They Say It’s Your Birthday

Well, really, it’s OUR birthday:  Today Pemba Serves turns seventeen!  Just think, pretty soon we’ll be old enough to vote.  Times like these make one reflective, don’t they?


It seems like only yesterday when we were in swaddling clothes, wearing diapers, sucking on that cute little binkie.  Okay, some things don’t change:  Almost every day is casual day at PEMBAbase, and sometimes Steve still wears his version of swaddling clothes (is that a ROBE, Steve?); we’re happy to report that Pete’s only wearing diapers at night now; and please don’t ask anybody at the office about my binkie habit – I’m trying to quit.  Still, in all these years a lot has changed, too.

In the summer of ’91, as was my practice for many years I spent the month of June climbing in the Alaska Range.  It was while on this trip that I decided to open my own retail consulting business.  In those days, I worked for Erehwon here in the midwest.  Among other things, I was responsible for their newsletter and other types of related promotions for the company.  I had this idea that these sorts of things could be done free-lance for a number of outdoor stores at the same time.  So this is what I decided to do.

As for the name, some has been written about this elsewhere.  For the short version, Pemba was a yak-herder on an expedition to Tibet that I was lucky enough to be a part of in 1988.  (For extra credit, check out Peter Breslow’s award-winning NPR broadcasts, and also in the sidebar here.)  Pemba made an impression on me, and I liked the idea of having an active-verb (“Serves”) in the name of the company, too.  In consulting – in repping also – you’re only as good as the last thing that you’ve done, after all.  The idea of being a rather passive noun (for example, “Services”) just wasn’t appealing, either.  Frankly, it seemed a little generic, too.

Okay, so it’s a trippy name, I admit.  Maybe it’s my degree in writing poetry shining through, ultimately.  I blame Mary Kinzie.

So, a couple things happened upon my return from Alaska:  1) A war with Iraq had triggered a recession; and 2) My phone started ringing with other opportunities.  I couldn’t do much about the recession, and marketing dollars were being cut in outdoor stores everywhere.  And, the opportunities were good:  Michael Crooke called about working as a rep for Moonstone; Karen T’Kint wanted to know if I might consider repping Five Ten; Dion Goldsworthy was looking to revitalize Gregory, and he needed a rep, also; Roody Rasmussen convinced Steve Hudson at PMI/Petzl that he needed a midwest rep… And so it happened that way, and Pemba Serves became a sales agency.

We’ve been lucky over the years to work with a lot of great companies and people.  Truly, we’ve worked with legends, and legends have worked with us.  We’ve been very lucky, in general.  We’re thankful for every relationship, including those on our team, our vendors past and present, and – as always – for our customers, too.  

Things have changed quite a bit in the repping world in the last seventeen years.  Along with many others these days, we see a future where reps in the outdoor industry work more like business consultants than anything else.  And so in this way maybe things have come full circle, and we’re back to the original vision of who we were going to be.  We’ll see. 

So, today, thanks to everybody who has helped to bring us another birthday.  (In other words, thank YOU!)  It’s a privilege to work with you all.

2 responses to “They Say It’s Your Birthday

  1. avatar canoelover

    Thank you to you and your team…you are a wonderful group of people. And effective too…a rare thing it today’s world.

    Funny thing is I have more contact with Pemba (which which we do a very small amount of business) than I do with some reps who are collecting fairly massive commission checks from lines we carry without bothering to show up occasionally and pretending to care. In my world, taking something that you didn’t earn is called stealing.

    At the same time we have hard-working folks like MK who are busting it. Drives me nuts.

    To quote Alanis, “Isn’t it ironic?”

  2. avatar Brad Werntz

    Thanks Darren,

    That’s really kind of you. It’s very, very kind. We try hard, really we do. We’re glad you’ve noticed.

    We love the ‘Baga, everyone there, and it’s leadership in particular.

    We too notice MK, and know that her ship will come in with a hold full of gold. We’re sure of it.

    I’m heading back to Madison tomorrow. I busted my foot, but sometime soon I want to get out and paddle a surfboard. Can we arrange that?

    Take care,
    Brad