They no doubt feel the benefit of ski jackets bearing the XTM logo but it’s a fair bet that many of the homeless recipients of these jackets, sleeping rough on our city streets, would not know of Pete Forras. But the former Olympic athlete doesn’t care about remaining anonymous.
As winter makes itself felt across the country, those lucky enough to receive a jacket are benefitting from “Heat the Homeless” a program initiated by XTM in conjunction with its retail partner outlets which encourages people to donate a second hand ski jacket.
So, while Peter Forras enjoys the market share achieved by the XTM range of ski garments, he says one of the benefits of being a successful entrepreneur is “being able to give something back to society and ultimately leave a better company” than the one he co-founded.
With a history of nearly twenty years, XTM’s popularity as a brand can be seen among those taking to Australia’s slopes this winter. Next February athletes from three countries at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea will wear the garments, which are designed on Victoria’s surf coast.
The company that is XTM had its beginnings after Peter represented Australia at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics in the men’s downhill.
He started skiing at Mt Buller after his father, having migrated from Hungary, bought the first hotel on the mountain.
As a youngster seeing a photo of the Olympic team, Peter was inspired to compete as a skier and from the age of 15 he moved between Australia and the slopes of the northern hemisphere to train and compete, operating largely on his own.
He describes his skiing career as encompassing everything “from exhilaration to extreme disappointment”, the latter emotion most evident following a bad crash before the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.
But, having achieved his goal of making the Olympic team he realised the need to re-set his goals after 1988, a decision which saw him begin to help some friends in their company selling headbands for skiers. It kept him in the sport and enabled him to capitalise on a good global network.
“It was six successful years, uninterrupted by any competition, until the market dried up and we got ourselves in a hole,” Mr Forras said.
Harbouring a long term aspiration to supply garments to the Australian Olympic team, he and his partners started XTM with a modest range of gloves.
The big change came when the company expanded its product range to include garments.
Securing a licence to use Gore-Tex fabric not only helped foster new products for XTM but it was also a catalyst for the company to realise the importance of moving to a higher echelon with the brand.
“We had to ensure that athletes were happy with the product first before we approached retailers,” Mr Forras said.
XTM’s growth was helped by a “floundering” competitor in the domestic market and also that it had fostered a favourable reputation with representatives in the ski garment sector
Peter Forras stresses the importance of having a clear vision of what a business is about.
He acknowledges he has learned some lessons along the way from failures. Of these the most important is to “know your maths, regarding cash flow.”
Now a strong player in a small domestic market for snow and outdoor wear –where there are only some seven ski resorts compared with several thousand elsewhere-XTM’s initial endeavours to sell locally designed garment lines internationally met some headwinds.
Among the lessons learned from expanding into export, Peter Forras says “we learned not to run into the first opportunity, to do due diligence and to have a clear cut business arrangement.”
Operating from a converted residence at Jan Juc on Victoria’s surf coast, XTM’s headquarters might at first sight seem at odds with its target market but Peter Forras explains that skiers and surfers enjoy a similar lifestyle.
“Importantly we learned a lot about distribution and marketing from the founders of Rip Curl who were trail blazers in a global industry and whom we count as mentors.”
Over time XTM has assembled a great team of nearly 30 staff says Mr Forras.
They share in the corporate vision to support campaigns for social justice and environmental issues. In the past eight years this has seen XTM offset its total carbon footprint and initiate “Heat the Homeless” which relies on the support of some 25 retailers of XTM garments in Australia.