A Denver backpack designer is trekking into uncharted territory.
In the past few months, pack company MHM Gear has established an urban-targeted brand, Coalition, opened a brick-and-mortar store and expanded its sales into Europe.
“Opening the store was a no-brainer for us,” MHM co-founder Casey Lorenzen said. “We’ve been spending money on office space and warehouse space this whole time. We needed to downsize our space, found this spot on Tennyson and it all seemed to fit.”
The company opened its first store on Tennyson Street and 43rd Avenue last Friday.
“We live in this neighborhood,” Lorenzen said. “It’s crazy to see how it’s expanding, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”
The new location has 800 square feet of retail space and another 800 square feet dedicated to company operations, including an office, design room, photo studio and storage space.
Previously, MHM packs had only been available through other retailers and on the company’s website.
It cost MHM about $4,000 to relocate its operation from the old location in RiNo.
“We just had to install cosmetic stuff like fixtures and painting,” Lorenzen said. “It wasn’t like starting a retail operation from the ground up; all of our product was stuff we already had.”
Lorenzen and his business partners, Jeff Popp and Michelle Hodulik, also recently established Coalition, a new backpack brand. While MHM is a technical brand targeting backpackers and backcountry skiers, Coalition is geared toward businesspeople, commuters and photographers.
“We always knew we wanted to do urban packs,” Lorenzen said. “MHM had one urban pack, the Colfax, that was popular.”
The idea was sparked while Lorenzen and Popp were on a business trip in Japan.
“We were on a train and noticed that every person on the train had a bag or backpack and a mobile device,” he said. “It just dawned on us that having the technology integrated into the backpack was useful for everyone.”
The Colfax Smart Pack comes with hard drives with wireless connectivity, external rechargeable batteries and Wi-Fi accessibility.
“As far as we know, this is the only backpack that offers the charger and hard drive as well,” Lorenzen said.
Packs start at $339.
The new line of packs was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign that Lorenzen and Popp ran last September.
“We met 300 percent of our goal,” Lorenzen said. “Our original goal was $15,000, and we raised over $50,000.”
The campaign’s success was fueled in part by support from outside the U.S.
“Kickstarter has opened up to international support in the last few years,” he said. “A good half of our support came from overseas.”
Distribution of the packs will begin in the U.S. and may expand to other markets.
“Our focus is going to be mostly direct sales and through the website,” Lorenzen said. “We’ll play with the notion of adding retailers, but we’ll be a lot more selective with Coalition than MHM.”
Lorenzen, 32, said the company is in the process of redesigning the website, which will include a design-your-own feature.
MHM is also expanding its sales territory into Europe. The company has been in talks with a European distributor over the last year, and has begun shipping products across the Atlantic over the last two weeks.
Lorenzen said MHM will include Coalition bags in its European sales.
And the company has big plans for 2015, as well.
“Right now, we’re in the process of developing a smaller pack,” he said. “We’re also developing a travel-specific pack for later in 2015 or early 2016. It’ll be a little bigger and it’s catered to commuter travel.”
The company will also be adding bigger packs to the MHM line.
“It’ll be a lighter-weight backpacking pack,” Lorenzen said. “We’re developing some other smaller stuff that will be more focused on our Asian and European customers. Depending on the reception of that, we might make that available to the U.S. as well.”
Lorenzen started MHM with Popp, 28, about six years ago. The duo hired designer Hodulik, 25, to join their operation in November of 2014.
“All three of us are involved in every aspect of the business,” Lorenzen said.