Hyperlite Mountain Gear Raises Bar for American Manufacturing

JoAnn Proulx, one of the company’s most experienced
stitchers, talks business with John Schafer.
May 2015: Maine-based outdoor gear manufacturer Hyperlite Mountain Gear hires John Schafer as full-time Director of Operations. Schafer has 40 years experience managing a diverse array of manufacturing facilities, including abrasive products, forgings, castings, and bleachers, among others.

“John is way out of our league,” says President Mike St. Pierre, “But he loves our company and was willing to forgo retirement to work for us. We couldn’t be more thrilled; he will help take us to the next level in American manufacturing.”

“I believe in the power of ‘Made in the USA,’” Schafer says. “And Hyperlite Mountain Gear epitomizes manufacturing done right in the United States. In my opinion, no one in our industry has a quality product comparable to ours.”

Since starting part time January 2015, Schafer has worked toward establishing a “culture of continuous improvement.” He has implemented “cellular manufacturing,” which includes defined workstations that process products in the most efficient manner possible. The nature of cellular stations is quality control resulting from strong “customer-supplier” relationships.

“The key to what distinguishes us from the rest is our approach to how we manage quality all the way from the supplier base to how the product is shipped,” Schafer explains. The cutting department ensures the Cuben Fiber they receives meets or exceeds the company’s expectations for the quality of that product. Similarly, when Cuben Fiber leaves the cutting department and goes to its “customer”—the first sewing station—the cutters have to make sure they cut things perfectly.

“From our raw material suppliers to our final end user, we tightly manage that whole chain of customer-supplier relationships,” Schafer adds. “No one on this floor will ever walk by a discrepancy. We have empowered our people with the responsibility to stop an operation whenever they detect a quality issue.”

Hyperlite Mountain Gear operates in a 180-year-old textile mill in Biddeford, Main
According to Mike St. Pierre, Schafer’s work has already made a huge difference. “We’ve seen incredible gains in efficiency on the floor, including increased product supplies. Now we have a steady source of product ready in stock, and things just run more smoothly. This allows me to focus on developing and launching new products.” And, he adds, it makes Hyperlite Mountain Gear more competitive and flexible

“We don’t want to cut costs by using cheaper labor in China or by buying inexpensive materials abroad,” says St. Pierre. “We want to save money by running a more efficient company. John is helping us do that.” Hyperlite Mountain Gear already sources all materials in the United States except plastic hardware.

“Plus, we want to offer the highest quality product possible,” St. Pierre explains. “Hiring people in Maine means we can both support the local economy and ensure our products are excellent. If something isn’t working, we have the flexibility to make immediate changes. There’s no way we could do that if we outsourced.”

And it’s this outlook that resonates with Schafer. “We have everything here going for us—the best workforce, the best product and the most cutting-edge product development for our industry. Why wouldn’t I want to work here?”

For more information, please contact Lizzy Scully at 303-903-2768 or lizzy at hyperlitemountaingear dot com. Learn more about John Schafer on the Hyperlite Mountain Gear blog.

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