 40-30, in either lined or unlined models (lined are for cold weather golf, unlined you can wear a good chunk of the season – both are waterproof). You can also buy an unhemmed model for a more custom length fit.
You’ll also find belt loops, a 7-inch zipper, and 9-inch pockets. You wouldn’t think stuff like that matters, but every detail – and inch – counts.
“Do they (other manufacturers) not understand that when men play golf, they sometimes drink?” says Prillaman. “Occasionally, you’ve got to pee. So I gotta go hide to drop trou so the cart girl won’t catch me. I’m standing there, peeing in the woods with my pants around my knees. I look like a perv, so I’m like, put a damn zipper on there!”
Yes, some other some rain pants do have zippers and pockets, but even those can come up short.
“This is kind of a Euro brand, maybe a Travis Matthews or a Puma or something,” says Prillaman. “But they put a 5-inch zipper in the front. I don’t know if their anatomy’s different, but 5-inches doesn’t work. You need a 7-inch zipper. Also, a lot of manufacturers put 7-inch pockets in their rain pants. I get in my golf cart and sit down, the next thing I know, my tees, ball markers, change, everything, is down on the seat. Put a 9-inch pocket in there!”
“It’s funny how when you go through competitors’ products and examine every little stitch; you find stuff that’s just common sense. Hell, I can do better than that.”
The Difference of Being Different
They say a camel is a horse designed by committee. It’s a clever line, but it illustrates why Prillaman and Galway Bay can go toe-to-toe with the Nike’s, FootJoy’s and Under Armours of the world.
“It’s me against a thousand people with unlimited money,” says Prillaman. “So I have to come up with something better or else I’d get marketed under the table. This is my baby, and I probably spend more time researching fabrics, looking at samples and trying to figure out new ways to make things different.”
Meaningful innovation is what separates the entrepreneurial visionary from the crackpot inventor, and it’s what gives them a fighting chance against an industry’s establishment. The big players, even with all their R&D might, are process and committee-driven, investing time in what they know will sell. Rocking the boat is not in their DNA.
“When I first started, I’m thinking this is way too rational, why hasn’t anybody else thought of it?” admit Prillaman. “But take an Under Armour. What percentage of their business is golf rainwear? Maybe a tenth of one percent? It’s not enough for them to really spend time or money to capture the market.”
“FootJoy can put out a mediocre product and market it to success. If I don’t put out the best or most innovative product out there, I got no chance.”
Instead of design committees, sourcing committees and production committees, it’s pretty much Prillaman himself, his samples and his drawings. Working with his manufacturers, he can bring an innovative product to market within six months.
Galway Bay’s half-sleeve rain jacket is a good example. Lots of people make very good ones, but Prillaman adds a unique twist to his.
“There are times you need a long sleeve, maybe it gets a little chillier or starts raining harder,” he says. “You either deal with it, change jackets in mid-stream, or you make a jacket with zip-on or snap-on sleeves. But you have to take the jacket off, lay it on the seat of the cart, get the sleeves out, set them out and start snapping or zipping. I thought hey, I can do better than that.”
What Prillaman did was find a pair of Nike thermal pull-on sleeves, soak them with a water repellant chemical, and give them a whirl. It turns out the idea worked like a champ.
“So I took these sleeves to China and told them I wanted them cured in Teflon,” he says. “Now I make a Teflon-coated thermal sleeve that’s water repellant. You keep them in your bag, and if it gets colder or rains harder, you pull the sleeves on. You don’t have to change jackets. Water rolls off like it’s a duck’s back.”
“It’s just little things, little innovations, trying to be creative and all of a sudden you create something that nobody’s got. If you don’t think you can improve on what’s already out there, you just leave it alone.”
This is also the first year Galway Bay has offered unlined pants, thanks to a new, more breathable fabric.
“My concept was originally for cold weather, but I figured people from Southern California, Texas, Florida don’t need that much cold protection,” says Prillaman. “The unlined pants – the coldest you could wear them without long underwear is about 45 degrees, but you could wear them up to 75 degrees and feel no hotter than if you wore a regular pair of golf pants. The unlined are good from about freezing to 55 degrees.”
“The unlined have a little bit of stretch in the fabric, so it’s like wearing a nice pair of regular pants, they just happen to be waterproof, they block the wind, they stretch and are breathable.”
You won’t find Galway Bay at many retailers, and you won’t find them at many Pro Shops. That may change, but in order to keep pricing where it is (below other premium rain gear), distribution will likely remain online.
“If I was selling my product today in a retail outlet, it would be $400 bucks for a jacket and $280, maybe $300 for a pair of pants,” says Prillaman. “That’s a price that retail can’t stand in the U.S.”
For now, the company relies on limited advertising and word-of-mouth, although Prillaman agrees seeing is believing.
“If you’ve never heard of it and someone tells you about it, you’d be 50% inclined to buy. If you saw someone wearing it and talked with them, it’d go to maybe 75%. If you put it on and realize what it feels like and how it fits, I would say I’ll make a sale 95% of the time.”
“You have to put it on and compare it with what else is out there, then you can tell the difference. Little things like it doesn’t shoosh as much, it fits better, it doesn’t drag on the ground – all the little features you kinda get once you put it on.” – Terry Prillaman
Prillaman did sell a piece of his company a few years ago to an investor and admits the investor’s idea is to ramp up the company and sell it off. He says the idea of a nice, big check is appealing, but there’d have to be a bunch of zeros and a few commas for him to think twice.
“I’m 65, I still play a lot of golf and this is still enjoyable,” he says. “I like creating, I like traveling, I just like doing it. If I did get approached by someone like a Callaway who said we’d like to buy it, I’d consider it, but I’d want a job. I still want to be involved, otherwise, I wouldn’t want to sell and walk away. Unless, of course, the check is really, really big. But that’s not going to happen this year.”
Better rain gear probably isn’t at the top of anyone’s mind, and you could say Prillaman has a solution in search of a problem. But that’s if you look at his stuff as something to wear only when it’s raining. If you play golf in the spring or fall in cold weather parts of the world, how many layers do you really want to wear?
And if you’re thinking if this was such a good idea, why didn’t the big guys think of it already, you may need a lesson in how R&D in big companies really works.
“I guess the bigger companies figure it’s not that big of a market, so why would we want to do anything different?” says Prillaman. “We’ll just do what everyone else does and make old shusshy, baggy rain pants.”
“I’ve gotten calls from Callaway reps, TaylorMade reps, PXG reps,” he adds. “They’ve bought apparel from me even though they have their own because theirs is crappy and mine is better.”
“It’s very validating, very gratifying to be able to go head to head with anybody, no matter their size or resources, and do it better than they do.”