Happy Birthday, PEMBA!

Today is our twenty-first birthday here at PEMBA. We’re now officially old enough to drink.

Think on that.

It’s been a long time since I stared at the ceiling of our base camp tent in Alaska as the snow buried it from outside, sketching out the idea that would become PEMBAserves. Those years, I  spent four to six weeks every summer climbing, and for several consecutive summers we went to Alaska to go up anything and everything that was in condition. It was a good life.

In those days, I worked part-time at Erehwon in Chicago and Madison, and supplemented that income as a free-lancer for Outside Magazine, Climbing, Rock&Ice, and a number of other publications. For Erehwon, I ran their newsletter and their marketing out-reach projects. I originally thought that PEMBA would do this same thing for different stores across the country, but then the phone rang.

It was Karen Peil from Five Ten (who is now Karen T’Kint at Prana), and she was looking for a rep and my name kept coming up. She introduced me to a young sales manager at Moonstone named Michael Crooke, who introduced me to Dion Goldsworthy at Gregory. After my first trip to the Outdoor Retailer show in Reno, I became one of the first Petzl reps in the United States.  Just like that, PEMBA became a rep agency instead of a marketing consulting agency.

But we’ve never strayed too far from the roots that I put down in my Alaska journal. Not just purely a sales agency, we take pride in taking a holistic approach to sales where it’s not just about the product, or even the brand, but also about the idea that we can change the lives of individuals and businesses for the better.

About the name: Pemba was a yak-herder on an Everest expedition I was on in 2008. Cowboys on Everest went in to the north side of Everest through Tibet, and yaks carried our equipment seventeen miles from base camp to advanced base camp on the East Rongbuk glacier. Tibet was and is under extreme pressure from the Chinese, and the Tibetans are losing their cultural identity. Pemba stuck to the old ways. He was kind and very gracious, honest, and exuded integrity. He seemed a natural choice to name a business after. It seemed to me that what we do as reps was literally anything and everything needed to get the job done, so rather than a list of services we provided I decided that we would simply “serve.” We’re only as good or as bad as the last thing we have done, so the commitment to serve is ongoing, too.

So now we’re PEMBAserves.

Business has changed radically in the twenty-one years we’ve been in business. There was no internet when we started. It was cutting edge to have a fax machine then, and now having and using a fax machine is somewhat quaint. There were no major chains; REI had only one location in our territory, and less than ten locations anywhere. Retail was very different, and specialty retail was even more different, still. What we did then as reps and retailers and manufacturers was somewhat the same – as my eldest daughter described my job: “He travels places and sells stuff” – and it was also very, very different.

The why and the how of this, we’ll get into at another time. The Outdoor Industry is literally at a cross-roads, with tremendous opportunities down one path, and huge threats down the other. But we’ll talk about that, later.

Today? Today we’re going to go for a long bike ride, or perhaps a snorkeling or bouldering session, or maybe just take out a long-board and ride.

It’s either that or get a new ID and wander off in search of jello shots, and maybe get a new tattoo.

Could go either way, actually.

Happy Birthday, PEMBA. Thanks for everything, and thanks to all of you, too.

One response to “Happy Birthday, PEMBA!

  1. Congrats to PEMBA! Long may you run to quote a fellow Canuck on the occasion of your birthday and our national day.