Preston Powell '01, Young Alumni Award

Preston Powell shares his journey from Appalachian to working in China and becoming a successful entrepreneur. Powell received Appalachian's 2014 Young Alumni award.

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Transcript

Voice one: Fire in the hole!

Voice two: Warning the events in the following video were performed and supervised by professionals. Please don’t try this at home.

Preston Powell '01: I grew up in Summerfield, NC although spent some formative years in North West Mississippi and then came to Appalachian by chance almost. I actually was a big fan of their education program and teaching. At the time, I had hopes and dreams of playing a little bit of football and maybe being a history teacher and high school football coach.

PP: I got into the business major, took an intro to business class and was really lucky to get Dr. Jerry Fox as the professor in that class. The picture he painted of business and what all the possibilities that there were, really got me hooked. So, over the next couple semesters I started transitioning out of my history courses and things of that nature and into some business classes and really never looked back after that.

PP: I went on the Scandinavian trip with Dr. Barry Eldridge, at the time, an economics professor and that kind of got me hooked on “Wow, there’s another world outside of North Carolina.”

PP: I was aware of the Holland Fellows Program. I knew it was the crème de la crème of the College of Business. I didn't think I was a candidate for it, but Dr. Peacock, who was the Dean of the College of Business at the time, said “Well you know, throw your hat in a ring and see what happens.” I made it to the interview stage and was fortunate enough to be probably the last entry into the program of that year. It was just a phenomenal experience just to see what was out there and then notice, “Okay, now I want to go plant my flag and see what happens.”

PP: When you make the decision to go into business for yourself and you say, “I’m going to be my own boss,” for like a day in a half you’re the happiest person on the planet and then the realization sets in that the 9-5 job I was leaving was now becoming a full-time, weekend, holiday, all night situation, but it’s one that I’ve really enjoyed.

PP: The MOAM Group in it’s five years has changed in a lot of ways. My business partner, who’s also a Holland Fellows grad and Walker College of Business grad, Adam Scherer. We started out as an agency firm that would work with retailers on their private label products and then find the right factory and then kind of manage that whole point. In the last couple of years we’ve seen increased energy costs for transportation. We’ve seen increased lead times. So, you put all of that together combined with a lot of the buyers here in the United States that don't like waiting 90 days to get their product from China.

PP: I started seeing, from being here back in the United States, “Hey, look there might be an opportunity for this to be done here.” Somehow, we were able to find a spot in West Tennessee, in a little spot called Alamo, Tennessee. Believe it or not, it was one of the last places in the United States that did cut and sew manufacturing for garments, which is a really highly skilled worker. In January of this year we did a soft opening for a new manufacturing facility here in the United States called Alamo Pride.

PP: It’s strange in a way because we were guys that were moving manufacturing from the United States to China and now we are moving a lot of that back, but we feel like we are at the beginning of a new wave of re-shoring of product made here in America. So, it’s something we’re really excited about.

PP: Consumer tastes and trends change very quickly. We’ve been very fortunate to hit ahead of a lot of those trends. Two years ago we noticed a need in the market for survival or prepper gear. Yukon Outfitters was born.

Voice three: Fire in the hole.

PP: So, Yukon Outfitters was born when my business partner and I took a fly fishing trip out to the Yukon territory. We picked up a product at the little outrigger airport tackle shop. The product actually failed us and we were in an environment that was incredibly hostile, if you didn’t have the right products. Both being outdoorsmen, Adam’s a former Eagle Scout and myself growing up in the woods, we said, “We’ve got all of these resources. With factories and our knowledge base of product we can build a better line of product.”

PP: We just kind of went from there and started with a set of hiking poles, parachute hammock, hiking and camping gear, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and what we call expedition gear. Which are our go bags, duffels, two and three day packs, as well as a line of expeditionary dry bags. Then last Fall, we opened up a section of the brand called Yukon Tactical. Range bags, pistol cases, gun cases, range scabbards and scope rifle scabbards. Finishing that area is a bespoke line of hard cases.

PP: My Appalachian degree has meant several things for me. I see profoundly that my life has been affected in a positive manner. It has catapulted my career by being a part of the Holland Fellows Program.

PP: I had Ken Peacock, as a professor. I knew him when he was the Dean of the College of Business...had he not talked to me and mentioned, “There’s a way you could go to China. I know it’s expensive,” he said, but he convinced me to sell my car to go, which I did my senior year. Looking back, I would have sold it one hundred times over again because had I not had that opportunity to go out there and see what was available, I’d be no where near where I am today.

PP: When I first got the call from Ken Peacock that I was being awarded as this year’s young alumni, I wasn't sure if I was being Punk’d. Ken can be bit of a jokester.

PP: I think there’s a lot of responsibility with this award because I feel like we are just getting started and the latest chapter being that we’ve got a lot to do with bringing jobs back here to the United States. Putting people back to work and empowering folks to know that goods made here in America is the way to go and it’s something that’s going to be important both at the consumer level and the retail level.

PP: I feel like my work is not even beginning to be finished. Now with this award, which I am tremendously thankful for, we’ll have a few more eyes watching our projects. That’s enough of an incentive to make sure that we deliver on all of our endeavors.