Browning apparel guru gears up for retirement

Browning apparel guru gears up for retirement

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What started as a part-time job for local resident Mark Francis led to a 45-year career with many unimaginable experiences.  Francis found a job as a part-time “go-fer” for Browning when he needed to buy books while attending Weber State.
He earned the money he needed to buy the books by doing odds and ends for the hunting company, including occasionally chauffeuring John Val Browning.  His duties changed over the years, but his hard work and innovative spirit earned him a lifetime spot in the company.
Working his way through the company, Francis moved from “go-fer” to accounting, followed by customer service and sales before landing in the product department.  He worked as a product manager over gun cases, knives and camping gear before finding his home in apparel, which has been his favorite.
Francis has been away from knife development for two decades, yet several of the knives he introduced were only recently retired, giving credit to his quality of work. While he has left an impression in all of the products he has worked with, he will be most remembered for his innovation in hunting clothing.
In 1993, Francis revolutionized the hunting apparel industry as he worked until he found the right balance of fabric and design to create Hydro-Fleece.  Prior to this development, hunters had to choose between being quiet or dry. Francis had a vision and searched Asia for the right combination of fabric and lamination.  After the initial introduction, Francis continued to improve Hydro-Fleece.
“Hydro-Fleece really put Browning clothing on the map,” Francis explained.  While Browning was already established in the gun market, this helped the company breakout as a leader in the hunting apparel market. Now the clothing line can really claim to be “The Best There Is.”
“It became one of our biggest success stories,” Francis added.
This improvement didn’t only change Browning’s clothing line, but the whole industry as Francis set the standard.  Another favorite apparel line of Francis’ is the Hell’s Canyon line, which combines a cool logo with outstanding performance wear.
Even as he is wrapping up his career, he isn’t slowing down his innovations.  Once again, pioneering an untapped area of clothing, Francis is introducing his Speed program.  This new line is exciting in that it combines special fabrics that fit tight yet stretch in four directions and move with the hunter.
The new Speed line of clothing is geared to the athletic hunter.   This segment of the hunting market has previously been lumped together with different types of outdoor gear, yet consists of 20-25 percent of the market.
These revolutions haven’t come easy or by chance.  Francis has been committed to finding the best products and then thoroughly testing them—from wearing full Gore Tex gear in the shower, to running around his home looking for bad weather.  He recalls sleeping in his backyard in all kinds of weather to get extra first-hand experience testing the sleeping bags, coats and other items to ensure they were “The Best There Is.”
Even though Francis has been incredibly talented in the apparel industry, it was almost a fluke that he got the job in the first place.  In the late 80s it became apparent to the hunting company that they would need to move manufacturing to Asia in order to stay competitive.
The product manager at that time hated even short flights, and knew he didn’t want to take the 14-hour each way flight to visit the Far East.  Francis explained that he was naïve and didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he said he would love to take on the vacant position.
His willingness to take the long flight has led him around the world over 100 times.  He most often works with companies in Asia. However, he has also traveled to Central America, Africa and Europe.  “The opportunity to travel the world has been great,” he admits.
While he enjoys seeing exciting places.  He also enjoys visiting the poorer areas because it helps him appreciate what he has even more.  Without Browning, Francis knows he would never have been able to have these experiences. “How would I have ever done that otherwise?” the clothing expert said.  It was “something I never dreamed of doing.”
While he enjoyed the adventure of seeing the world and finding the next best thing, the hardest part of Francis’s job was being away from family.
Even with modern technologies such as internet and cell phones, the distance can be hard.  But in those early days it was extremely lonesome.  With phone call charges at $10 per minute, he only made a call every five to six days.  More often he opted to send a fax to the office and have a coworker take it home to his family.
“My wife had to step up,” Francis said gratefully.  He knows his wife, Lana, supported the family while he was away for weeks up to a month at a time.  An avid journal keeper, Francis has found that his thoughts were continually of home.
Francis is ready to retire and spend such much-deserved time with his family, which now includes 13 grandkids.  “I look forward to spending more time with them than I have been able to in the past,” Francis said eagerly.  No other definite plans are made past spending time with his family and fishing, but he is sure that he will find something to do.  “I’ve got to stay busy or I will go crazy,” Francis added.
“I’ve enjoyed my work and that is why I’ve worked so long,” he says.  “It’s been a difficult decision to move on.”

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