Century-old B.C. company’s business is in safe hands

Martin Moore, president and CEO, Watson Gloves | Chung Chow

The 100-year milestone is one not many businesses manage to crack. So when a company hits the century mark, it’s worth considering just how rare the achievement is.

“A third generation is pretty unique,” said Martin Moore, president and CEO of Watson Gloves, which turns 100 this year. “Being in business for 100 years, edging toward a 20% growth rate this year, I am just so proud of all our staff and team.”

The secret of the company’s longevity isn’t that complicated, Moore said. “You surround yourself with great people and great customers and provide great quality, innovative product, and you are going to win.”

Moore’s family has been expanding the B.C.-born brand for a century, starting from a small storefront at Main Street and 2nd Avenue in 1918. But the company may have never become what it is today if Dinty Moore, Martin Moore’s grandfather, hadn’t moved to the city from Comox to work for a U.S. man with an idea.

“A gentleman named John Watson came up from Oregon a century ago. When he looked around Vancouver and he saw all around False Creek were sawmills and dockworkers, he realized the need for quality work gloves … so Watson Gloves was born.”

After starting the company, Watson and Dinty Moore worked together for nearly 15 years.

The story goes that Watson fell into some financial trouble and couldn’t make payroll. To keep the dream alive, Dinty Moore exchanged money for shares of the company. After Watson’s death, Dinty Moore purchased the remainder of the company’s shares and became president.

From there, things proceeded in typical family-business fashion. Dinty Moore hired his son, Barrie Moore, to make deliveries to dockworkers. Barrie Moore’s work consisted mainly of shuttling between Granville Island and the sawmills in False Creek, but it wasn’t long before he began climbing up the ranks.

“My father started in sales in 1957,” Martin Moore said. “He was one of the first guys to go to mainland China in ’72 and start importing products. From then on … we were sourcing from all over the world, especially China, as opposed to just our factory-made product.”

In 1970, Barrie Moore began branding each glove with a unique name and identity. The “1007 Duster” was one of the first. Another glove dubbed the “Hand Job” would later appear on the Jay Leno show.

Martin Moore started on the lowest rung at the company. He and his sisters, Michele and Brenda, began tagging gloves in their living room before taking up their first positions.

“I started in February of ’86 after getting a degree at SFU [Simon Fraser University]. My dad made me start right at the bottom in shipping,” Martin Moore said. “Then delivery, and then junior sales, then purchasing around 1990. I really loved that side of the business, the purchasing side.”

He took the reins as president in 1997. Since then, he has helped Watson Gloves expand to three facilities across Canada and take the brand international.

The 40,000-square-foot headquarters are in Burnaby, along with another 18,000-square-foot building across the street that houses accounting, marketing and inventory. The other two locations are in Calgary and Mississauga. The company employs 145 people coast to coast.

Moore became company president at a time when the market was changing quickly. He knew he needed to adopt new methods to keep Watson’s products attractive.

“We sell gloves.… It’s not that sexy,” he said. “You better market it or do something different or else you are going to be buried.”

Moore invested a lot of time in developing a strong marketing team and keeping up with the latest changes. The company’s most recent innovation, for instance, is a glove designed for the oil industry that has absorbent material to protect the backs of hands from dangerous substances.

“We go to all the shows. We have two dedicated people for research and development, design and materials. You only have to go to a Nike [NYSE:NKE]or Adidas store to see how runners and footwear have changed incredibly over the years, and we are continually looking for new materials and new designs.”

Although the brand has diversified and has secured a position among some of Canada’s most notable retailers, global economic events impose significant hurdles for the industry.

“[With] the recent crash in the oil infrastructure, construction business and the price of oil,… keeping the factory going is always a challenge; the coming NAFTA [North American  Free Trade Agreement] talk with forestry – that’s a concern. Another big challenge is we trade in the U.S. dollar and the fluctuation of the Canadian dollar to the U.S. dollar over the last six years, that can be quite hindering.”

Nevertheless, Moore is confident the company’s longevity in the market has made it resilient to whatever the world throws its way. Over the next few years, Watson Gloves plans on expanding its reach in the Maritime and Quebec regions, building its clientele in the U.S. and branching into more safety products.

In two years, Moore will step down as president, so grooming his predecessor will be a consuming task for the months to come. However, so will be learning to slow down.

“It’s been 30-some years of this; sometimes I wonder if there is a life outside work. I like to ski, I like to do yoga, and once I step back I do want to take some courses and travel.”

Moore has three children and lives in North Vancouver with his wife of 21 years. •


Inside Information: Martin Moore

Currently reading:
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Advice you would give the younger you:
Surround yourself with positive, capable people

Favourite recent movie:
The Post

Place in the world you would like to visit but never have:
Maldives islands

Famous person you would like to meet but have not (living or dead):
Jack Nicholson