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Mow, William - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: William Mow, Social and Economic Impact

bugle boy company sales

(1936-)
Bugle Boy Industries

Overview

William Mow rose through amazing adversity, including being forced to resign from a company he owned because he was falsely accused of hiding financial information, to found the highly successful Bugle Boy Industries. Though Mow knew nothing about the clothing business when he began the company, effective advertising and networking, along with a good understanding of his target market, helped make Bugle Boy clothing a high demand item in the United States and around the world.

Personal Life

William Mow, or Mow Chao Wei, was born in Hangchow, China in 1936. His father worked at the United Nations in New York as an official of the Nationalist Chinese regime. When William was 13, his parents fled the Communist takeover of their country on “the last Pan Am flight out of Shanghai.” Once they moved to the United States, the family adopted Western names, and Mow Chao Wei became William Mow. He grew up in Great Neck, New York, where his parents owned a restaurant.

William Mow’s family valued education. Of his parents’ four sons, three earned a Ph.D. After attending a boarding school, Mow worked his way through an extremely challenging course of study in electrical engineering at the highly respected Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of New York. From 1963 to 1965, he also worked for Honeywell, Inc. He earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Purdue University in Indiana in 1967.

Mow married twice and fathered two children, one from each marriage. By 1997 several members of his family held high positions at Bugle Boy, including his wife Rosa (who supervised operations), two daughters (heading up marketing and creative arts), and two nephews. But Mow insisted that any relatives working for him either earn their pay or find other work.

Career Details

Mow’s first experience with entrepreneurship came from the Yangtse River Cafe, his family’s restaurant in Great Neck, New York. Every Sunday when he returned to boarding school as a teen, he would bring with him 20 egg rolls, which he sold for a quarter apiece at the school snack bar. “There was always a line of boys waiting to buy them,” he recalled.

After earning his Ph.D., Mow spent the years from 1967 to 1969 working for Litton Industries as a program manager before forming his first business in 1969, a computer-controlled instrumentation firm called Macrodata. Macrodata designed new ways to test large scale integrated computer chips. By 1974, Macrodata had annual sales of $12 million. In the mid–1970s, Mow sold Macro-data to Cutler-Hammer, a conglomerate located in Milwaukee. He remained on as chairman and CEO but had to resign after the new owners accused him of concealing $2 million worth of losses. He would later remember the years 1976 until 1981 as a “nightmare.” Mow had gone into the relationship with Cutler-Hammer thinking they would provide him with management backing while he focused on technology; instead, due to accusations that he had manipulated the financial records, he found himself forced to leave the company he had founded. Later, in 1988, a California court cleared Mow of any accusations and found that Culter-Hammer had actually been responsible for concealing the sales loss. The entire incident took a toll on Mow’s personal life — his first marriage ended during that period.

After Mow resigned from Macrodata, he felt the need to take immediate action to clear his name and to pay for the legal fees he had incurred. In 1976 he acted on the advice of some golfing friends and began exploring wholesale and retail clothing sales. He also met his future partner, Vincent Nesi, who worked in a boutique jeans store. Mow started Buckaroo International Inc., a boutique store, in 1977 and hired Nesi as merchandise manager. Success was far from immediate, as Mow had a lot to learn about the apparel business. In Notable Asian Americans he said, “I got myself a ‘school-of-hardknocks’ Ph.D. in understanding every step in composing a garment.”

In September 1980, Mow redirected his clothing company. He renamed the company Bugle Boy Industries (chosen because of his interest in the Civil War and the men who played bugles alongside battles) and asked his merchandise manager, Vincent Nesi, to step up to the position of president of sales and merchandise. Mow and Nesi narrowed their focus to jeans and casual pants. The two men operated as partners; Mow worked out of his Simi Valley, California company headquarters (headquarters for administration, operations, advertising, and distribution) and Nesi worked in the garment district of New York (the location of merchandising, product design, and sales). Because the company was private — and Mow had declared it would remain so because the Macrodata fiasco showed him what could happen if he lost control of his business — Mow and Nesi in 1994 remained the only Bugle Boy shareholders. The company opened stores in Canada in 1988, and spread to various locations in the Pacific Rim, Latin America, and Europe.

Chronology: William Mow

1936: Born.

1949: Fled China with family and settled in New York.

1967: Earned Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Purdue University.

1969: Founded Macrodata.

1976: Forced to resign from Macrodata based on accusations of concealing sales losses.

1977: Founded Buckaroo International, Inc.

1980: Reorganized Buckaroo International into Bugle Boy Industries.

1988: Legally cleared of accusations of concealing Macrodata financial data.

1990: Expanded clothing line to include men, women, and children.

1996: Moved Hong Kong offices into China.

William Mow’s company was built on the “parachute pants” fad of the early 1980s, and appealed mainly to young males. When that fad died out, Bugle Boy began the practice of constantly introducing changes in style and color. The company responded rapidly to changes in the market with a quick manufacturing turnaround process and the use of overseas manufacturers. By 1991, Bugle Boy had broadened its strategy to appeal to young women, adults, and children.

After facing numerous challenges, Bugle Boy’s sales skyrocketed in 1980. From less than $10 million in sales during the early part of the decade, receipts jumped to almost $190 million in 1987, and by 1990 they had passed $500 million. Because of the company’s private status, Mow was under no obligation to provide financial specifics, but Bugle Boy clearly was continuing to grow throughout the late 1990s. According to Mow, “We’ll be doing $1 billion by 2001.”

In 1996 Mow made an aggressive move and relocated the company’s Hong Kong office into a special economic zone in China. Mow made it clear that he wanted to capture the Chinese market and set a goal of establishing 1,000 retail outlets in China. His rationale was, “If one can get China, you can forget everything else.” Regardless, capitalist entrepreneurs in China faced a variety of government obstacles and red tape. Mow’s move was successful in terms of moving production to China —he claimed that it saved the company $7 million a year because production and operating costs were cheaper there. However, in 1997 he still had not made the leap to selling Bugle Boy clothing in China, citing too great a risk until China operated by the same rules as the rest of the countries in the World Trade Organization.

Social and Economic Impact

Due in part to targeted and effective advertising, the Bugle Boy name came to be widely recognized. Mow and Nesi achieved success by focusing their strategy in a simple way—by consistently delivering products to stores every month. Bugle Boy’s initial timing was particularly good, since the designer jean fad was phasing out and teenagers were looking for alternatives in jeans design. Bugle Boy provided that alternative with its popular cargo pants and parachute pants.

Part of Bugle Boy’s success was due to Mow’s ability to react quickly to changes in the market and still come forward for customers and retailers. When the recession hit the clothing industry in 1990, Mow acted quickly and expanded the clothing line to include customers other than teenage boys. Using his engineering expertise, Mow installed high power computer systems to track slow as well as popular inventory, and to speed communications with those all along the production process in foreign countries. Bugle Boy also opened up discount mall outlet stores to better reach potential customers. These stores provided 50 percent of company revenue in 1997.

In 1997 Bugle Boy had annual sales of $500 million and had a one year sales growth of 5.2 percent. The company employed 2,200 people in all, including 400 people in California, which—according to Mow—represented a increase in Bugle Boy employment (in California) of 75 percent between 1994-1997. The expanded employment represented sales, management, and design positions; functions that Bugle Boy continued to carry out in America. By 1997 Bugle Boy products were sold in more than 7,000 retail stores, as well as in Bugle Boy’s own discount outlets.

Bugle Boy continued to make use of foreign production resources. In 1997, the company sent out 15 million units of clothing per year to Mexico for manufacturing. Bugle Boy garments produced in Mexico increased by five times between 1994-1997, which Mow claimed was due to new business. Bugle Boy retail markets continued to expand in the late 1990s. By 1998, Bugle Boy was expanding into new markets in China and opening stores there.

Though Bugle Boy nearly went bankrupt several times when the fickle demand for teenage fads collapsed, Mow gained a reputation as a business leader to bank on. He credited his ability to deal with risk to his childhood in a family where they all had to work hard for their achievements. His flexibility also allowed him to weather the ups and downs of the apparel industry. At the right price, he once said, you can sell anything.

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