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CRUSHING AMAZON IMPROVE YOUR BOTTOM LINE WITH—OR WITHOUT— THE WORLD’S LARGEST RETAILER
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IS DIVERSITY TOO EXPENSIVE?
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More than 300 companies have joined the movement*. The collaborative effort to eradicate single-use plastic from the outdoor industry continues to gain steam.
M I D W E S T
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*EarlyBird has been working with TGR and Protect Our Winters since 2009.
contents / features
amazon survival guide
25 essentials for success on (and off) the online powerhouse. Plus: Amazon myths busted and one retailer’s secrets to winning the digital channel. BY K R A IG B ECK E R, K E LLY BASTON E & S HAW NTÉ S AL AB E RT
Same old, same old
Is the industry’s reliance on the usual sources of sales data stifling innovation? BY EV E LYN S P E N CE
lighting it up
Seungah Jeong champions growth and social good at the helm of MPOWERD. BY TRACY ROS S
The Challenges of Inclusivity
Gear affordability, LNT ethics, and other stumbling blocks on the road to a more diverse outdoor industry. BY C OR E Y B U H AY, JAM E S E DWAR D M I LLS & PATR I CI A CAM E RO N
E-bikes might just be the next sales juggernaut for outdoor retailers—even if they’ve never sold a bike. BY R IC K VOS P E R
contents / departments
1 5 I n d us t r y B u z z
31 Fresh Faces
38 The Voice 50
Could CBD light up your sales?
Meet a Native designer, snowboard ambassador, trail running guru, and documentary filmmaker.
See the coolest new gear of the season, ranked by radness.
1 8 N um e r o l o g y The geography of outdoor jobs
2 0 Y o u r Ne xt C u s t o m e r How to serve the plus-size market
2 1 Sh o p Ta l k Local retailers and brands cozy up.
24 Messaging Brands get into the documentary film biz.
25 In Brief Olympic sponsorships, the growing OREC network & #CoolShop Awards
34 Road Rules Go behind the scenes of a sales rep’s crazy day.
35 Un filtered
48 The N ext B i g T hi ngs We’ve seen the future of gear, and it’s full of tech-enabled equipment, plant-based insulation, garbage turned into fabric, and much more.
Sober is the new black.
58 Eco Fro nt
36 Nine to Five
The reuse economy comes to outdoor; the latest fronts in the war on plastic.
Sabbaticals bring big rewards to the lucky few.
37 Hom age Girl Scouts get after it, an Osprey repair specialist moonlights as a teepee designer, ski slopes green up, and Big Agnes comes to the rescue.
96 Art M eets G ear Ski a masterpiece.
2 6 T h r e e Ha r d Q u e s t i o n s Three pros talk earned media—why they want it and how to get it.
2 8 Fa c e O f f PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Are tariffs forcing outdoor brands out of China?
Q UA L I T Y M A D E B A S E L AY E R S FOR ALL OUTDOOR ENTHUSIASTS
EMBARK ON YOUR NE XT GR EAT ADVE NT URE
TRUSTED BY THE PROS
JOIN US AT THE OUTDOOR+SNOW SHOW BOOTH #44320-UL
SHARE YOUR ADVENTURES WITH US #TERRAMARSPORTS
F Rising to the Challenge If we’re not innovating, our days are numbered. In this issue, we tackle the whos, whats, wheres, whys and hows of keeping things fresh.
HOSTETTER, RIGHT, WITH PUBLISHER SHARON HOUGHTON
WE WON! Last October, The Voice nabbed a FOLIO: Eddie Award for Best B2B Launch magazine. Thank you to our loyal audience and supporters for inspiring us to create a publication that counts!
or 16 glorious days last summer, I disappeared to South America with my 17-year-old son, Joey. We’ve been doing a big annual trip together since 2017, and this year’s was a twopart epic. We started with the five-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. After a week of acclimatizing at 10,000 to 15,000 feet, we made our way to Bolivia for the real challenge: climbing 19,700-foot Huyana Potosi. (Spoiler: We topped out, a new high point for both of us.) Now, I love me a good dayhike or weekend camping trip. But those are like little snacks for my soul. These long, big-objective trips have become essential for me. I hoard my vacation days. I spend hours researching and planning. I force myself to adhere to a rigorous summer training regimen, so my strong boy doesn’t leave me in his trail dust. And I love all those components of the trip. But it’s not until I set my OOO, grab my passport, and unplug do the real benefits start to sink in. And it’s not just my need for mountain adventure. It’s only on these trips that I’m able to clear my mind, stop sweating the small stuff, and cease playing defense with my inbox. I return with dirt under my fingernails and a renewed sense of purpose, ready to find creative solutions to challenges both in work and in life. When we hit roadblocks at work, it’s often our instinct to buckle down and log more and more desk hours. But, sometimes, stepping away is what it actually takes to find big-picture solutions. We dive into the topic of sabbaticals on page 36. I’m lucky. I’ve been around long enough that I get plenty of vacation days, but neither my employer nor many others in the outdoor industry offer a formal sabbatical program—a perk that seems like such a no-brainer for an industry founded on adventure. There are tangible, proven reasons we should all be taking them: reduced stress, increased confidence, improved well-being. And companies that support these longer-than-average stints away from the office reap the benefits, too, with better staff retention and job satisfaction. Sabbaticals give employees the headspace to return and innovate.
And that’s what we all need to be doing. Our industry has seen monumental changes in the last decade, and we’ve had to adapt to new ways of doing business. One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced as an industry is navigating in the age of Amazon. In our cover package starting on page 61, we set out to highlight the innovators who’ve discovered creative ways to coexist with the mega-retailer that threatens to dominate our customer interactions and transactions. We also bust many of the common Amazonian myths, and profile a 37-year-old Washington shop, Mountain Gear. As an early adopter of Amazon, the store has uncovered some secrets to forging a peaceful coexistence. Amazon isn’t the only challenge we’re facing, of course. On page 90, we explore a huge opportunity for specialty outdoor retailers of all stripes: the e-bike market. And on page 75, we dive deep into what many specialty retailers perceive as a huge dilemma: a dearth of sales data that accurately reflect what’s happening in their brick-and-mortar specialty shops. There’s no doubt: Innovation has become more critical than ever. So, here’s to getting outside more in 2020, getting dirt under our fingernails more often, and remembering why we all got into this business in the first place.
Kristin Hostetter Editor-in-Chief
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Arvesen, assistant editor for The Voice and SNEWS, went above and beyond for this issue, writing about hyperlocal brand-shop partnerships (“Local Flavor,” p. 21), sabbaticals (“Out of Office,” p. 36), and a car wreck with a surprising twist (“Love Letter to Big Agnes,” p. 37). “I wanted to write about my truck crash to thank Big Agnes’s Bill Gamber and Garett Mariano for their kindness,” she says. “And I was excited to write the other two because they both spotlight something the industry should be doing more of.” The Boulder, Colorado-based editor’s work has also recently appeared in Via magazine.
“Amazon is a force to be reckoned with in the 21st century,” says Nashville, Tennessee-based Becker, who wrote “25 Ways to Win on Amazon,” p. 61. “It’s an ever-changing and shifting platform that requires constant monitoring to get the most out of it. Sellers can’t just rest on their laurels and think they have it figured out.” Becker co-hosts the weekly Adventure Podcast and has also recently contributed to Digital Trends, Gear Junkie, Business Insider, and The Adventure Blog. Last Amazon purchase 32GB memory upgrade for my new computer Next big project I’m working
Last Amazon purchase Rattletrap sound deadener tape for my van buildout New Year’s resolution Not to buy anything new for myself in 2020
Sameness,” p. 75, about the implications of the outdoor industry’s reliance on sales statistics. “Several people I spoke to said I might as well be writing a book. And while there’s no going back to the days before data became ubiquitous, there’s still room for people to question it— and gripe about it.” Find Spence’s recent work in Red Bulletin, Beyond, and REI’s Uncommon Path. Last Amazon purchase A purple mini bunny stuffy (don’t tell my daughter) Next big project This winter, you’ll find me Alpine skiing Whistler and skate skiing the Methow Valley.
Exploring the problem of gear affordability (“Priced Out of Participation,” p. 88) hit close to home for Cameron, a Boulder, Colorado, writer, who lived out of her Subaru Crosstrek during part of the writing process. “I took on this assignment because I’ve struggled tremendously with pricing in the outdoor industry, to the point where I’ve created a business to address the issues with economic inequalities in outdoor recreation,” she says. Her company, Blackpackers, leads subsidized outdoor trips for people of color who otherwise couldn’t afford them. Last Amazon purchase A 20-pound weighted blanket.
It’s amazing and has totally changed my sleep. Next big project Hiking the Colorado Trail this summer. I plan to have novice Blackpackers drop in and out along the way, and get sponsorship from several different Colorado companies.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY (6); MATT TRAPPE (JHUNG); ALLISON DONNELL (ARVESEN)
Evelyn Spence “Unsurprisingly, the topic of the data is really, really complicated,” says the Seattle-based freelancer who wrote “Escaping the Sea of
on two new books—one a history of piracy from Blackbeard to the 21st century, one as the ghostwriter of an explorer/ philanthropist’s autobiography—due in 2020.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY (6); MATT TRAPPE (JHUNG); ALLISON DONNELL (ARVESEN)
Latria Graham Spartanburg, South Carolina-based Graham drew on personal experience for her piece about the need for apparel and gear for plus-sized customers (“Learning Curves,” p. 20). “As an adventurer, trying to find things that work well is frustrating, time-consuming, and disappointing,” she says. In her reporting, Graham was dismayed to learn that many manufacturers base apparel dimensions on measurements from a 1941 survey: “The average American phenotype has changed a lot in 80 years,” she says. Her work has appeared in Garden & Gun, Bon Appétit, and Backpacker. This winter, you’ll find me Traipsing around Japan for stories ahead of the 2020 Winter Olympics in Tokyo Next big project Working on my diving skills for a project about African-American scuba divers documenting slave shipwrecks
“I hadn’t thought much about cultural appropriation in the designs you see in the outdoor industry” before writing “Fresh Faces” (p. 31), says Boulder, Colorado, freelancer Jhung. “Vernan Key enlightened me. And Faith Briggs’s passion for storytelling through running and filmmaking really inspired me.” No wonder: Jhung’s latest book, Running That Doesn’t Suck: How to Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It) was released in 2019. She has also recently written for Outside, Backpacker.com, Mensjournal .com, and Runnersworld.com. Last Amazon purchase Shoe Goo. I bought it to fix
a delaminating seam on my son’s Vans. This winter, you’ll find me Holed up in my house writing, but also skate skiing, ski touring, and snowboarding
Rick Vosper We tapped cycling industry writer Vosper to look into how e-bikes could be the next big opportunity for outdoor
retailers (“Electric Potential,” p. 90). “I’m an old-school cyclist myself,” Vosper says. “And the hills around my house seem to be getting steeper every year. There may be an e-bike in my future.” The Eagle Mills Township, Arkansas-based Vosper lives “at the bend in a dirt road 12 miles from the nearest town,” where he writes for the likes of Bicycle Retailer, Cycling Tips, and Arkansas Outside. Last Amazon purchase Artisanal whole-bean coffee Next big project Helping produce the 2020 Outdoor City USA multisport festival in Bend, Oregon
Boulder, Colorado’s Wichelns has been The Voice’s gear trend guru from the start. As the main wrangler for “The Voice 50” (p. 38), Wichelns sifts through hundreds of product pitches to suss out what’s truly innovative, surprising, and worthy of the spotlight. “Staying on top of the latest gear and watching the entire industry’s trends and patterns, even before they hit press releases or Outdoor Retailer booths, is really exciting,” he says. His work has recently appeared in Backpacker, The Co-op Journal, High Country News, and The Denver Post. Last Amazon purchase A guidebook for some obscure climbing routes on Denali This winter, you’ll find me Skiing relentlessly
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Outdoor retailers ponder whether CBD is the next big thingâ€”or just a load of hype.
budding industry BY LISA TURNER
GETTING EXTENDED SIZING RIGHT / BRANDS DIVE INTO THE DOCUMENTARY BIZ / INSIDE OUR TRADE SHOW CRISIS PAG E
business / industry buzz
ast June’s Outdoor Retailer attendees found a surprise among the usual camp stoves and Gore-Tex: an entire section devoted to CBD (cannabidiol) wellness products. Some retailers greeted it with puzzlement. At first glance, CBD felt as relevant to their shops as pantyhose or light bulbs. But retail giants like CVS and Walgreens have openly embraced CBD products, and pro athletes are enthusiastically extolling its virtues. The big question: Is this just a flash in the pan, or the next big thing in performance products for athletes—and an untapped opportunity for outdoor retailers?
products at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. “CBD is everywhere, from online to chain pharmacies. Because there are so many options—many of them lacking in quality—consumers want to buy CBD from a trusted source. Athletes buy equipment and gear from outdoor stores because they trust these places, and the staff speaks their language, so outdoor retailers who carry the right CBD prod-
Proponents tout CBD as potent medicine for all kinds of ailments— including plenty that might be of interest to outdoor retail customers. The claim
Pain stems from inflammation, and CBD has established anti-inflammatory qualities.
Lotions, rubs, ointments, tinctures, capsules, gummies
Faster recovery/ muscle soreness relief
Tough workouts also cause muscle inflammation, and some evidence suggests CBD can help tamp it down.
Creams, rubs, salves, snack bars
The idea here is that CBD reduces stress and anxiety. CBD does have anti-anxiety properties, but whether it actually improves performance is up for debate.
Tinctures, capsules, gummies, infused water
Limited evidence suggests CBD improves sleep by either reducing anxiety or interacting with the brain’s sleep/wake receptors.
Tinctures, capsules, gummies
The Next Big Thing in Outdoor?
The potential for outdoor retailers to benefit from the CBD surge is huge—at least, so says Todd Cynecki, founder and CEO of Good Vibe CBD, which introduced its
*Some brands also sell CBD vape oil, which is linked with serious health problems; proceed with caution.
PHOTO BY ISTOCK.COM / WABENO
One thing is clear: CBD, a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, is big business. With the 2018 passage of the Farm Bill and the subsequent decriminalization of hemp, CBD-infused health products have skyrocketed in popularity: CBD market research firm Brightfield Group projects sales will reach $5 billion for 2019 (a 700-percent increase over the previous year), and experts predict the overall U.S. market will surpass $23 billion by 2023. Products for an active lifestyle represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the market, fueled by claims of pain relief, reduced inflammation, decreased anxiety, and enhanced sleep aimed squarely at outdoor athletes. Prominent athletes who’ve publicly embraced CBD (and in some cases, its sponsorship opportunities) include ultrarunner Avery Collins, ski racer Chad Fleischer, climber Lisa Chulich, and professional snowboarder and heli-ski guide Will Spilo (Fleischer and Spilo have recently launched their own lines of CBD products). Could the weekend warrior be far behind?
ucts can really reap the benefits.” So far, at least, outdoor retailers have been slow to jump on the CBD bandwagon—but that may be changing, as some industry players sense opportunity. Outdoor Retailer’s CBD & Wellness section featured 10 exhibitors, and the show’s education lineup included CBD panel discussions. OR has plans for a similar section and education platforms at upcoming shows. “We’ve seen this trend emerging, and more CBD brands have begun approaching us about exhibiting at the shows,” says Krista Dill, Outdoor Retailer sales director, adding, “It made sense to incorporate the growing CBD category” on the show floor by integrating them with existing health and nutrition exhibitors. And some retail early adopters see CBD as an up-and-coming sales driver that can serve their customers. Burlington, Vermont’s Outdoor Gear Exchange started carrying a variety of forms of CBD at the front register last year—partly for sales-boosting visibility, partly because CBD products are priced at a premium. Joshua Stephen, the store’s hard goods buyer, says they’re selling
PHOTO BY ISTOCK.COM / WABENO
through at a steady pace. “We decided to carry CBD after we heard from our staff that they were using products that really helped them,” he says. “We carry first-aid kits and various products for pain relief, injuries, and just general wellness, so CBD products were a good fit from that standpoint, and an important service to our customers.” River City Bicycles in Portland, Oregon, started carrying CBD products after owner Dave Guettler had his own positive experiences with its pain-relieving qualities. “We have a lot of active customers and cyclists, many of whom get injured fairly regularly,” he says. “I found it very effective, and our customers say it really relieves their pain and helps them sleep.” Initially, he says, “we brought in what I thought was quite a bit of product, and it sold out quickly. It was pretty profitable for us.” CBD Roadblocks
But the path to carrying CBD is not without its hurdles. Some of the more prominent: wide variations in product quality, little regulatory oversight, lack of consumer knowledge about CBD, and limited resources at the retail level for educating customers. “CBD dosages and products vary so widely,” says Stephen of Outdoor Gear Exchange. “Seeing as this is a product designed for medicinal use, it’s interesting that it’s somewhat of a free-for-all.” That lack of standardization and oversight means retailers must do their own due diligence, says Billy Sinkford, media liaison for Floyd’s of Leadville, a CBD company founded by former pro cyclist Floyd Landis. But that due diligence requires time and resources. Educating customers about CBD products, forms, and dosages is also a challenge, Stephen says: “We’re not doctors. We’re an outdoor store. It’s difficult for the staff to explain CBD products to customers when we don’t have a ton of expertise. If people have questions, are we really able to answer them effective-
products have skyrocketed in popularity: Sales are projected to reach $5 billion for 2019 (a 700-percent increase).” ly?” Another issue: Though anecdotal claims about CBD’s wonder drug qualities abound, there’s not yet much medical research to back them up. The high price point of CBD products is another significant barrier to entry. “If you bring in two or three brands and you own multiple stores, you’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars—a big
investment for most outdoor retailers,” Good Vibe CBD’s Cynecki says. And then there’s the ever-shifting legislative landscape. “The category is still so new, and no one knows what the FDA is going to do,” he says. “Retailers may worry, ‘Will the product get taken off the shelf? Is it worth the risk?’ The FDA is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.” The current regulatory environment is expected to become less murky in the near future, as legislators and large corporations alike pressure the FDA to release a clear set of legal guidelines. Until then, it remains to be seen if outdoor retailers will make CBD as ubiquitous as lip balm and energy bars on their shelves. “We operate a retail store in Denver and see firsthand the buzz around our products and the category in general,” Cynecki says. The big question for outdoor shops is just how long that buzz might last.
business / numerology
Where the wild jobs are Looking for work in the outdoor industry? Best mind your geography. Some states are hotbeds for outdoor careers, with business-promoting outdoor recreation offices, big retailer markets, and major brand HQs. Others, not so much. Here’s where to target your job search.
SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP: Outdoor retail brick & mortar stores per 100,000 people, per the SNEWS Retailer Directory
.51-.75 .76-1 1.01-1.25 1.26-1.5 1.51-1.75
WORK IT: The five states with the most (and least) direct outdoor recreation jobs per 100 people, according to Outdoor Industry Association data
6.6 JOBS/100 PEOPLE
ROCKY MOUNTAIN $55K
8.7 JOBS/100 PEOPLE
FAR WEST $75K
SEISMIC SHIFT: When industry giant VF Corp moved its headquarters to Denver last summer—including The North Face, JanSport, Eagle Creek, Smartwool, and Altra—it took a sizable chunk of the outdoor industry workforce along with it.
Employees who relocated to Denver (48% of those eligible to move their jobs)
Eligible Smartwool employees who chose to stay in Steamboat Springs, CO
New hires in Denver (58% of which came from the Denver area)
Outdoor industry leaders lured to join the VF team (Luis Benitez & Amy Roberts)
1.4 JOBS/100 PEOPLE
SWEET 16: States with outdoor recreation offices or task forces
ALL TOGETHER NOW: As businesses continue to consolidate, more and more outdoor brands are coming under the umbrella of a few powerful parent companies. Here’s a look at how far the influence of these major conglomerates reaches.
MONEY MATTERS: Median annual salaries in each geographic region, according to The Voice’s 2019 salary survey
Kohlberg & Co (Mt. Kisco, NY) Atlas Backcountry Access Dalbello K2 Marker Line Skis Madshus Ride Tubbs Völkl
5.8 JOBS/100 PEOPLE #5
GREAT LAKES $52K
8.1 JOBS/100 PEOPLE #3 Vista Outdoor
1.61 JOBS/100 PEOPLE #47
1.6 JOBS/100 PEOPLE #48
NEW ENGLAND $60K
Kohlberg & Co 1.57 JOBS/100 PEOPLE #49
1.74 JOBS/100 PEOPLE
FAR WEST $75K
9.8 JOBS/100 PEOPLE
VF Corporation (Denver, CO & Greensboro, NC) Altra Eagle Creek Eastpak Icebreaker JanSport Kodiak Napapijri Smartwool The North Face Timberland
Vista Outdoor (Anoka, MN) Bell Blackburn Bushnell Camelbak Camp Chef Copilot Giro Krash Raskulls Amer Sports (Helsinki, Finland) Arc’teryx Armada Skis Atomic ENVE Composites Peak Performance Salomon Suunto Confluence Outdoor (Greenville, SC) Boardworks Dagger Harmony Gear Mad River Canoe Perception Wilderness Systems Fenix Outdoor (Zug, Switzerland) Brunton Fjällräven Hanwag Primus Royal Robbins Tierra
business / your next customer
Learning Curves It’s great that brands are starting to enter the plussized market. But we have a long way to go. BY LATRIA GRAHAM
ast year I attended my first Outdoor Retailer show. As I walked the floor, it became apparent that many of the companies didn’t have people like me—a fat woman who spends most of her recreational time outside—in mind. At one booth I asked the reps if they thought their camp chair would support my weight. They looked at one another uncomfortably before saying they weren’t sure. But neglecting the needs of larger customers isn’t going to cut it anymore. Outdoor businesses are beginning to wake up to the value of welcoming plussized adventurers: KÜHL, REI, and Columbia have introduced larger sizes over the past few years, a great idea considering that about 68 percent of American women wear a size 14 or larger, the average American man has a 40-inch waist, and the plus-sized market in the U.S. is valued at $21 billion. Affinity groups are also growing more popular: Fat Girls Hiking added new chapters in 23 cities in just the past year. Still, designers must pay closer attention to the details. My mother and I purchased the same REI windbreaker—she wears a size 12, and I wear a 20. Stoked about the fact that the jacket folds up to become a
fanny pack, I tried the feature out, only to find the strap wouldn’t fit my waist. The strap length on both jackets is the same, even though there’s an eight-inch difference in our waists. And I always check items for reinforced seams; durable fabrics at wear points like the inner thigh; and longer shoulder straps on packs. Current offerings often come up short because so-called straight-sized designers aren’t thoughtfully designing for our bodies. The industry standard for designing for larger bodies is to take a size 6 and enlarge the dimensions until they meet the minimum measurements for the desired size, such as an 18. This method is the fastest, cheapest way to bring new products to market, but the sizing is often off: Arm and leg measurements can be too long, the rise is too high, and shoulder seams don’t fit as they should. Then, when consumers don’t buy the ill-fitting goods, brands fall back on the idea that plus-sized consumers aren’t interested. Companies can do better by purchasing data from companies like Alvanon and Fit3D that do 3D body scans on thousands of plus-sized consumers to get realistic measurements, and by employing fit models, which are meant to check the overall fit, drape, and appearance of a garment before it goes into production. The needs of people of size extend beyond apparel, too. We need sleeping bags, camp chairs, pack hipbelts that fit, bikes that don’t groan under our weight, and harnesses that make us feel secure. We want rigorously tested offerings backed by research and technology. But I’m encouraged by the conversations happening about inclusivity. And though we have a long way to go, I see signs of progress. Perhaps what people of size need most is allyship: Consider our needs and advocate for us. If you’re a brand, make the investment in understanding your potential customer. On the design team, ask to hire fit models. On the retail side, ask why your store doesn’t carry plus-sized goods. It’s that kind of consideration that will bring us one step closer to equal footing when we head outside.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
THE AUTHOR IN HER HIKING CLOTHES—NONE OF WHICH ARE MADE BY OUTDOOR BRANDS
business / shop talk CUSTOM PARTNERSHIPS HELP CULTIVATE THE UNIQUE CHARACTER OF INDEPENDENT SHOPS.
Local flavor Small, personalized investments from brands can have a big impact for retail shops. BY AMELIA ARVESEN
hen shoppers walked in the door of Buffalo Peak Outfitters one day last May, they were offered a sweet surprise: a free rainbow Pop Rock popsicle. As part of KEEN’s 15th birthday bash at the Jackson, Mississippi store, the footwear brand partnered with a neighborhood artisanal ice pop shop to offer the treats to every customer, all afternoon. The pops—and the party— were on KEEN’s dime, a $575 expense. The partnership illustrates a rare, valuable relationship between outdoor stores and vendors: Brand-funded, customized investments in their retail
partners, whether they’re one-off events or ongoing projects. Such ventures “help people connect to the brands that we carry and allow us to tell the story of who [the brand is] in a way that’s meaningful for everyone,” says Cody McCain, marketing director at Buffalo Peak Outfitters. While national in-store marketing initiatives, such as Toad&Co’s touring sustainability trailer, keep retailers’ calendars full and give them sales talking points, those mass-produced campaigns usually don’t directly impact a shop’s customer base the way a customized project does. After all, what distinguishes an independent retailer from a large chain is its uniqueness—and that uniqueness isn’t served by one-sizefits-all events. Betsy Bertram of Townsend Bertram & Company has convinced vendors to reinvest in the store—and, by extension, in her town of Carrboro, North Carolina— in a few standout ways. Osprey bought a screen and projector the shop uses for a movie series. Merrell paid a local artist $1,000 to paint a mural of a lake and trees on the store’s footwear wall. Teva hosted a paint-your-own-sandal event. And KEEN sponsors a rotating tap of local kombucha (free for customers), a one-time $600 outlay. “Customers think it’s so awesome,” Bertram says of the companies’ involvement. “It makes them feel a very personal connection to the brand, knowing a brand as big as Merrell or KEEN is willing to invest in something that’s at the micro level.” McCain says he and KEEN came up with the ice pop idea together. Ninety percent of the time McCain approaches a brand with a new idea, he says it agrees to help. He and Bertram both add that, often, a plugged-in sales rep advocating for the project makes all the difference in getting the green light. A lot of brands are willing to invest in retailers, says TJ Maurer, principal at On The Road and Off, a sales rep agency
based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that worked with Bertram on the Teva event. But, he adds, it’s up to the sales reps to connect the dots to make projects happen “because we’re the influencers and ambassadors for national brands with connections to the stores and the communities.” For a brand, such projects aren’t about sell-through or stamping its name on something for credit. It’s a long-term investment in relationships and the value of brick-and-mortar retail, something that doesn’t offer immediate payoff, Maurer says. KEEN adds that the deeper appeal is helping specialty partners stay in business. “It’s a tough market out there, and it’s in everyone’s interest to work with small, independent stores,” says Ashley Williams, KEEN’s senior director of global marketing. “Even though there isn’t always a direct correlation to increasing sales, these programs reflect our shared values and give back to local communities.”
business / messaging
Screen Time Why try the same old ad campaign when you can make a movie? BY EMMA ATHENA
hat do wild salmon have to do with selling puffies? More than you’d think, says Alex Lowther, Patagonia’s creative director and producer of the brand’s 2019 documentary film Artifishal. Like Patagonia’s eight other feature-length environmental documentaries, Artifishal serves a dual purpose. It’s an educational tool about the threats facing wild salmon, but also a shrewd market-
ing strategy that speaks to modern, plugged-in outdoor consumers—folks concerned with the underlying values of their favorite companies. Over the past two years, brand-backed films have popped up more and more, covering everything from inspirational athletes to gear to environmental advocacy and stewardship. Mystery Ranch recently partnered with Zion National Park to create a feature-length film highlighting the many ways people use the 100-year-old park. A shorter version will loop in the visitor center for decades to come, which is one of the reasons Alex Kutches, vice president of Mystery Ranch, saw “a huge opportunity to give back to one of the places that our business depends on, and show half a million park-goers per year what Mystery Ranch stands for.” “Younger people are invested in brands that do more than just sell gear,” says Annie Nyborg, Peak Design’s director of sustainability. Nyborg spearheaded the company’s 2018 film Grizzly Country. “[Filmmaking] is part of growing brand awareness today. And it touches audiences who may not rely on social media for brand discovery.” Abby Schwamm, account manager
for Purple Orange, the PR company that helped market The Wilderness Society’s 2019 film Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee, agrees. “A regular marketing message won’t change viewpoints in the same way a film can,” she says. And it seems that these documentaries are getting the message out. Artifishal screened more than 500 times globally at Patagonia retail stores and other gear shops, attracting tens of thousands of viewers. And another Patagonia film, Blue Heart, about hydropower in the Balkans, also toured the world, helping generate 175,000 petition signatures the brand says contributed to a European Union resolution against small dams. There’s no doubt the strategy is expensive—Peak Design spent $100,000 on Grizzly Country. And it might even mean shifting marketing funds away from the usual advertising channels. Strick Walker, Merrell’s chief marketing officer, says the brand doesn’t do much traditional advertising anymore. “We’ll do some print [ads],” Walker says, “but we really believe that the better the content we create, the more people will experience it and share it.” Neither Merrell, Mystery Ranch, Patagonia, nor Peak Design are looking for immediate return in the form of increased sales. Instead, says Nyborg, “It’s one piece of a complex brand loyalty puzzle.” With films, brands are playing the long game. “We have an opportunity to inspire people, and we believe our business will benefit from that,” Walker says. Brands also cite extra benefits, such as local media attention, attracting consumers to retail partners for screenings, broader consumer reach from festivals—and a boost to brand recognition. “Every major player in the outdoor industry now knows who we are because of [Grizzly Country],” Nyborg says. “It started relationships and conversations at the Outdoor Retailer show, and that return is enormous.”
PHOTO BY SEBASTIANO PESSINA
AN ARTIFISHAL SCREENING IN MILAN, ITALY PACKS ‘EM IN.
business / in brief A CAMP STOVE MAKER GETS INTO THE OLYMPIC TORCH BUSINESS FOR TOKYO.
FF SOTO Outdoors’s parent company, Shinfuji Burner Co. Ltd., is manufacturing the combustion mechanisms for the 2020 Olympic torches (pictured, left). FF Ascent Protein will become the first-ever nutrition-related sponsor (for the 2020 U.S. weightlifting team)— opening the door for other nutrition companies to get involved in a space traditionally skeptical of performance boosters of any kind. (At press time, there was no official word on the U.S. climbing team’s Olympic sponsors, but The North Face outfitted the USA Climbing National Team.)
brands seek olympic glory Looking for a image boost? Sponsor a team in Tokyo. BY KASSONDRA CLOOS
s the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo approach, outdoor brand sponsors are gearing up for their own moment in the spotlight. La Sportiva, which is outfitting the Italian climbing team and preparing new shoes for the Olympics that will hit the market for consumers in February 2020, also hopes the addition of climbing to the Games will lead to a double boost. “We strongly believe that the Olympics will raise awareness of the sport and of the brands related to it, especially to a new market of beginners who are approaching the sport starting from indoor climbing,” said Luca Mich, marketing operations manager. Other outdoor brands bound for Olympic glory this year and beyond: FF Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) signed on to design uniforms for the Canadian National Climbing Team.
New OREC Network Recruits 9 States fter a summer 2019 launch, the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Outdoor Recreation Learning Network has welcomed nine new members into a group that already includes 15 of the 16 states with official outdoor recreation (OREC) offices. (The latest state, New Hampshire, hasn’t yet joined.) The network, which gathers regularly on calls and webinars and in conferences, formed to help state outdoor rec gurus swap organization strategies and policy details, but leaders also invited all other states to join. Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, North Dakota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island took them up on it, sending reps to the first gathering in Utah last October. Will these be the next class of states to form their own OREC offices? Well, maybe. “Some of them do want to create designated offices, and we’re here to help them think that through,” says Sue Gander, NGA division director. “It’s a way to convene so they can exchange ideas and lean on each other.” Alaska’s representative, Director of State Parks and Recreation Ricky John Gease, says his state is discussing the possibility of an OREC office. “A lot of states are facing similar opportunities
and challenges in terms of promoting outdoor recreation,” he notes. “Looking to see how other states have organized their offices is a valuable asset.” “We’re excited about the third-party validation of the importance of the growth of this movement,” says David Weinstein, state and local policy director for Outdoor Industry Association, one of the network’s sponsors. “We need all 50 states to create offices so we can build political power that will speak to the federal government.” –Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan
Vote for Your Favorite #CoolShop pecialty outdoor retailers deserve more love in these challenging times. That’s why SNEWS created the #CoolShop Awards. After featuring more than 60 standout shops since March 2017, editors have pared down the list—12 from 2019 and three premier shops from past years—and they need help deciding the winner. The victor will take home a beautiful banner designed by artist Latasha Dunston and $500 to throw a staff appreciation party. Head to bit.ly/CoolShopAwards2020 to cast your vote by February 5. –Amelia Arvesen
Buffalo Peak Outfitters (Jackson, MS) Champaign Outdoors (Champaign, IL) The Gear Fix (Bend, OR) Gearheads Outdoor Store (Moab, UT) Hatchet Outdoor Supply Co. (NY/CA) High Country Outfitters (Atlanta, GA) The Kayak Centre (North Kingstown, RI) Neptune Mountaineering (Boulder, CO) Outdoor Gear Exchange (Burlington, VT) Pack Rat Outdoor Center (Fayetteville, AR) Rock & Snow (New Paltz, NY) Skinny Skis (Jackson, WY) SlimPickins Outfitters (Stephenville, TX) The Toggery (Whitefish, MT) Wanderlust Outfitters (St. Joseph, MI)
business / 3 hard questions Who’s talking
Nathan Dopp CEO (Americas) of Fjällräven and vice president of Fenix Outdoor
you’ve Gotta Earn It Three perspectives on all-important earned media RESPONSES HAVE BEEN EDITED FOR SPACE AND CLARITY.
Why is earned media so important to your brand? And how do you value it compared to traditional advertising? Nathan Dopp: Earned media is the gold standard of coverage. When a third party speaks authentically about our brand, that has so much value. We usually see something like three times the conversions from earned media than from paid advertising. But traditional advertising does have a place. It’s an ecosystem. You want that authenticator from the earned media, but it’s important for a gear brand to have a platform to tell its own story as well. For Fjällräven, having all the components of that conversation is especially important. We have a complicated story because we’re not an adrenaline company—we’re trying to sell an ideal and a culture. So if we can get outside with an editor at an event or on a hike, we can provide that experience and demonstrate those values. That face-to-face time is so much more effective, both in terms of telling our story and in getting that story to resonate with the journalist. Why do your clients value earned media? How do you convince busy editors that a product is worth covering? Paige Boucher: The response from earned media is definitely better than that from paid advertising. Earned media is also a good source of content for the PR side and the brand, as we’re able to share it via social media or email. Digital media is easier to work with for that reason, but print coverage is more prestigious and harder to get. Both are valuable. Still, we’re seeing how slim magazines are becoming, and we know we have to support both print and digital with advertising dollars if we want them to last. PAG E
THE PR PRO
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Paige Boucher founding partner of Inside/Out Communications
In terms of getting an editor’s attention, the first thing is getting them to open the email. The subject line has to be individualized and unique to that journalist or publication so that it stands out. And these days, it takes more than just a great product launch to get attention. The company or product has to have some kind of environmental or social justice angle, or a good story behind it. That should come across clearly in the email. Finally, we’re also looking for that face-to-face time. Trade shows are so crazy these days, it’s just not an effective way to get that anymore. Instead, we hold events and try to partner with other PR companies and brands so journalists can get the most value out of the experience.
THE JOURNALIST Stephen Regenold founder of GearJunkie
“If I’m getting exclusive information my competitors don’t have, that can do a lot to tip the balance in favor of coverage.”
How do you cut through the mountain of pitches you get every day to discern what’s truly worth covering? Stephen Regenold: The product needs to have relevancy for both the publication and the audience. Is the item completely
new, or just a version of what came out last year? Is it seasonal or timely? If you’re trying to pitch me a snowboard in June, that’s going to be tough. The other thing is exclusivity. If I’m getting exclusive information my competitors don’t have, that can do a lot to tip the balance in favor of coverage. I’d also encourage PR people to go offscript and give the journalists information they can’t get from the press release. Offer to send a product before anyone else has seen it, contact info for potential interviewees, or exclusive photos. Also take time to personalize the pitch. Say, “Hey, this would be a great fit for your Thursday Emerging Gear column,” for example. Show us you gave it some thought, and that will make us do the same.
Are Tariffs Forcing You Out of China?
No, We Can’t Move. BY KAY MARTIN, CEO OF BOCO GEAR
BOCO Gear has a unique business model: We offer customized, high-quality performance headwear delivered within 35 days, for as few as 35 units at a time. We made this happen through an exclusive agreement with our factory owner in China when we launched five years ago, an arrangement that has given us a competitive advantage and allows BOCO Gear and our factory to continue to grow. BOCO Gear endured two tariff increases last year (10 percent and 15 percent), and the administration is threatening more. We’ve absorbed some of the costs
As costs increase, brands must weigh tough production choices.
ourselves, pushed our factory for lower prices, and passed along price increases of up to $5 per item to our consumers. But we don’t have the option of moving production elsewhere. We’ve been looking for alternate factories in anticipation of these tariffs since before they were announced. To do that, we shifted resources we’d originally planned for new hires into sourcing efforts, but we haven’t found a factory that has the capability to make our products, with low minimums, and in the timeframes and pricing we require. Even if we could find a replacement, moving our style of customized production would take about two years of development time and the addition of three or four new employees—time and resources we don’t have. We’re still investigating options to help mitigate the impact of the tariffs, such as growing our international business, diversifying our product line, and negotiating with freight companies. But now, our best option is sticking with our Chinese factory and passing along the tariffs. Luckily, our loyal customers are standing by us.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
business / face off
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Yes, We’re Moving. BY DINO DARDANO, PRESIDENT OF HESTRA USA
The past 18 months have been a trying time for Hestra. After the administration imposed a 10-percent tariff on all our leather ski gloves manufactured in China in fall 2018, we bore the burden of the added expense for the 2018/19 season. Fast-forward to early summer 2019, when the administration announced that the tariff would be increased by an additional 15 to 25 percent. This was very problematic for several reasons: We had already set fall 2019 pricing and accepted orders based on these prices. We had no choice but to notify our retailers of a price increase of 5 to 10 percent.
Internally, we had to re-label 200,000 pairs of gloves to reflect post-tariff pricing. We’re thankful that the response from the outdoor industry and the retail community has been very supportive. We knew the new China trade landscape wasn’t sustainable, so we made the call to move 70 percent of our production for the U.S. market out of China. Fortunately, Hestra owns its production facilities worldwide, either in joint venture (our two China factories) or wholly (our Hungary and Vietnam factories). This allows us to closely monitor the quality of our gloves, and let us quickly shift the majority of our 19/20 production to our Hungary and Vietnam factories to minimize the retail price impact of the tariff. Certain styles had to remain in China due to the complexity of the manufacturing process. We will continue to shift the remaining 30 percent of production out of China as our capacity increases. We have invested heavily in our factories and our employees in China, and we’d like to continue to support them. But right now, trade realities make that impossible.
HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH TARIFFS? “We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments: switching to a different upper material (that doesn’t fall under the tariffs) on some products, selecting styles we won’t bring in for 2020, and raising prices on about half of our line.” –Steven Sashen, CEO, Xero Shoes “We’re trying to diversify our Asian production outside of China, but we can probably only change that part of our supply chain by a few percentage points per year.” –Drew Saunders, country manager, Oberalp North America “We’ve been affected by tariffs in a positive way. Manufacturing our products in Colorado from U.S.-milled fabric gives them a stable price that retailers need.” –Jay Badgley, CEO, Phunkshun Wear
SNEWS POLL 30% Seeking production outside of China 25% Raising prices 21% A few of these options 10% Absorbing costs and taking a hit to profits 10% I’m not impacted by tariffs. 2% Going out of business 2% Discontinuing product line
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Look out, outdoor industry. These four up-and-comers are putting their own stamps on Native American design, trail community, conservation storytelling, and the sport of snowboarding. And it looks like theyâ€™re not going anywhere anytime soon. BY LISA JHUNG LOUISA ALBANESE
24 CRAZY HOURS OF SALES REPPING / SOBER IS THE NEW BLACK / WHERE ARE OUR SABBATICALS? / SHOUT-OUTS AND LOVE PAG E
PHOTOS BY LOUISA ALBANESE (TOP RIGHT); COURTESY (3)
culture / fresh faces
32 1 2
PHOTOS BY LOUISA ALBANESE (TOP RIGHT); COURTESY (3)
1 [D E S IG N]
Vernan Kee 33, FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER @VERNANKEE
Vernan Kee first stepped into the spotlight when he defended his profession—and his culture—in a 2018 Outside Online op-ed. In the piece, Kee, who is Diné, or Navajo, and a freelance graphic designer, called out the rampant cultural appropriation of Native designs he noticed while walking the Outdoor Retailer show floor. Kee got his start in the outdoor industry designing T-shirts and stickers for groups like Flash Foxy, Sierra Club, and NativesOutdoors, a media and apparel company that works to support indigenous people. Since speaking out in 2018, he has been in talks with Rumpl about doing authentic Navajo design work. Kee currently works from the road in a Ford Transit van, traveling through the West, learning about his own cultural history, and designing apparel and logos on a freelance basis. He hopes his work will shine a light on the untapped potential within the Navajo Nation. “We’re successful entrepreneurs,” he says. “There’s so much talent out here.”
3 After eight years in marketing and ad sales in the trail running realm, Buena Vista, Colorado-based Gina Lucrezi says she started to notice that almost all outdoor running gear—and marketing material—seemed to be created for men. So, in 2016, Lucrezi took matters into her own hands by creating Trailsisters.net. Her goal: get more women into trail running. Nearly four years later, what started as a small content site has grown to a thriving hub with around 500 articles on topics ranging from running in the dark to gender inequality. The site has roughly 175 contributors and 20,000 monthly users. Trail Sisters has now expanded into a full-fledged brand that sells apparel and accessories, hosts discussion panels and retreats, organizes running groups across North America and the UK, and offers grants funded by partner Merrell. The brand’s success is proof of Lucrezi’s philosophy: “I really think that if you pursue a passion, things will work out,” she says. [COM M U N ITY]
Gina Lucrezi 36, FOUNDER OF TRAIL SISTERS
[STORYTE LLI NG]
Faith Briggs 30, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER @FAITHEVEBEE
“Before 2016, I’d never put the two words ‘outdoor’ and ‘industry’ together,” says documentary filmmaker Faith Briggs. The Brooklyn, New York, native worked for the Discovery Channel after graduating from Yale. But while on a shoot with the National Park Service in 2016, Columbia Sportswear offered her a position as a Director of Toughness, a gear-testing and storytelling role. She accepted, and the gig let her travel, play outdoors, test gear, and ultimately find a new professional home in the outdoor industry. Briggs now lives in Portland, Oregon, and works as a freelancer on outdoor industry and conservation films. She’s currently producing and starring in an upcoming film called This Land. In it, she’ll go trail running with local activists through national monuments at risk of losing territory. Briggs wants to use media as a tool to raise awarness, and ultimately to change lives. “I believe everyone has a right to clean air, clean water, and access to green spaces,” she says.
When he was a homeless teen living in San Diego, Ryan Hudson crossed paths with Outdoor Outreach, a nonprofit that introduces underserved kids to the outdoors, and it changed the trajectory of his life. He went on to compete in The North Face Masters of Snowboarding and the Freeride World Tour, and later, became a mentor and instructor for Outdoor Outreach. Hudson is now a professional freeride snowboarder with a slew of sponsors: Patagonia, Smith, Discrete Clothing, Jones Snowboards, Vans, and Karacoram splitboard bindings. Based in Salt Lake City, Hudson’s current focus is growing as an athlete, riding at Snowbird resort and in the Wasatch backcountry. In the meantime, he’s learning about the conservation and business sides of the outdoor industry to ensure a long-term career (exact job TBD). And when he goes home, he still volunteers with Outdoor Outreach to keep paying it forward. “I want to tell my story and share what I’ve learned,” he says. [WI NTE R S PORTS]
Ryan Hudson 31, SNOWBOARDER @RHUDSONSB
4 PAG E
culture / road rules BOBBI BENSMAN
Catch Her If You Can
CO-OWNER OF THE RINCON GROUP Spends more than 100 days on the road each year representing Mammut, Darn Tough, and Evolv. She makes the drive between her home in Boulder, Colorado, and her Salt Lake City accounts as many as six times per month.
The life of a sales rep is notoriously busy in the height of the selling season. Think you can hang? Try this typical day on for size. BY COREY BUHAY
Surprisingly composed after eight hours of driving and one (totally unfair) speeding ticket, Bobbi arrives at the home of her old friend, Hilary, in Salt Lake City. Hilary rolls her eyes at the contents of Bobbi’s Dodge Ram ProMaster: 90 pairs of socks, four huge duffels of climbing shoes, and 600 pounds of Mammut rope. Bensman crashes in the guest room, which she shares with Hilary’s two cats.
After unboxing the ropes, Bobbi spends five hours selling them (cash only) to intermittent waves of Gearheads. Between sales, she catches up on placing last-minute orders and answering emails from retailers, brands, and coworkers.
March 12, 2019. 6:45 a.m.
Bobbi gulps down coffee and oatmeal before arriving fashionably early for her 8 a.m. REI clinic. She gives her spiel and hands out Darn Tough socks. All 40 attendees get their perfect size. Nailed it.
Unprepared to leave $5,200 in the van, Bobbi panics and calls Steve, her business partner (also her husband). He suggests Wells Fargo for safekeeping.
Bobbi finds herself holding $5,200 in tens and twenties.
3:10 p.m. 9 a.m.
Bobbi hustles across town to the headquarters of the Backcountry.com Gearheads customer service team, where she’s scheduled to host a Mammut rope trunk sale. 9:30 a.m.
Bobbi schleps 600 pounds of rope up two flights of stairs.
Bobbi rushes to the bank while afternoon traffic builds. Her 5 p.m. Evolv shoe demo is on the other side of town. 3:30 p.m.
After making a deposit, Bobbi gets back on the road. Between calls to each of her two daughters, and some light prayer to the gods of standstill traffic, she listens to Elton John to calm her nerves. Bobbi
never misses appointments, but some rampant and unethical use of the left lane is threatening to throw her record. She realizes she forgot to eat lunch. Fortunately, there are protein bars. 4:45 p.m.
Bobbi arrives at the climbing gym and becomes a tornado. She flicks out the legs of a folding table, unloads Evolv shoes by the armful, and sets them out in neat rows. For three hours, she fits climbers. 8 p.m.
Demo done, Bobbi zooms to Sandy, Utah, for a 9 p.m. Darn Tough clinic at Scheels, inhaling two Taco Bell spicy tostadas en route. She almost runs out of socks, but again, everyone gets their perfect size. 10 p.m.
Bobbi drives back to Hilary’s place. Hilary, still awake, gawks when Bobbi sits down and opens her computer. 12 a.m.
Email triage complete, Bobbi hits the hay. She looks at her watch. This time of year, it’s an early bedtime.
PHOTOS BY LOUISA ALBANESE
March 11, 2019. 8 p.m.
culture / unfiltered
Not-SoHappy Hour As the sober outdoor community grows, we need more than kombucha to create an inclusive industry. BY LESLIE BARRETT
hat’s OK, we have kombucha!” is something I often hear when I turn down a beer at a professional event. I always smile and nod—and white-knuckle my water bottle. When others raise toasts with their courtesy craft cocktails, I take a long drag of H2O, served neat, and swallow the discomfort of feeling like I don’t quite belong. I’ve been sober for almost five years. I was in college when I first noticed that once I had one drink, I had no way of knowing whether I’d stop at two or down vodka sodas into a blackout. I eventually realized my binge drinking was an alcohol use disorder. At age 22, I quit for good. For me, actually staying sober hasn’t been as challenging as finding my place in a professional culture that often centers around drinking. While the atmosphere at my current company is very supportive, Outdoor Retailer shows have proven much harder to navigate. There, I’ve encountered people rolling up to booths in the morning still smelling like alcohol, and
*Reach Barrett at email@example.com.
an event aptly described as a “Hangover Breakfast.” Once, at an after-show mixer, I was asked “Cocktail or beer?” to determine which tumbler I’d receive as a party favor. I spent my first few trade show happy hours alone at the booth while my teammates embarked on the daily pilgrimage for free beer. I watched show-goers stroll by with foam-topped cups and wondered where all the other sober people were. Sober-inclusivity efforts are just recently beginning to appear, and it’s about time—about 30 percent of Americans don’t drink alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Even so, the world of non-alcoholic beverages is filled with its own misconceptions. Kombucha, a common alternative, contains trace amounts of alcohol—up to 0.5 percent. Some people in recovery can drink kombucha without issue. For me and many others, though, 0.5 percent is enough to trigger an alcohol craving. Of the eight OR shows I’ve attended, there’s only one on-site happy hour I remember enjoying. Beer was present at the TIME FOR A NEW SOCIAL SCENE.
your centerpiece not alcohol, but a performance that gets people talking. Run a networking event speed-dating style. Create a quiet social space that lets people converse and recharge.” Mountain Hardwear booth, but the event’s focal point wasn’t the booze—it was the musician Nahko, who sang while slackliners did tricks. Finally, I could join in the conversations around me. So, as you plan trade show events, remember that not everyone is looking for a buzz. Consider making your centerpiece not alcohol, but a performance that gets people talking. Run a networking event speed-dating style. Create a quiet social space that lets people converse and recharge. Try yard games or corny icebreakers—they might make people roll their eyes, but they’ll spark real conversation. Don’t forget about us at the office, either. If you have a keg on tap, consider providing an alcohol-free option to boost morale as well. And if you’re planning team-bonding events or press trips, ask yourself: Is pulling out the shot ski really the thing that will improve employee trust and move your business forward? At the bare minimum, for those of us who can’t (or choose not to) enjoy craft beer at events, offer a (completely) alcohol-free option like S.Pellegrino or Spindrift—both top-shelf seltzers. I am happy to consult on the sparkling-water market. At this point, I think I’ve tried them all. And if you’re a brand interested in being a bigger part of the movement, consider working with me and the rest of a new group of sober professionals* to host sober-friendly events at the next OR. We’re actively looking for new partners, and we’d love to have you. Cheers.
culture / 9 to 5
out of office Why aren’t more outdoor companies offering sabbaticals? BY AMELIA ARVESEN
n November 2018, two bobcats, a raven, two crows, and four hawks rode along in cages in the back of J.J. Huggins’s truck. It wasn’t Huggins’s first wildfire rescue: Over the past four years, he’s logged 100 hours with the California Wildlife Center. He’s even gotten paid for it, but not because he works there: Huggins’s full-time employer, Patagonia, is one of a handful of outdoor industry companies that grants employees paid time off to pursue their passions, even those unrelated to their day jobs.
The practice of offering sabbaticals, or extended periods of compensated time off, was first popular in academia as a way to encourage professors to dive deep into research. The concept has since spread to other industries as companies seek ways to increase retention and help workers avoid burnout. Eligibility varies by company. Patagonia employees, for example, become entitled to 320 hours of volunteer work with an environmental group after a year of full-time employment, and 160 hours
THE UPSIDES OF SABBATICALS Research shows that these benefits materialize on trips three months or longer—for both employees and employers. • Reduced stress (both during and after sabbatical) • New professional skills • Increased well-being • Improved confidence • More headspace to innovate • Opportunity to test interim leaders SOURCES: DAVIDSON ET AL. 2010; LINNELL AND WOLFRED 2009
after a year of part-time. Simms this year instituted a three-week, general-use sabbatical for employees of 25 years, and REI gives four weeks off every five years once employees reach the 15-year milestone. “It’s a gift to have that added time, and it makes me want to stay on longer with REI to enjoy the benefit,” says Coleen Morgan, a 31-year REI employee who has taken four sabbaticals. In an industry made up of adventurous people who love escaping into the outdoors, sabbaticals seem like a no-brainer. But they’re far from the norm at outdoor companies. Many operate with small staffs, and a month-long absence of even one worker can be prohibitive. Plus, sabbaticals become even more of a long shot as job-hopping grows more prevalent (the percentage of employees voluntarily quitting their jobs has been rising steadily since 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). “I’d be happy to grant a sabbatical after, say, four years,” says Gordon Wright, who runs a team of seven at California-based OutsidePR. “No employer is going to grant a sabbatical unless a worker puts in multiple years, and worker turnover doesn’t foster that.” However, sabbatical proponents argue that longer stints of time off could actually be a solution to the turnover. “If other people in the outdoor industry are anything like me, they probably struggle with fantasies of dropping out of the corporate workforce and doing something more adventurous,” says Patagonia employee Huggins. “Having a sabbatical program allows workers to meet those desires without sacrificing their jobs.” As workforce priorities change (research shows that millennials in particular prioritize giving back and work-life balance over salary alone), sabbaticals may become a valuable recruiting tool. Simms Senior Director of Employee and Community Engagement Diane Bristol says that for them, sabbaticals are also a perfect cultural fit: “Folks here really appreciate having time to do things they love, whether it’s getting outdoors or pursuing a new interest or giving back,” she says.
PHOTOS BY STUDIO MACLEOD; COURTESY (6)
DIANE BRISTOL (RIGHT) OF SIMMS USED HER SABBATICAL TO VOLUNTEER WITH TWO FLYFISHING ORGANIZATIONS.
PHOTOS BY STUDIO MACLEOD; COURTESY (6)
culture / homage OTIS WILLIAMS (RIGHT) SETS UP A TEEPEE
Love letter to Big Agnes After a car crash, Big Agnes comes to the rescue— proving it’s not just products that make the outdoor industry great. By Amelia Arvesen ne Friday last March, my now-husband, a friend, and I were on our way to Steamboat Springs for a weekend of skiing. It was 11 p.m. and snowing lightly. I thought 25 mph under the speed limit would be safe enough. But along Rabbit Ears Pass, the road curved, and I felt slush churn under the tires. Then we hit a sheet of ice. The steering wheel twisted out of my hands, and my truck fishtailed through a pullout, carving a trench in the new snow and rolling onto its top, leaving us hanging upside-down in our seat belts. Before we could speak, a stranger yanked open the door and pulled us out of the wreck. I noticed the logo wrapping his parked Subaru. “Are you guys from Big Agnes? I work at SNEWS,” I blurted, tears gushing. “Amelia?” Bill Gamber asked. I had interviewed the brand’s founder for a few stories, but had never met him. “Bill?” I said. He pulled me in for a hug. Garett Mariano, Big Agnes’ marketing director, herded us into the Subaru and turned on the heater. They waited with us for nearly three hours, first for state patrol, then for the tow truck at 2 a.m. Throughout the next week, they emailed and texted to make sure I was really OK. I’m new to the industry, and this taught me how tight-knit it is. We share ski days, but we know some things are more important than fresh pow. Like being there for each other—really there—in times of need.
Snow or Climbing Adventure badge and either hiking or trail running for the Trail Adventure badge. That gives girls more agency and choice than ever before. Can we get a hell yes?
Paying respect to outdoor awesomeness Master Mender
elf-taught seamster and Diné spiritual leader Otis Williams started stitching packs for Osprey 25 years ago. Since then, his expertise and integrity have carried him through the ranks to his current role as the company’s senior repair specialist, says Osprey founder Mike Pfotenhauer. At home, Cortez, Colorado-based Williams has found another way to use his sewing knowledge: creating teepees, which are used to hold traditional ceremonies. “My work with my hands at Osprey has helped me carry on a tradition that is very important to my family and my community,” he says.
Girl Scouts Get Real
aside, pottery badge. Girl Scouts M ove of the USA, in partnership with The
North Face, has released 12 new Outdoor High Adventure badges (they officially launched fall 2019). For the first time, scouts can choose how they earn each one—for example, picking either rock climbing or skiing/snowboarding for the
his year, the ski industry, often criticized for its high carbon output, has made some sustainability baby steps. Snow vehicle manufacturer PistenBully recently released a prototype of the PistenBully 100 E, the world’s first electric snow groomer (no word yet on when it’ll hit the slopes). And the Colorado Department of Transportation has teamed up with the state’s Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, and Steamboat Springs ski areas to launch a subsidized bus service called SnowStang. Compared to car travel, the routes will reduce carbon output by an estimated 3,200 pounds of CO2 per round trip. Day passes start at $25.
The voice 50
The hottest products of the season, ranked. BY RYAN WICHELNS
ombing through the season’s new gear can be like bushwhacking through a jungle: slow going. Consider us your personal guide. We spent weeks poring over press releases and product shots, watching embargoed videos, and asking questions about materials, features, and design. Then we tapped our resident team of 10 gearheads and asked one question: “How badly do you want to use this?” What follows is a list of the 50 most coveted products— no machete required.
GEAR TECH OF TOMORROW / THE THREE RS OF RECOMMERCE / PROGRESS IN THE WAR ON PLASTIC
1. Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL [$375; pictured on p. 38] THE PROMISE This is the lightest fully featured puffy on the planet. THE DEETS Thanks to a lighter-weight 5-denier ripstop nylon face fabric and upgraded 1,000-fill down, the classic Ghost Whisperer now weighs 6.67 ounces (men’s M), a full 2 ounces lighter than before.
2. Patagonia R1 Air [$99-$159] THE PROMISE This new
hybrid is warmer than a baselayer but more breathable than a fleece. THE DEETS If Patagonia’s superlight Capilene Air baselayers and the iconic R1 hoodie had a baby, it would look like this. The R1 Air combines the breathability and quick-drying nature of the baselayer with the warmth, versatility, and fit of the R1 to make a do-it-all layer for the highest-output activities. The R1 Air comes in crew, zip-neck, and hoodie versions.
3. Hustle Bike Labs REM Pedal [$TBD] THE PROMISE These mag-
netized pedals are safer and easier to use than traditional clipless designs. THE DEETS Forgetting to twist out of your clipless bike pedals and somersaulting over the bars is a thing of the past. Neodymium rare-earth magnets replace the spring mechanism used in many pedals, combining the pedaling efficiency of a clipless with the security, stability, and easy exit of a platform pedal. Thanks to a plate that bolts to the bottom of most SPD-compatible (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) shoes, the rider’s foot is held onto the pedal us-
ing magnetic force, which allows riders to “pull up” just as much as if they were clipped in, but makes releasing safer and easier.
4. Wool+AID Merino Wool Adhesive Bandages [$17/box of 15] THE PROMISE Heal your wounds and the planet. THE DEETS It’s another way to ditch single-use plastic. These merino wool, hypoallergenic, breathable bandages can be buried after use to return carbon to the soil.
5. Optic Nerve Flyest Sunglasses [$75] THE PROMISE These aviators
are indestructible and budget friendly. THE DEETS Bend them, twist them, or sit on them, and these Memory Metal frames will magically return to their good-looking, aviator-style form. They feature shatterproof, polycarbonate polarized lenses and a comfortable fit. Best part: the price.
Finally, clipless actually means clipless.
6. RapidPure Trail Blazer Gravity Purifier [$100]
How green is your bandage?
THE PROMISE It’s the fastest
gravity filter on the market. THE DEETS Instead of relying
solely on microscopic pores to filter out bacteria, parasites, viruses, chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, and microplastics, the Trail Blazer uses a process called electroadsorption, which adsorbs and isolates waterborne pathogens, before physically filtering the water, speeding up the filtration rate to a blistering 5 liters per minute, without batteries or pumping. The 18.5-ounce Trail Blazer kit comes with a 9-liter bag, hose, and the filter cartridge.
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gear / the voice 50
THE PROMISE This ski tour-
Less futzing during sketchy transitions.
ing pack makes transitions easier and faster. THE DEETS The Targhee FastTrack features a new friction-based hook system that allows you to toss your skis on and off your pack without ever taking it off. Simply sling the tails through the bottom loop; wrap the reinforced, elasticized top strap around your skis; pull them over your shoulder; and lock them into place with the shoulder-mounted hook. The aluminum hardware is glove friendly, and the thermoformed backpanel prevents snow buildup. Available in 35 and 40 liters.
8. Ignik Gas Growler Deluxe [$150] THE PROMISE Great for
green-minded frequent car campers and van-lifers. THE DEETS Save money and the environment with this 5-pound, refillable propane canister. It comes in a foam carrying case for safety and insulation (a warm tank is more efficient) and connects to any stove or propane appliance. The Ignik has five times the burn time of the standard green propane canister and is easily refillable, just like the larger 20-pound tank connected to your grill.
9. mountainFLOW eco-wax [$20] THE PROMISE It’s North
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Boost your MacGyver cred.
America’s only plant-based ski wax. THE DEETS Most ski wax is made from petroleum and ends up seeping into the snowpack and water table, but mountainFLOW’s eco-friendly wax is 100-percent biodegradable, and just
10. Outdoor Research Super Couloir Sensor Gloves [$160] THE PROMISE The warmth
and dexterity of ice climbing gloves make their way to the slopes. THE DEETS Stretch side panels in these waterproof gloves facilitate dexterity, while goat leather palms provide grip and durability. Inside, proprietary Vertical X insulation is warmer, more breathable, and has better stretch than standard synthetic insulation. A soft polyester fleece lines the inside palm, and the index finger and thumb are touchscreen compatible.
11. Osprey Soelden/ Sopris Pro [$1,200] THE PROMISE Osprey’s
first avalanche airbag pack is feature rich, but still qualifies as lightweight. THE DEETS The Soelden (for men) and Sopris (for women) come loaded with the Alpride E1 Electronic Avalanche Airbag system, which avoids compressed gas, making it travel friendly. And it weighs just 3.5 pounds, thanks to a durable blend of polyethylene and nylon.
12. Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Silnylon Patches [$10/3 sheets] THE PROMISE Patch your silnylon gear in the field. THE DEETS Where regular tape has struggled to get a grip on silnylon materials, these stick—no heat or sewing required. The nylon patches are backed with a silicone-based adhesive (only silicone can stick to silicone) to repair tents, tarps, backpacks, and more.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
7. Gregory Targhee FastTrack [$220-$240]
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
40 percent lighter than previous models.
Transforms into a travel pillow.
13. MPOWERD Luci Explore [$75] THE PROMISE It’s a solar
light, alarm clock, speaker, and phone charger all in one. THE DEETS Pair your phone with the Luci Explore to rock out around camp, or use the MPOWERD app to turn the device into a morning alarm that simulates a pleasant sunrise. When your phone dies, plug it into the light for a refresh, and when the light dies, set it out in the sun to recharge itself.
14. United By Blue Bison Ultralight [$198] THE PROMISE Warm, light,
and powered by bison. THE DEETS Stuffed with
sheep’s wool and bison wool fiber, the Ultralight is United By Blue’s lightest-weight, most packable jacket yet. It features recycled ripstop nylon face fabric with a PFCfree water-resistant coating, and a full-coverage hood.
15. Scarpa F1 LT [$799] THE PROMISE These
superlight ski touring boots are made for high-mileage missions. THE DEETS Combining ultralight elements of the Alien skimo race boots with a more versatile, backcountry-style design, the F1 LT weighs just 2 pounds, 1 ounce (per boot) and features a stiff cuff and BOA closure system.
16. Blackyak Pajuna [$600] THE PROMISE Want warmth
and sustainability? Yaks to the rescue. THE DEETS Yak hair has a better insulation value than poly or merino and is superlight and packable. This insulated, waterproof jacket has pit zips, a helmet-compatible hood, and an integrated powder skirt.
17. Kahtoola EXOspikes [$60] THE PROMISE Twelve spikes
per foot and three levels of traction give these serious grip. THE DEETS Wear-resistant tungsten carbide spikes offer
18 the initial bite; TPU lugs dig into loose, uneven terrain; and the open matrix allows the boot’s tread to stay engaged. Plus, the new harness fits a wider range of footwear.
18. DPS Pagoda Tour 100 RP [$1,299] THE PROMISE Get the
power, energy, and dampness of a front-side ski at a classic touring weight. THE DEETS DPS combined a carbon laminate with paulownia wood and aerospace-grade foam in the Pagoda Tour’s core. A full sidewall gives it on-snow smoothness, and the rocker profile can handle a range of backcountry conditions.
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THE PROMISE This tarp ren-
ders your campfire immune to the rain. THE DEETS The Takibi Tarp combines waterproof durability with a fire-resistant aramid material, which allows you to build a fire directly underneath its cozy confines. The only thing this setup will burn a hole through is your wallet.
20. Marker Duke PT 16 [$825] THE PROMISE It’s a light-
weight pin binding with downhill security. THE DEETS The Duke PT’s specially designed, stepin-style toepiece features a strong downhill performance (up to DIN 16). For the uphill,
the top piece of the toe flips up or comes right off to reveal a lightweight pin binding, saving weight and boosting skinning efficiency.
21. Outdoor Research Archangel Jacket & Bibs [$699 each] THE PROMISE Updated Gore membranes bring weather protection and unparalleled stretch for alpine climbing. THE DEETS The bodymapped Archangel kit takes advantage of new breeds of Gore-Tex Pro: a stretchy version in certain spots for mobility and another type that’s optimized for breathability.
22. Rab Khroma Kharve [$325] THE PROMISE Get warmth
23. Blizzard Bonafide 97 [$900] THE PROMISE A new core
construction is like body mapping for a ski. THE DEETS TrueBlend Flipcore construction places softer wood in the tip and tail to make turns smoother with
denser woods through the center to maintain edge grip and control. The Bonafide 97 is an all-condition daily driver thanks to a versatile sidecut and reduced rocker.
24. KEEN Revel IV Mid Polar [$160] THE PROMISE These boots
are a powerhouse of warmth, designed to take on the harshest winter conditions. THE DEETS Thanks to 200 grams of KEEN.Warm insulation, these kicks will keep your toes comfy down to -25° F. A grippy outsole and waterproof/breathable membrane ensure they can plow through any conditions, and an anti-odor footbed uses natural probiotics to break down the aroma of sweaty feet.
Make rainy days more cozy.
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and weather protection in a single layer. THE DEETS A highly weather-resistant, 30-denier Gore-Tex Infinium shell with taped key seams and synthetic Stratus insulation help the Khroma Kharve excel in cold, damp, and windy conditions. The jacket features a helmet-compatible hood, extra-large internal stash pockets, and an adjustable hem to lock out spindrift.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
19. Snow Peak Takibi Tarp Hexa M [$480]
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
25. Giro Grid/ Envi MIPS [$220] THE PROMISE It’s the perfect
helmet—inbounds or out. THE DEETS With 16 vents
and a wicking liner, the Grid (men’s) and Envi (women’s) keep skiers cool on the ups, while a MIPS Spherical system with EPS shell protects on the downs.
26. Flylow Lucy Jacket [$400] THE PROMISE The Lucy
blurs the line between softshell and hardshell in a fashion-forward ski jacket. THE DEETS With the buttery touch of a softshell, but all the waterproofing of a tough hardshell, the Lucy seals out the bad weather without feeling stiff or heavy.
Chest pockets large enough for skins.
27. Jetty Essex Twill [$75] THE PROMISE It’s the coziest performance flannel. Ever. THE DEETS In case you haven’t heard of them, B-Corp Jetty is an up-and-comer in the lifestyle apparel game. Its latest, the Essex Twill, is soft, breathable, and hipster-sharp. It’s also antimicrobial and anti-static thanks to mollusk shells. The fabric is 55 percent cotton and 45 percent Oystex, a blend of recycled polyester plus ground-up oyster shells, which lend it all those “anti” characteristics.
28. Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell [$350]
29 designed to keep you cool without sacrificing protection.
THE PROMISE When
breathability is the priority, this is your shell. THE DEETS In addition to pit zips, the Dawn Patrol, which is made of a proprietary four-way stretch waterproof material, features a front mesh panel for venting and perforations on the collar, all
29. Big Agnes Soda Peak/Teal Lake [$300] THE PROMISE This light-
weight puffy is a solid choice at a fair price. THE DEETS The 850-fill Soda Peak (men’s) and Teal Lake (women’s) combine a tailored fit, body-mapped vertical baf-
fles, and minimalist construction to make a light down insulator (13 and 11 ounces, respectively).
30. Merrell Agility Synthesis 2 Undyed [$200] THE PROMISE Making this
sneaker uses 80 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than other shoes.
30 THE DEETS Part of Merrell’s Undyed Collection, this shoe is completely void of pigment and the laces, mesh, and TPU overlays are all 100 percent recycled. An internal bootie locks in the fit, a firm rock plate protects feet on rough trails, and a grippy outsole provides traction. Just steer clear of the mud.
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[$55-$160] THE PROMISE Control your
phone without taking your mittens off. THE DEETS A magnetic closure on the back of the waterproof Heatwave+ mittens allows you to slip your fingers (covered by a reflective and touchscreen-capable glove liner) out of the mitten to control your phone, without ever exposing your skin. The magnetic closure is strong enough to stay tight during a storm but simple enough to slip out of one-handed. The mittens come in leather, softshell, and work-style designs.
32. Salomon Shift Pro [$850-$970] THE PROMISE Just like the
Shift binding, these boots are light on the up and burly on the down. THE DEETS Lightweight construction, a customizable shell, 40-degree range of motion in the cuff, and a seamless liner make the Shift Pro a comfortable, lightweight, and fast boot for climbing. But the stiff shell offers reliable power transmission and performance during the descent. The 100mm last and forgiving fit, as well as a range of flexes, mean the boots will accommodate a wide range of feet and preferences.
33. Helinox Cot One Convertible Insulated [$450] THE PROMISE Get off the
ground and stay warm with this insulated cot, made for luxe car campers. THE DEETS The lightweight, high-strength DAC-alloy frame is topped with a warm (R-value 5), self-inflating sleeping pad to create a
plush snoozing experience in any season. The Cot One Convertible Insulated weighs 6 pounds, 10 ounces and can hold up to 320 pounds. Add on the (sold-separately) leg extensions to raise the cot up to the level of a typical bed, or to use it as a bench around camp.
34. Vermont Glove Farmer Work [$100-$120] THE PROMISE This com-
fortable, all-season leather glove is built tough, just like Vermonters. THE DEETS Made primarily with goatskinÂsourced in the Northeast, the Farmer Work Glove ainâ€™t just for farmers. Goat leather stays more supple than cow leather after repeated washing and drying. Double-stitched fingers and a double-walled palm add durability in high-wear spots, letting them stand up to tools, ski poles, or shovels. The gloves are unlined, making them good for all sorts of warm-weather work; add on the wool liner (an extra $20) for winter use.
35. Black Diamond Stone Hauler Pro Duffels [$170-$190] THE PROMISE Luggage built
for dirtbags. THE DEETS BD enters the
duffel game with burly bags that have plenty of amenities: a protected external-access laptop sleeve and internal storage for dirty gear, a comfy suspension system, interior zipper pockets for organization, and a haul loop system on the exterior. The bags are made from 100-percent recycled materials: 600-denier and 1,500-denier recycled polyester. Available in 30- and 45-liter sizes.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
31. Seirus Heatwave+ ST Convert Magnemitt
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Jazz up your baselayer department.
38 37 36. Mammut Photics HS Thermo Bomber Jacket [$799] THE PROMISE Waterproof-
ness through the magic of lasers. THE DEETS Lasers are used to fuse the seams and baffles in this unisex, bomber-style down jacket, so there’s less water penetration and no loss of down. A DWR treatment and proprietary membrane make it completely waterproof, and 750-fill down keeps it warm.
37. Kari Traa Smekker [$110-$120] THE PROMISE Groovy good
looks meet performance. THE DEETS The 100-percent
merino wool Smekker line features flatlock seams for chafe-free support. Wool
fibers provide supreme moisture management and warmth with a supersoft hand feel and next-to-skin comfort. Available in women’s half zip, long-sleeve crew, and pants.
38. Sena R1 Evo [$299] THE PROMISE Meet the
next generation of cycling helmets—built for social butterflies. THE DEETS The R1 Evo is the only cycling helmet on the market with a voice-activated intercom feature allowing you to talk with any other R1 helmet within 900 meters, while filtering out wind and white noise. With Bluetooth built in, riders can take calls, hear GPS directions, and listen to music or cues from fitness apps, all without taking their hands off the handlebars.
41 Integrated lights make night riding safer.
39. Ortovox Haute Route Pack [$170]
perfect solution for chronically cold feet.
THE PROMISE This
award-winning pack just got even better. THE DEETS Comfort and stability are the crowning glories of the new Haute Route, thanks to added load lifter straps, a more ergonomic frame, and repositioned waist straps. Bomber lower compression straps make for a rock-solid A-frame ski carry.
40. Farm to Feet White Mountain Lounger [$30] THE PROMISE This super-
cozy sock is perfect for après-anything chilling. THE DEETS The merino wool mid-calf Lounger features extra-large terry loops throughout for cushioning and insulation, making it the
41. Archer Components G1x Gravel E-Shifting Conversion Kit [$129 standalone remote; $419 with D1x Trail shifter box] THE PROMISE The extreme precision, ease, and convenience of wireless e-shifting finally hits the gravel crowd. THE DEETS No longer the domain of mountain bikes, quick-touch gear shifting is now an option for gravel riders. The remote is compatible only with TRP Hylex RS brake levers, but that will change. The remote pairs with the brand’s shifter box, which works on virtually any derailleur and can be moved with ease from your existing flat-bar bike to a gravel bike.
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THE PROMISE All-day com-
fort for the toughest rides. THE DEETS Built from a lightweight, four-way stretch Cordura, the Elevate blends the durability of downhill gear with the weight and pedaling ease of a hot-weather trail short. A hydrophobic treatment keeps them dry during sudden squalls or stream crossings. A low-profile BOA closure waistband helps dial in the fit, and back-of-leg pockets are secure and comfortable while riding.
43. Mystery Ranch Rip Ruck 24 [$139] THE PROMISE Tons of orga-
nization—plus Mystery Ranch comfort—make this backpack
42 43 PAG E
the ideal travel sidekick. THE DEETS The Rip Ruck 24
has two main compartments: a zip access to a separate laptop/document sleeve and a well-organized main compartment that can be opened wide with one hand, making it easy to access and stash items while running through the airport.
46. Wigwam Snow Junkie Lightweight Socks [$25]
and carbon stringers from the rear insets to the outer edge of the tail provide edge hold and performance when the snow becomes variable. It also features a paulownia and poplar core, a scratch-proof topsheet, and PE sidewalls that boost torsional stability.
THE PROMISE By strate-
45. SOG Ultra XR [$140] THE PROMISE Here’s a new
44. Weston Eclipse [$599/$899 as a splitboard] THE PROMISE A short tail lets this snowboard wiggle through powder with ease. THE DEETS The women’s Eclipse features a surfy, tapered set-back shape with a big rockered nose, camber between the feet, and a rockered tail. The camber
everyday blade for money-clip carriers. THE DEETS Weighing just 1.2 ounces, the Ultra XR ensures you’ll always have cash and a solid knife in your pocket. The locking blade is ambidextrous so it can be opened and closed with either hand. Just don’t try to bring it through TSA.
gically eliminating stitches, Wigwam reduced bulk, improved fit, and upped the comfort factor. THE DEETS A new process cuts the bulk from key areas— like the ankle and arch/instep—in this over-the-calf-style sock. This reduces volume and creates a more comfortable interface than having a uniform number of stitches throughout. The contoured fit allows a more precise connection between the boot and the foot, so skiers have maximum control and their socks never slip around or bunch up inside their boots.
44 45 46
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
42. Pearl Izumi Elevate Short [$175]
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
47. Dynafit Blacklight Pro Ski [$800] THE PROMISE Spend less
time messing with skins during your next skimo race. THE DEETS The Blacklight Pro is unapologetically niche. Developed especially for hardcore ski mountaineers, it has a waist of 80mm and weighs only 2 pounds (per ski) at the 165mm length. The Blacklight is built around a paulownia core with carbon construction. And with the new Pin-Skin System, the skin is no longer attached to the tail or stretched. Instead, it’s anchored with a small pin and a corresponding insert directly in the ski, saving time on transitions. Rockered construction at the tip and tail make it playful, and a 3D sidewall cap boosts durability.
48. HappyNorwegian Mr. Grippy [$119] THE PROMISE Wax and
tune your skis or board when there’s no workbench in sight. THE DEETS Mr. Grippy is a two-piece ski stand that plops down on any tabletop without the need for a vise, thanks to a stable footprint and high-friction rubber feet, making it perfect for travel. It holds skis either flat for waxing or on edge for edge tuning, and uses the same super-sticky rubber on the top to keep skis in place while scraping.
49. Cusa Tea Premium Herbal [$10/10 servings] THE PROMISE This tasty (hot
or cold) herbal tea is instant: no steeping or packing out tea bags. THE DEETS Cusa exploded onto the drink scene a few years back with its instant organic teas. But initially all options contained caffeine.
Great for skiers who do their own tuning.
48 47 Now herbal lovers can get in on the action. It’s made via Cold Steep technology, which uses room-temperature water and pressure to extract flavor. Then the tea is gently vacuum-dehydrated, which concentrates it into crystals that instantly dissolve in hot or cold water. Available in three blends: Everyday Well-
ness (hibiscus rose), Deep Doze (chamomile and lemon), and Slim Savvy (tangerine and cinnamon).
50. XTRATUF Homer [$90] THE PROMISE This slipper is
tough enough for outside, but comfy enough for in. THE DEETS The Homer
combines the weather resistance of a waterproof, fishing-style boot with the low cut and comfortable fit of a slipper—perfect for everyday use. A wool upper with a full faux-shearling lining keeps your feet cozy, while a molded EVA insole provides added comfort. The non-marking outsole delivers great traction.
Gear / trend report
THE NEXT BIG THINGS
The Tech Evolution Lifekey wants to equip gear with everything from emergency medical info to real-time weather reports to equipment safety tracking—all with this tiny chip.
Real technological leaps—the game-changing breakthroughs that push the boundaries of what’s possible in gear—don’t come along every day, or even every year. These eight brands have their eyes on the horizon, and they gave us a peek behind the curtain. From weather-reporting race suits and self-repairing jackets to turbo-charged wool and gear made from garbage, these innovators are tackling problems sure to move our industry forward. Buckle up. It’s going to be an inspiring ride. BY COURTNEY HOLDEN
Coming soon to a gear shop near you
5 Pie in the sky
SOMEDAY, LIFEKEY COULD deliver on-demand gear videos to customers in stores. We might use it to shop for new backpacks and climbing ropes. It could allow consumers to track gear from raw materials to finished product to endof-life disposal. And it can already save your life—by quickly providing medical providers with your blood type and other critical health information. All that from a single chip no larger than a quarter. This broad ambition grew from a single source: one man’s concern for a bike-commuting buddy. Jackson, Wyoming-based Jason Kintzler knew his friend traveled miles each day along a heavily trafficked, two-lane highway with nothing but his ID and a dog tag-like emergency contact bracelet as a resource if something went wrong. “I knew I could build a bracelet or other wearable device that would connect to emergency medical information—not just emergency contacts, but blood types and health records and insurance information,” Kintzler says. So Kintzler, a self-described “software tech guy” who started the successful public relations software Pitchengine back in 2009, got to work. The outcome was a radio frequency identification
PHOTO BY LOUISA ALBANESE
TODAY, THE LIFEKEY CHIP COMES IN WEARABLE BRACELETS AND PATCHES FOR HELMETS OR APPAREL.
(RFID) microchip that uses near-field communication (NFC) technology. Like the tech used in phone payment services like Apple Pay, it communicates with the user’s phone and shares GPS coordinates and notifications. Users register the chip and upload pertinent health and emergency contact information of their choice to their public Lifekey profiles. In an emergency, the first responder touches the chip (denoted by the Lifekey logo) to a smartphone. In all Androids and newer iPhone versions, this will activate the NFC functionality—no app required— and send a notification to the responder’s phone, securely granting access to the user’s health information and automatically notifying his or her emergency contacts. After debuting the technology at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, Kintzler says multiple brands—“from workwear and safety equipment to outdoor recreation and action sports”— approached him about a partnership. And they were interested in far more than ways to share emergency health information. “We really see this connectivity as being able to solve all kinds of problems,” Kintzler says—and he’s dreaming big. Pre-retail, there’s potential for brands to do source verification for every step
of the supply chain. Manufacturers would use the Lifekey tech to “check in” the base materials at key stages along their journey, providing a log of where those materials-turned-end products have been. This data could then be made available to sustainability-minded end consumers, sharing specifics about where in Australia the wool came from, say, or which factory made it, or how much of the down was sourced responsibly. The consumer would scan the Lifekey chip embedded somewhere in the gear or garment to bring up a map of the journey that individual item took to get into their hands. Other brands have incorporated some traceability into their source materials, and Kintzler notes that much of this process is already being mapped: “What’s missing is the connection all the way to the consumer. What Lifekey has been able to do is take that data and make it accessible on anyone’s smartphone.” The chip could also replace that novel-length hang tag that lists every whizbang feature. With Lifekey, the customer would have instant access to that feature list as well as video footage of the product in use, a description of the source materials, detailed care instructions, and plenty of other details. “Wouldn’t it
be cool if we tapped a product with our phone and pulled up videos so that we could have an interactive experience at retail?” Kintzler asks. After purchase, the same chip can become a safety tool for the consumer, and possibly (with the user’s opted-in permission) a continuing connection point with the brand. One function on Kintzler’s radar is a check-in feature that tracks the product’s lifespan. Say, for example, Mary buys a Lifekey-enabled climbing harness and registers it with the manufacturer. Each time she straps in, she taps her phone to the chip, recording the number of times she’s used the harness. On her first use, the brand sends her a push notification with a link to its own “Rock on” Spotify playlist. After 50 uses, the brand recommends that she check three specific elements for wear and tear. After 100 uses, the brand sends Mary warranty details and offers her a 10-percent-off coupon for one of its newer models. “That doesn’t exist today, but we’re right there on the cusp,” Kintzler says. “We just need companies who want to take it forward.” Spyder, maker of the U.S. Ski Team’s uniforms, is one such brand. Its next generation of race suits, to be released in the next year or two, will be equipped with Lifekey chips to not only give medical professionals immediate access to a racer’s health information, but also as a way for the athlete to access real-time data about the weather and snow conditions— details that significantly impact how a course runs. “We think this technology, especially in the outdoor industry, has the potential to be invisible but super-helpful,” Kintzler says. “We don’t need another screen. We need less noise, but the benefits of being connected. The internet of things is going to be part of our lives. We just need to figure out how that fits into our lifestyle as active people.”
Gear / trend report
THE FLEXDYNAMICS MACHINE WOULD MAKE CHOOSING SKIS OR SNOWBOARDS EASIER.
The Snow sports Standard Flexdynamics takes the guesswork out of shopping for skis and snowboards. IT CAN BE TOUGH to compare one ski or snowboard to another beyond shape, materials, and graphics. Even with the manufacturer’s description in hand, consumers don’t know how that product will ride for their height, weight, strength, and skill level. There’s no standardized performance scale for gear across the outdoor industry. Alejandro Hunger, better known as HMaker in reference to his lifelong passion for making things, wants to change that—in the snow sports world, at least. “You go to buy something in the market, and the guy tells you, this is two ounces of fish,” he says. “He’s not guessing the weight; it’s more precise than that.” So why aren’t skis and snowboards sold with similar exactitude? Currently, HMaker says, snowsports brands build prototypes, which are then distributed to pro riders and other experts to assess. These testers return with feedback and help the brand decide which versions of the multiple prototypes should move forward into full production. The brand then uses their feedback to describe the product to its customers. So those impressive write-ups about how well a ski carves or how much pop the tail has—that’s all based on how the ski or board performed for the experts.
“With my approach, you can cross the feelings of those professionals with numbers to describe the behavior of each kind of ski,” HMaker says—think the ISO temperature rating standard for sleeping bags, but applied to a ski or snowboard’s performance characteristics. Those numbers come from his patent-pending Flexdynamics machine, which puts the ski or board in question through a three-point flexural test (measuring how rigid it is), a torsional test (measuring how much it twists), and a dynamic elastic behavior test (measuring how much energy is transmitted, or its pop). The machine then provides a report on how energy moves through that individual ski or board. In practice, a brand would test, say, 50 sets of skis out of a 1,000-set production run to collect an average rating for the model. That rating would then appear on the packaging. And because every other model of ski or board in the store would have gone through the same measurement process and have its own stats, the consumer would have an independent
rating to use as a comparison tool when shopping. “My way of thinking is if you put a rating onto the packaging that the general public can easily understand, they’ll know right away [if] the board suits them,” HMaker says. HMaker isn’t sure how, exactly, that rating would be communicated to the customer—perhaps with a color code or a 10-point scale. Right now, he’s in talks with several snow sports brands to begin the process. “This can be a new standard for the industry, and they can build it with me,” he says. “It’s better to work together to make this something bigger. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
MY DREAM GEAR What products do you most wish an outdoor brand would invent? EVAN BROWN Co-owner, Brown’s Outdoor, Port Angeles, WA I’d like to see a truly puncture-proof, ultralight, [inflatable] sleeping pad.
METHANE CAPTURED FROM LANDFILLS COULD BECOME YOUR NEXT BASELAYER.
Turning Garbage into Fabric
PHOTOS BY COURTESY ; ISTOCK.COM / WABENO
Patagonia wants to transform carbon-rich landfills into adventureready garments.
BRANDS ACROSS the outdoor industry are incorporating recycled polyester into their apparel lines. And that’s great, says Matt Dwyer, Patagonia’s senior director of materials innovation. But while turning plastic water bottles and fishing net waste into garments has the dual benefit of repurposing waste products and reducing the carbon footprint (compared to sourcing from virgin materials), it’s not making a big enough impact on the apparel industry’s massive petroleum extraction problem. Eliminating polyester—and abandoning its extensive performance benefits altogether—isn’t the solution, either, says Dwyer. He argues that the carbon footprint, land use impact, and animal welfare issues of using only natural materials makes that avenue unsustainable as well. “At Patagonia, our commitment is to do plastic in the most responsible way possible, not witch-hunt it or try to supplant it,” Dwyer says. What he proposes instead: Harness the carbon-rich greenhouse gases (we’re
looking at you, methane) emitted from landfills, rearrange those carbon molecules, and turn them into carbon-rich polyester. Head spinning yet? Let’s go back to the basic chemistry. Both petroleum and methane are made up of hydrocarbons (molecules of carbon and hydrogen). To create polyester, a manufacturer typically puts petroleum through a chemical process along with coal, air, and water. Patagonia wants to replace this process with a new and more environmentally friendly way of harnessing carbon in gas form from the methane in landfills. “We see waste as this treasure trove of material and carbon that we can turn into high-quality goods,” Dwyer says,
MY DREAM GEAR What products do you most wish an outdoor brand would invent? MATT WANKER Hardgoods Manager, JL Waters Adventure Outfitters, Bloomington, IN
pointing to discarded food, sawdust, and even end-of-life garments, among other trash, that contain lots of carbon. Dwyer is well aware that the science is in its infancy—in fact, he refers to the technology as a “magic process.” Still, he points to “research being done in beakers” right now at universities and in R&D departments around the world (he declined to share specific partners), and believes that a workable technology will be ready sometime in the next decade. And Patagonia is ready to use its clout as an internationally recognized brand and environmental advocate to help move the research along, in part through support from its venture capital fund, Tin Shed Ventures.
During the quiet of night, the sound of tent zippers pierces multiple campsites. If there was a completely silent tent zipper, I might sleep just a bit more soundly (or not be so selfconscious about my bathroom trips).
Gear / trend report
GO AHEAD, JUST TRY TO PUNCTURE THE WHISTLER WINDBREAKER.
Heal Thyself Crowdfunding success story Coalatree brings self-repairing tech to a windbreaker near you.
RUB YOUR FINGERS over a hole in your windbreaker to make the tear disappear instantaneously? Sounds like science fiction, but the new “self-healing” technology from Coalatree promises to repair punctures in a matter of seconds. Featured in its Whistler Windbreaker, which launched on Kickstarter last October, the technology uses a sandwich construction: nylon with a grid-like weave for the outside and next-to-skin layers, and the self-healing Nylon Hilo Technology Ripstop material in between. The fiber structure of this middle panel is woven so that if, say, a thorn pierces it, the fibers spread apart to allow the thorn through. As soon as the thorn is removed, all three layers mesh back together, leaving no holes once the healing process is complete. Applying friction (rubbing the fabric) helps this reconciliation happen more quickly than it typically would—in seconds, rather than minutes—but even if you do nothing, the material will come back together without any effect on
MY DREAM GEAR What products do you most wish an outdoor brand would invent? DARREN BUSH Owner, Rutabaga Paddlesports, Madison, WI PAG E
breathability, wind protection, or DWR. Director of Brand Development
If I could create the perfect paddling kit, it would include a canoe that’s so comfortable and light you forget about it, a paddle that fits in your hand and makes no sound catching the water, and a PFD you forget you’re wearing until you get into your car and realize the seat back feels different.
John-Michael Fabrizi wants to maintain realistic expectations with the self-healing aspect: “If you take a scissor to it and cut it, then the structure of that fiber is compromised. But if you puncture it, then it will heal itself.” He adds that the maximum tear the tech can handle is about the diameter of a large nail. Next up: figuring out how to make the magic happen on a fully waterproof shell.
WOOL’S ACHILLES HEEL IS ITS SHORT FIBER LENGTH.
Wool Toughens Up
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Woolmark is on a quest to make holey wool socks a relic of the past.
EVER HAVE A PAIR of supersoft merino wool socks that wore a hole in the heel way too fast? Yeah, us too. The folks at Woolmark are trying to fix that issue without using the go-to “put some synthetic in it” solution. “The natural fabrics trend is pushing our R&D team to discover ways to maintain that ‘natural’ claim without sacrificing the durability performance people expect from their synthetics,” says Sarah Schlenger, R&D commercialization manager, Americas. The wear-out-too-fast problem stems from the fact that wool is a short-staple fiber, meaning the fiber itself is short— even at its longest, it only reaches about 3.5 inches in length. Shorter fibers pull apart more easily when spun together into a yarn, giving the fabric a low tensile strength. The finer the micron, the softer the wool—and the less tensile strength it has. In comparison, fibers like polyester and nylon are made of long molecular chains, which provide high tensile strength. Woolmark is in the early research phases of solving this problem—and it’s looking to other industries for inspiration. After all, Schlenger points out, the 40-year-old washable wool technology partially stemmed from research into
certain types of tea bags and how they remain strong enough to hold tea while wet without compromising biodegradability. Woolmark is keeping tabs on beauty industry advancements for hair strengthening and hair regrowth (since wool and human hair share a keratin protein structure), as well as monitoring biodegradable synthetic fiber advancements. The organization also has an eye on mechanical processes to spin denser (and therefore stronger) fibers, financially supporting research into these innovations and managing collaborations with supply chains and brands to test solutions. No matter where inspiration comes from, Schlenger says the tech will have global benefits. “Any improvements or adjustments we can make to the wool fiber and yarns, especially in the category of strength, presents a new market for wool and new demand,” she says. “We don’t need to reinvent wool—it’s been serving us very well for a long time. We want to elevate wool to categories and consumers where natural performance has not previously been considered, and apply collaborative, innovative thinking to make wool products that are eco-friendly and fit for purpose.”
MY DREAM GEAR What products do you most wish an outdoor brand would invent? DAVE BLAZER Owner, The Trailhead, Buena Vista, CO 1. Everyone knows Ergobaby carriers; they’re the best. There needs to be an Ergopuppy carrier. Throw the puppy in the Ergo and he’ll have a great vantage point to enjoy the ride. 2. “CoreThermo” would be a thin, fibrous insulating material that would take kinetic energy from the body and transmogrify it into the exact amount of heat needed to keep the wearer comfortably warm, regardless of outside temperature. The benefit of this revolutionary technology would be an extremely minimal (no more bulky down or synthetic insulation) layer that could be packable without the delicate nature of some of the wire-based thermal jackets of today.
Gear / trend report
NEMO DREAMS OF A PLANT-BASED SLEEPING BAG.
PlantBased Fluffy Stuff NEMO Equipment looks to milkweed as inspiration for the next insulation innovation.
DOWN HAS LONG BEEN considered the gold standard in insulation. The reason: Duck and goose feathers have an unparalleled ability to spring back after long-term compression, and they feature the gear world’s best warmth-to-weight performance. But as we all know, down isn’t perfect. Those same feathers lose their insulating properties when wet, and the price of down fluctuates dramatically from year to year, putting a financial burden on manufacturers. And of course, there are all the animal rights issues at hand. “Even [when down is from] certified responsible-down farms, it’s still probably not the most ideal source of insulation,” says Cam Brensinger, founder and CEO of NEMO Equipment. Synthetic alternatives have sprung up in the past decades—many of them highly effective—but they, too, have issues, primarily their sourcing from petrochemicals. All of these issues, plus an epiphany during a retreat on Appledore Island off the coast of New Hampshire, got Brensinger thinking about insulation alternatives. On the trip, a botanist broke
open a milkweed seed pod, revealing a material closely resembling down. “I immediately thought, ‘Has anyone ever tried drying this out and using it for insulation?’” Brensinger says. And in fact, someone has—sort of. Back in World War II days, milkweed floss replaced a different fluffy plant fiber (material from the tropical kapok tree) in life jackets. Brensinger realizes that milkweed pods aren’t likely to be the silver bullet: “Milkweed by itself doesn’t have nearly the resistance or insulating power of down. You can’t make a one-for-one swap there.” But he does see milkweed as a potential point of inspiration for whatever new insulating technology is on the horizon. NEMO has already begun comparative testing of other plant-derived fibers and started conversations with its insulation partners. “It’s entirely possible that you will have a mix of materials, all of which potentially are
plant material, and each will contribute a property to what becomes a composite that does everything you need.”
MY DREAM GEAR What products do you most wish an outdoor brand would invent? DANA DAVIS President, Summit Hut, Ltd., Tucson, AZ I’d like a watch telling you when to hydrate, especially when you’re out in our desert area. If you wanted to be fancy, you could type in the temperature and your gender and weight, and since the watch also knows how hard you’re working, it would tell you, “You should be drinking x amount of water.”
Turn Off the Oven PrimaLoft’s P.U.R.E. technology promises to reduce carbon emissions by taking heat out of the manufacturing equation.
SYNTHETIC INSULATION HAS required the same energy-intensive manufacturing process since the 1940s: Bonded fibers that maintain the insulation structure must be cured in highheat ovens. This curing process “heat sets” the fibers the same way a curling iron sets a ringlet. Meanwhile, those
Helmets Get Smart
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
POC adds solar power, ushering in a new era of high-tech head protection.
ovens—which can reach temperatures upward of 248 degrees Fahrenheit—consume enormous quantities of energy and generate significant carbon dioxide emissions. PrimaLoft hopes to make that carbon footprint-heavy process history with the introduction of its P.U.R.E. technology. Short for “Produced Using Reduced Emissions,” the technique uses a binding fiber that self-bonds and self-cures through exposure to air, not heat. The brand estimates that using the P.U.R.E. technology will reduce carbon emissions by nearly 50 percent compared to the process used to make their PrimaLoft Gold Insulation. “PrimaLoft is one small company in a big world,” says Senior Vice President of Engineering Vanessa Mason, “but if we can demonstrate a significant impact that one small company can have, it can show others that they, too, can do something similar.” P.U.R.E. will make its retail debut in the fall of 2020.
A CYCLIST ROUNDS A BLIND corner, headed for a collision with a car—until tech in her helmet communicates with sensors in the car, warning both of the danger in time to avert the crash. POC hopes to make that lifesaving scenario a reality in the not-too-distant future. “That kind of technology is achievable, but one of the limitations we’ve had is [the lack of] a power source,” says Damian Phillips, POC’s head of communications. Now, thanks to a new partnership, POC has exactly that. By incorporating Swedish tech brand Exeger’s ultrathin, flexible solar panels into its lids, POC can equip them with an endless source of electricity—the panels charge via both sunlight and artificial light—without adding noticeable weight or bulk. The first iteration of helmets (just for cycling models for now), planned to hit the market by the end of this year, will feature an integrated rear-facing safety light.
Cracking the Zip Code How complicated can zip ties be? One brand reveals the convoluted process behind “simple” innovation. ZIP TIES: So useful for everything
from stringing up a camp lantern to making gear repairs. So ubiquitous. So disposable. Matador founder Chris Clearman found himself using zip ties all the time, but he cringed at their design flaws: The single-use nature of the ones that worked, and the lack of snugness and minimal load-bearing capacity of the reusable versions. So, he and the team at Matador began looking for a better solution. Drawing inspiration from the elastic loops found on backpacks, they replicated the rather uncomplicated zip tie design using a silicone noodle with a loop on one end and a toggle on the other. The user slips the toggle through the loop and slides it down the teeth to adjust the loop size. Simple … sort of. The struggle came when testing the right material for the noodle. Use a silicone that’s too stretchy and you compromise strength. But use a silicone that’s too rigid, and you can’t get a snug cinch. When version 1.0 repeatedly failed in informal product testing, the team went back to the drawing board, considering a material change. That’s when they found it: A composite rubber that fit the bill for both stretch and strength. After several more iterations, Matador landed on a design and material that appeared on shelves last December as “Re-Ties.”
Gear / trend report
THE INNARDS OF IGNIK’S ADJUSTABLE WARMERS ARE FULLY BIODEGRADABLE.
Agitated Innovation Outdoor industry newcomer Ignik offers a smarter take on personal heating. DISPOSABLE HANDWARMERS are a blunt tool for combating the cold: Once activated, you can’t adjust the temperature, and when you’re done, most are bound for the landfill. But Ignik’s personal warmers for hands, phones, and tablets feature patent-pending temperature regulation with a Ziploc-esque opening that allows users to fine-tune their own thermostats. Unlocking the zipper all the way (exposing the inner pouch to maximum oxygen) puts the warmer on high heat mode; halfway means the warmer will last roughly 20 percent longer on a lower heat setting. Re-zipping the package completely temporarily “turns off” the warmer (it will last another 24 to 48 hours). Even better: The Warmers for Humans and Warmers for Devices have biodegradable internal components (iron, cellulose, activated carbon, vermiculite, and salt) that can be dumped into compost. Next up: Ignik hopes to develop a “printed” heat source/carbon fiber heating element that would line gear like socks, sleeping bags, or tents and be powered by a small amount of electrical current. Peter Pontano, director of marketing and product development, is tight-lipped about the specifics, but says these technologies will make the element more localized, efficient, and portable than any before.
MY DREAM GEAR What products do you most wish an outdoor brand would invent? EMILY WHITE Owner, Roads Rivers and Trails, Milford, OH
A magnetic auto-lock zipper. Never get your zipper off track again: The magnetic lock assures a proper alignment and catch of male and female zipper ends every time!
PRIMALOFT® IS A REGISTERED TRADEMARK OF PRIMALOFT, INC. ©2020 PRIMALOFT, INC.
Introducing PrimaLoft® P.U.R.E.™ A new standard in manufacturing technology that relies on air, instead of heat from an oven, to produce our PrimaLoft® insulation. The result is a drastic reduction in carbon emissions around the world. It’s a brilliant shift in our process, that will make a huge difference for the environment. Ushering in a new era of collaboration between us and Mother Nature. Once again demonstrating what’s possible when we’re Relentlessly Responsible™ in every aspect of our business.
R E D UC E
Gear / eco front CHACO’S REPAIR PROGRAM FIXES 30,000 TO 40,000 PAIRS OF SANDALS EVERY YEAR.
Recommerce (noun). The concept of a circular economy that extends the lifespan of a piece of gear to include more than one owner. THE THREE Rs OF RECOMMERCE
The rising popularity of used, repairable, and rentable gear provides a sustainability boost—and a business opportunity for savvy brands. BY KASSONDRA CLOOS
REPAIR Patagonia’s Worn Wear has long been one of the industry’s crown jewel repair programs, but many others are gaining recognition. Chaco repairs tens of thousands of pairs of sandals in its Michigan factory through the ReChaco program each year. Red Paddle Co. sells replacement parts online, and service reps send individualized custom videos directly to customers to walk them through repairs.
REUSE In 2018, REI expanded its on-site Garage Sales into what amounts to a nationwide, 24/7 online used gear sale, pulling inventory from customer returns and trade-ins. Patagonia and Arc’teryx also now offer buyback programs for customers to swap clothing for credit toward something new (the programs launched in 2017 and 2019, respectively).
PHOTOS BY CHACO FOOTWEAR (LEFT); COURTESY (3)
Who Needs New?
or an industry that relies on healthy natural landscapes, we’re sure putting a lot of new, resource-intensive products out into the market each year. But some forward-looking businesses are beginning to push disposability out of fashion. Companies that get in early on these three trends could see big returns: By 2023, secondhand apparel could more than double from today’s $24 billion-per-year market to upwards of $51 billion, according to a study conducted by secondhand clothing site thredUP. The buyers pushing that charge? Millennials and Gen Z-ers. Some might fear this emphasis on used gear could hamstring retailers’ attempts to sell full-priced items, or hurt brands’ ability to churn out new products. But Peter Whitcomb, REI’s director of new business development, says, “ It will force true innovation—new products will be better.” If shoppers can find what they need without buying new, it’ll force brands to go beyond minor upgrades when coming to market with fresh gear. “We’re aiming to create a landscape where you can find [what you need], whether it’s new, used, or rented.”
RENT Does someone who only goes backpacking or skiing a few times a year really need their own, brand-new setup? Enter the sharing economy, via rentals: Arrive, launched in 2017, allows outdoorists to borrow highend camping gear from more than 40 brands online and have it delivered to their homes. And the site Gearo, founded in 2018, gets local retailers involved by allowing users to search for a rental shop near them.
PHOTOS BY CHACO FOOTWEAR (LEFT); COURTESY (3)
The War on Plastic The Plastic Impact Alliance mobilizes on all fronts to make petro-trash a relic of the past. BY KRISTIN HOSTETTER
liminating single-use plastic is a cause we can all rally behind. Proof: The Plastic Impact Alliance is now more than 300 brands strong. That’s 320 companies—from retailers to rep groups, gear makers, marketing agencies, media outlets, and affinity groups—all committed to reducing their plastic use, both at industry events like Outdoor Retailer, and throughout their supply chains on a daily basis. But saying no to Dasani bottles and straws is one thing; nixing plastic from our packaging, distribution centers, and all other facets of our businesses is a longterm commitment that we have to tackle both on the ground and from the air. We asked five industry leaders, all active members of the Plastic Impact Alliance, about the key issues.
On our polybag problem…
“By the end of 2020, our customers will see a substantial reduction in polybags. We’ve greatly reduced polybag use for our own brand and are working with our partners to do the same. We’ve asked all apparel brands to stop sending products in polybags whenever possible. For brands that can’t comply, we’ll recycle them, but charge the brand a fee to offset the cost
and continue to engage our partners to find new solutions.” –Greg Gausewitz, product sustainability manager, REI
On cleaning up Outdoor Retailer…
“We’re excited about the possibility of Outdoor Retailer becoming a zero-waste event, and we’re working with other organizations to create sustainability guidelines. We’re considering implementing mandatory standards and identifying resources to help our customers transition their approaches. Going zero waste has significant impacts for everyone in freight, packaging, shipping, storage, food and beverage, and even travel. We know the outdoor industry is committed, and so are we.” –Jennifer Pelkey, senior marketing director, Outdoor Retailer
On the scope of the issue…
“Single-use plastic is not just a waste problem: It’s a climate change problem. Greenhouse gases are emitted at every stage of plastic production and disposal. The more we use, the more we contribute to global warming. And throwaway plastic packaging and fast-moving consumer goods is a huge part of the problem. We don’t have to contribute to this; there are alternatives. As part of OIA’s climate actions initiative launching in 2020, we’ll
help guide brands in strategies for seeking low-carbon materials.” –Amy Horton, sustainability director, Outdoor Industry Association
On next-level recycling…
“Eliminating our reliance on all virgin petroleum—not just single-use plastic—is fundamental to our mission of saving the home planet. Eighty-six percent of our company’s carbon emissions come from raw materials and their supply chains. That reality led us to commit to use only renewable or recycled materials by 2025. Using recycled fibers reduces carbon emissions by 44 to 80 percent, greatly reduces water use, and keeps plastic from landfills and oceans.” –Corley Kenna, spokesperson, Patagonia
On changing behavior at events…
“At many events we participate in, we hear a lazy excuse from event planners: that disposable plastics (or paper) are the only way to ensure a sanitary environment. That’s just false. Holding attendees responsible for bringing their own vessels is the best path forward. If events don’t offer bottled water or beverages, thirsty people will start to bring their own.” –Michele Fleming, marketing manager, Stanley
COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU Join the BACKPACKER Get Out More team as they return to host the 20th anniversary of this national traveling tour. This year’s tour will be bigger and better than ever. Whether you are an experienced backcountry traveler, or simply want to upgrade your current hiking and camping skills, the Get Out More Tour is for you. Look for the Get Our More Tour in your area April–November 2020. For tour schedule, dates and details visit
WE KEEP YOU OUTDOORS
n o z a m A l a v i v r Su e d i Gu E NY IN E S S C A N D S U B IS H T DY IN E, B UT N O B O . M A N S IT E K O N E D W ITH RS C U E R C , E IT B E O T T A E R ETA IL E R, IS A F O R C LO V E IT, H Y N U — O -G Z E A L T M A IT L T RA TH A R K F O R YO U O O D W N R A E R IL -B A A T ST R E U’R E A M E G R L D’S L A R G E O W E W H ETH E R YO H T E K O W N G A M E. O W TO M A S N IT K T O A T IT D E G E ATIN T YO U N FO RM O R BE H E R E’S W H A O N TH E P L AT PAG E
25 Ways to Win on Amazon
In 2019, Amazon became the largest retailer the world has ever seen. Here’s what that means for all of us.
When Jeff Bezos first launched Amazon way back in 1994, his original vision was to create an online store that offered a wide selection of books at affordable prices. What he actually created: a retail revolution that would fundamentally change the way consumers shop in the 21st century. This became increasingly evident as the company expanded its inventory to include just about anything that customers could possibly want, including outdoor gear. “The outdoor category, like most Amazon product categories, was prioritized and developed as a function of consumer demand,” says Larry Pluimer, CEO of Indigitous, a consulting firm that helps brands and retailers navigate the Amazon waters. “Because Amazon is a search engine, it can tell how many people are searching for ‘camping tents’ versus ‘toasters’. As it turns out, a lot of people are searching BY KRAIG BECKER for ‘The North Face’.” ART BY DANIEL HERTZBERG Before Indigitous, Pluimer spearheaded Amazon’s efforts to bring outdoor products to the Marketplace starting in 2009. Part of his job was developing Amazon categories that allowed sellers to merchandise gear like tents and crampons, but creating a proper online retail outlet for outdoor gear was only half the battle. Pluimer and his team also had to convince brands and retailers to join the Marketplace. That wasn’t very easy at first, but eventually it started to pay off. “Amazon was controversial and brands were reluctant to engage,” Pluimer says, referencing a general distrust that many retailers and brands had for Amazon at the time. “But, in a couple of years, we had signed over 200 brands to sell to Amazon. Some of our early partners included Keen, Osprey, Eagle Creek, Sierra Designs, MSR, and Kelty.” Today, Amazon has grown into the largest retailer in the world, with annual revenues topping $200 billion. With more and more consumers turning to the website to find products, partnering with Amazon can be rewarding for both brands and retailers. But there’s more to succeeding in the ever-expanding Marketplace than simply slapping a few products on the site: Like any other part of a successful business, you need a strategy. Our list of 25 outdoor industry-tested tactics, tips, and best practices is here to help you develop the right one for you, scoring a win on the world’s biggest e-commerce website.
1. Go first party (1P)
Vendors sell wholesale directly to Amazon as any other retail partner.
Amazon handles shipping, returns, and inventory management.
Brands give up control over pricing and marketing, risking Amazon selling for steep discounts or using off-message selling tactics.
“It was fairly easy to enter the 1P system. Now, nearly all of our products are available on Amazon and we’ve seen a 10% increase in sales as a result.” –Brian Vargo, founder of the Vargo camping brand
2. Go third party (3P)
Vendors list their products on Amazon but handle the details themselves.
Brands retain much more control over pricing and marketing.
Sellers must take care of shipping and all other customer service.
“Our decision [to switch to 3P] stems from our desire to tighten control of the brand and support our valued dealers in the outdoor industry.” —Andy Burke, head of commercial sales for Outdoor Research
3. Set up an Amazon Storefront
3P sellers set up a mini-website within Amazon to spotlight their gear.
Sellers control brand presence and improve the shopping experience with photos, video, and other slick marketing.
Maintaining it can be resource-intensive for smaller brands and retailers, requiring regular content refreshes.
“We see any point where a consumer touches our brand as an opportunity to keep our presentation as elevated as possible.” –Mike Wallenfels, whose Outdoor Pursuits Consulting Firm works with Hydro Flask
Choose your selling approach.
There are a few ways to join the Marketplace— which is the one for you?
4 Nail SEO
Search engine optimization is just as vital on Amazon as it is on Google. Pay attention to proper keywords in titles, subtitles, bullet points, and product descriptions, but don’t get overly mechanical with your approach. “Make sure your product listings read like they were written by a human and not a robot,” says Yoon Kim, founder of Blogs For Brands, a company that assists outdoor brands with marketing and Amazon strategy. “And [remember that] Amazon does not account for misspellings. You’ll need to include every possible misspelling of your product on the product description page in order to cover all your bases.” As with Google, Amazon SEO can be confusing. Kim suggests bringing in some backup: “Hiring an SEO expert can speed up projects and lead to better results, especially for tedious projects like Amazon copy.”
5 Choose Your SKUs Just because you’ve made the decision to join the Marketplace doesn’t mean that you have to list every product your company has to offer. Many brands and retailers find value in only selling a portion of their catalog online. Outdoor Research’s Andy Burke says, “We’ve found that a segmented offering on Amazon provides both broad visibility for the brand and simultaneously provides a special experience for our brick-andmortar retailers. Our specialty offerings are focused on key items and collections that are better served in the hands of educated sales staff and customer service people.”
6 Mind Your MAP Maintaining control of minimum advertised pricing (MAP) can be difficult in the free-for-all that is the Marketplace. Even authorized retail partners might drop prices too low in search of a quick sale, but “Don’t let rogue sellers define your price,” Larry Pluimer says. “Your distribution policy needs to be deliberate and focused”—whether that means working with only a select group of trusted 3P partners, or even nixing 3P sellers altogether. Yoon Kim agrees: “When MAP gets out of control, Amazon is the first to know, and if Amazon stays under MAP, everyone eventually matches. Control your distribution so that if MAP issues arise, you can cut off a rogue seller.”
7. Understand Amazon’s Reach “Amazon is your brand’s biggest online touchpoint for consumers. More customers will see your brand on Amazon than your website, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube combined. Orient your digital marketing efforts, and ad spend, accordingly.” —Larry Pluimer, CEO of Indigitous
Don’t Be Afraid to Break Up
Off-price Amazon competition eating into your brick-andmortar business? You don’t have to take it anymore, says Wes Allen, owner of Sunlight Sports in Cody, Wyoming. “The worst thing specialty retailers can do if they’re having this problem is to continue to write [orders with] the brand,” Allen says, noting that his store has stopped carrying gear from brands that couldn’t or wouldn’t rein in below-MAP sales on Amazon. “There are very few brands out there making things that somebody else doesn’t make. Look around at who has the best brand hygiene and figure out who you want to work with.” The key, says Allen, is tracking prices and opening up conversations with vendors based on data. Sunlight Sports will match a lower Amazon price in the store, and Allen receives a daily sales report noting how often that happens. He then takes those numbers to brand partners: “You have to show them what the impact is. Tell them what you’re seeing so they can take action.” And if they don’t? Find someone who will. Allen says he’s increased orders with The North Face, KÜHL, and Nordica in recent years in part because they do a great job controlling MAP across the board.
Spend Money to Make Money
8 Create Opportunities for Impulse Buys A recent survey of online shopping trends from CreditCards.com shows that 44 percent of Americans admit to making an impulse purchase in the last three months. Amazon sellers can take advantage of this trend by offering unique and useful products at very affordable price—like the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, which retails for just $17.47. “Amazon introduced our products to a massive audience who saw the value of being prepared for emergencies and having something lightweight and easy to add to their pack,” says Tara Lundy, the company’s head of brand. “We have a great business on Amazon. We utilize the platform to reach hundreds of thousands of customers who may not be able to access our products instore.”
Don’t overlook the benefits of buying ad space from Amazon. You’ll catch the attention of more shoppers and potentially even push items onto the first page of search results. Want to see this in action? Do a search for Patagonia—a brand that isn’t even officially part of the Marketplace—and see what comes up. Besides Patagonia gear from unauthorized sellers, you’re also likely to find advertisements for The North Face or Columbia displayed along the top of the page, giving the competition the chance to lure away potential customers. PAG E
Amazon’s 100 million-plus Prime members spend $1,400 per year on the website— more than double that of regular shoppers—making them a good group to get to know. But you’ll have to pick one of these two sides to reach them.
Tap into Prime Customers
13 Fight Back Against Counterfeits Copycat merchandise and outright counterfeits can make operating on the Marketplace a challenge at times, eating into legitimate sales for authorized retailers and gear manufacturers alike. But by taking an active part in the Amazon ecosystem, brands gain access to Project Zero, a program designed to hunt down and remove counterfeits. The system uses machine learning, product serialization, and old-fashioned human diligence to protect a brand’s intellectual property on the Marketplace. Sellers can also join the Amazon Brand Registry (ABR), which provides enhanced search options that let companies locate and stamp out trademark infringement on the Marketplace. How effective is it? According to Amazon, more than 130,000 brands have joined the program, and members report 99 percent fewer suspected trademark infringements since before the tool was launched in 2017. Nite Ize and OtterBox have both had issues with counterfeits on Amazon; both sued companies for violating their trademarks, with Amazon joining in on the lawsuit (OtterBox won; Nite Ize is awaiting its day in court).
11. Go with FBA
Go with SFP
Fulfilled by Amazon
Seller Fulfilled Prime
When sellers join the FBA service, they send products to Amazon to handle shipping and customer service.
Sellers still gain access to Prime members, but must handle one-day shipping and other customer service matters themselves.
It’ll cost you in fees.
It’ll cost you in time and manpower.
Capitalize on Prime Day
15 Embrace a Product’s Amazon History
Beyond Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, Amazon’s own Prime Day, an exclusive sale that takes place in mid-July, has grown into a significant sales opportunity. A well-timed sale, advertising campaign, or product launch during these events can result in massive success for a seller. Just how much of an impact can Prime Day have? LifeStraw, which allocated some of its budget to Amazon’s paid search platform and ran a timely sale, sold more than 200,000 units of its Personal Water Filter on Prime Day 2019 alone, making it one of the top-selling products in the U.S. and Canada and increasing its visibility dramatically. That helped the company achieve another one of its goals: providing safe drinking water to students around the globe. “With the sales from Prime Day 2019 alone, we were able to reach over 200,000 more school children,” says Head of Brand Tara Lundy.
Introducing a new version of a legacy product? Don’t reinvent the wheel. Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, has consulted with dozens of brands and retailers on how to best work with Amazon. He’s learned the value of consistency on the Marketplace, telling clients, “Never change the name of a product. When you do, you lose all of that product’s history on Amazon, including reviews and customer feedback. Those items play a role in page rankings and are difficult to replace or rebuild.” Case in point: the Nalgene wide-mouth water bottle, with nearly 6,500 ratings and a 4.7/5 average. “It doesn’t change, it’s iconic, and it just keeps building its ratings,” Hill notes.
Turn Alexa into your pitch person
Amazon’s popular voice assistant, Alexa, can be used for more than just answering trivia questions. In fact, just about anyone can create an Alexa Skill, which is essentially a voice-activated app that delivers custom functionality. Clever brands have already found creative ways to engage with their customers, like REI’s Skill, which touts the brand’s Deal of the Day and provides store locations and events. Other brands outside the outdoor industry deliver recipes (Campbell’s) or daily allergy forecasts (Zyrtec). Right now, the market is wide open for a branded Skill that delivers hiking trail suggestions, ski area snowfall reports, or packing lists for camp outings. You’re welcome. PAG E
17 Win the Buy Box As a retailer, how do you stand out from the hordes of other sellers hawking the same gear? Data show that 82 percent of all sales on Amazon come from the Buy Box—the section on the product details page where customers can add an item to their cart or purchase it instantly. The Buy Box is an important piece of real estate on the Marketplace because it often lists multiple retailers that are offering the same product. In short: You want to be in there. Sellers who earn that coveted space must satisfy Amazon’s algorithm by offering that product at a highly competitive price with the cost of shipping factored in. They must also have inventory on hand to fulfill the order, and a good seller rating based on customer feedback over the past 30, 90, and 365 days. Any retailer who meets those criteria greatly increases its chances of being listed in the Buy Box, even on a competitor’s page selling the exact same product.
18. Don’t Go it Alone “Amazon is constantly moving and changing. The route set through the Icefall by the Sherpas yesterday may need to be re-set again today. Similarly, Amazon policy often shifts and brands need a guide.” —Indigitious CEO Larry Pluimer. Hiring an Amazon-focused firm like Indigitious, Outdoor Pursuits Consulting, Blogs for Brands, or Goat Consulting can help brands and retailers create a tailored e-commerce strategy to take advantage of online platforms.
19 Fill Up Your Photo Album Data show that good photos help keep customers on a product page longer and result in higher conversion rates. In fact, consulants advise that Amazon shoppers value high-quality images more than the descriptive text that appears on a product page.Amazon lets sellers include up to six images on any product page, but often brands and retailers don’t use all of the available space. As Fred Dimyan of consultanting firm Potoo points out, “That’s equivalent to Target giving you seven feet of retail space, but you only use two of those feet.”
Learn to Master Your Channel If you’re looking for insightful and creative tips for how you can succeed on the Amazon Marketplace (and on an array of other e-commerce platforms), then the Channel Mastery podcast (channelmastery.com) is a must-listen. Each week, host Kristin Carpenter welcomes smart, plugged-in guests from a wide range of industries to discuss strategies and techniques designed to meet the unique needs of outdoor brands and retail outlets. “The podcast came about because there were no other resources available for specialty retailers,” Carpenter says. Tune in to a special Channel Mastery series produced in partnership with SNEWS at TK.com.
21 Sell the Right Stuff The Marketplace may be huge, but it’s not the best outlet for everything, says Rich Hill. Accessories, commodity items, and replenishment products (think: another pair of your favorite socks) kill it on Amazon, while high-touch, fit-dependent gear is a tougher sell.
Go on the Hunt for Unauthorized Sellers
There are outright counterfeiters (see #13, p. 66), and then there are unauthorized resellers. The latter cuts into sales and margins by dumping product at steeply discounted prices. These sellers don’t have permission to sell a brand’s merchandise on the Marketplace, but do so anyway. They often obtain a brand’s merchandise through backchannel means, finding a wholesaler who’s willing to sell product with no questions asked or sometimes even going directly to the factory. The end result: Sales get siphoned away from legit sellers. Amazon can help brands stomp out these unauthorized sellers, but sometimes it pays to get a little outside help. Potoo Solutions uses proprietary data analytics to rein in resellers for many of its more than 500 clients.
23 25 —
“We can reduce unauthorized sales by as much as 83 percent,” says Potoo CEO Fred Dimyan. “In doing so, the average selling price of a product goes up, both on Amazon and in brick-and-mortar retail outlets, which often end up seeing better sales in the long run.” Or go it alone: In 2017 Osprey launched a systematic campaign to shut down anyone who didn’t have permission to sell its products on Amazon. That process began by surveying the activities of all of its retail partners, including ones that had been working with the company for years. The result was new contracts that restricted Amazon sales to a few trusted partners, bringing the number of authorized sellers down from nearly 200 to just eight in about a year.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
Amazon may be a sales juggernaut, but don’t focus all your e-commerce energy there. Here are three smart ways to diversify your strategy.
23. Turn Online Browsers into Local Customers
where they can usually pick up their purchases the very same day.
“We set out to build bridges between online and offline shopping,” says Mike Massey, co-founder of Locally. com. How, exactly? The website helps online shoppers find the products they’re looking for at a nearby brick-and-mortar outlet. Customers can go directly to the Locally website to search for an item: The site then scans its database to find that specific product and examines the inventory of stores located close to the customer to find where it is available. Or browsers on a brand’s own website will see a “buy it locally” option when perusing specific products. Both options drive shoppers to local retailers,
24. Win the Delivery Game One of Amazon’s biggest appeals is a vast distribution network that allows it to conveniently ship products to a customer’s door, fast. But Amazon doesn’t own speedy delivery. Last August, Brooks and Locally launched Locally On-Demand, a program that allows shoppers to see merchandise that’s available in local retailers, buy it, and have it delivered the same day for a small fee. This usually matches or even beats Amazon’s ability to ship quickly and cheaply. The program is now available in 2,200 U.S. cities and is growing at a rate of 365 percent per month. PAG E
25 Make an Escape Plan And finally, a counterpoint: For some brands, divorcing Amazon actually is the best move. When Lowa Boots saw margins on its products shrinking due to unauthorized Amazon resellers automatically matching steeply discounted prices, the company made the tough decision to exit the Marketplace altogether. Cutthroat competition was impacting nearly all of Lowa’s retail partners, and leaving Amazon helped to reverse that trend, although the transition wasn’t easy. “We knew the day we stopped our business would go down, and it did,” Lowa General Manager in the U.S. Peter Sachs says. “We predicted a two-year claw-back, and that’s what it took for topline sales to get us back to where we had been.” Eventually, both online and traditional retail sales adjusted to the shift away from Amazon and things began to turn around. “Amazon has some heavy expenses attached to it, and without them our expenses did go down and our margins increased,” Sachs adds. “The end result is that we have a heathy, diversified, and profitable business”—proof that there can be life after Amazon.
, d l r o W l a t i g Di h c u o T n a m u H An early retail adopter of Amazon reflects on 16 years of e-commerce ups and downs. BY SHAWNTÉ SALABERT PHOTOS BY ADAM MOWERY
In 1983, when brick-and-mortar reigned supreme and Jeff Bezos was still a college kid a few years shy of his first walk on Wall Street, Paul Fish launched an outdoor shop called Mountain Gear with a sewing machine, a tiny storefront in Spokane, and a couple thousand bucks. Within a decade, its footprint had increased—as had mail and catalogue sales from across the country—but the customer-focused familiarity of a local shop remained. Then along came the internet. “I remember saying once: We’ll stop printing a catalog when they put screens in front of toilets,” says Fish. That fateful day came in the mid-‘90s, courtesy his then-teenage son, who was sitting in the bathroom with a laptop perched on his knees when Fish tossed him the house phone for an incoming call. “I kind of had an ‘Oh, shit’ moment—there it was! And now where do people shop? The same place they had their catalogs.” The Early Days Mountain Gear’s website, launched in 1994, initially served as a digital version of its pricing sheet. A few years later, Fish partnered with online retailer Fogdog to fulfill its outdoor orders, a foreshadowing of sorts to the company’s next act with Amazon. Fish speculates that it was this partnership, along with his company’s reputation and industry
contacts, that inspired the e-commerce behemoth to come knocking in 2003, just after it launched Amazon Marketplace. Adding Mountain Gear to the site would greatly enhance its then-limited outdoor offerings. Fish worked directly with Amazon to develop a customized Marketplace storefront, which became the center of Mountain Gear’s e-commerce sales. Within a few years, an Amazon rep even swung by the shop to help Fish expand his online offerings by partnering with outdoor brands that hadn’t previously sold on the site. The platform provided a huge boon by expanding Fish’s customer base, and thus, his revenue. Similar interactions with the e-commerce giant would be unfathomable now, considering Amazon sellers number into the millions, but as someone who built his own company one relationship at a time, Fish appreciated the personal touch. And as someone who consistently adapted his business model to serve his customers’ needs first, he thought selling on Amazon would be a “natural evolution” of sorts. Plus, he’d already experienced a small taste of third-party sales via the relationship with Fogdog. “We knew what we were getting into,” says Fish. But, “We had no idea what was coming.” Mountain Gear had little competition in those early years of online sales—
namely REI, Campmor, and Mountain Tools. But as Fish expanded his e-commerce footprint with Amazon, the website grew along with it. The handson approach of those early days disappeared, replaced with an automation of services—and a much lower barrier to entry that slowly flooded the marketplace. “At first I had only three competitors,” Fish laments. “Now I have three hundred or more.” Staying One Step Ahead Amazon’s rapidly evolving e-commerce model seemed at odds with Fish’s “old-fashioned” approach to sales. Now Amazon, not Mountain Gear or the consumer, dictated the details and tone of transactions. Customer expectations around order fulfillment shifted as Amazon introduced services like Prime. And the very nature of the customer-vendor relationship changed radically; instead of soliciting advice from people like Fish who’d spent decades outfitting others for outdoor adventures, online buyers now placed blind faith in peer reviews. “What they’ve done really well is they’ve convinced people, both sellers and consumers, that the personal connection is less important, that automating everything obviates the need,” Fish says of Amazon. “And they’re right in a lot of cases—they’re just not right in all cases.” Fish is no curmudgeon. He knows that customers enjoy using Amazon for its convenience, selection, and low prices, and that the platform has served Mountain Gear well from a business perspective. While he declines to offer specific numbers, Fish says that most of the company’s revenue growth has come through its Amazon sales. But he’s had to remain flexible with strategy to navigate what he calls the “gameification of Amazon,” which requires sellers to negotiate ever-changing policies and algorithms to draw customers’ attention. “It tasks me every day and keeps me challenged; I guess that’s why I like it,” says Fish. “Without it, I’d be bored.” The Personal Touch When it comes to strategizing on the platform, Fish relies on two main approaches—offering competitive prices,
PAUL FISH’S SHOP HAS GROWN FROM A TINY STOREFRONT TO A DIVERSIFIED, ONLINE-MEETS-REAL-WORLD BUSINESS.
which he says is the “easiest” method for anyone looking to claim market share, and building relationships with brands, which requires more finesse. There’s always the risk that a brand will revise its own Amazon strategy, sometimes even pulling the plug on sellers with little notice. And some vendors limit partnerships with retailers, which ensures Amazon isn’t crowded with their gear. To ensure Mountain Gear is one of the lucky few, Fish goes old-school, nurturing personal, long-term relationships with brands to develop mutually beneficial sales plans (that include pricing strategies), just like he did in the mail order days. He bonds with vendors over meals, bike rides, and various
other outdoor adventures, but his efforts go even deeper. When a valued partner experienced financial difficulties, Mountain Gear relinquished its own Amazon sales so the brand would receive all traffic from the platform. And when the president of Trango suffered a heart attack, Fish ensured all of their outstanding invoices were paid immediately. Fish says he’ll remain nimble, but stay true to his convictions as the retail landscape continues to evolve. “Our goal is to be a very relevant local mountain shop in as large a marketing area as we can be,” he says. “You just wait and see what I have up my sleeve!” He pauses for a moment before letting out a sly laugh. “Oh, I’m wearing a tank top. Nevermind.”
Lessons Learned Paul Fish shares his best advice for retailers and brands navigating Amazon. Stand out
Test the waters
“If I were doing an Amazon startup right now, I’d bring my own product from somewhere else; I wouldn’t try to compete in the existing space,” Fish notes. “I’d start it on a Kickstarter-type platform and try to get some brand presence, then I’d move it onto Amazon.”
“Test new strategies, test new product, test new ideas, test advertising before you just jump in,” Fish says. “Start small and grow it. Keep your mistakes to something you can afford.” That might mean initially offering only a fraction of your inventory.
“In outdoor, a partnership is frequently a one-way thing, which means you ask the brand to do something for you,” Fish says. But for real, long-lasting e-commerce success, make an effort to understand the brand’s desires and challenges, too—a process that can take years. PAG E
n o z a m A : s h myt
d e t s bu Everyone knows Amazon—or thinks they do. But most shoppers and even retailers misunderstand how this gargantuan marketplace really works. We deconstruct 8 common fallacies. BY KELLY BASTONE
It can feel like more rumors than facts swarm around Amazon, in part because the retailer is notoriously secretive—and that makes it hard to separate truth from speculation. In most news articles that discuss the world’s largest retailer, experts point out, you won’t find any sources from within the company providing actual information. Consequently, consumers, retailers, and brands end up making their own assumptions—many of them false. Add in Amazon’s constantly evolving practices, and misconceptions abound. We tapped a panel of on-the-ground experts to set the record straight.
Amazon is a discounter first. Not anymore. “In the early days, Amazon did lead on price,” says Larry Pluimer, who remembers when it lowered prices to drive the traffic required to attract brands. Now, however, with nearly 200 million people visiting the site each month, Amazon has shifted its strategy to maintaining prices for maximum profits. That’s the preference, anyway. But in practice, Amazon pursues low prices on the products it sells when it’s forced to compete. “Amazon matches prices, using extensive monitoring systems that survey their own third-party sellers and other websites too,” Pluimer explains. So if one mom-and-pop decides to mark down a few items on its own website, Amazon will adjust its pricing to theirs, which amplifies the discount to a massive scale. Thus, Amazon goes low when other retailers do. “But it doesn’t necessarily want to,” says Peter Kearns. “Amazon is in it to make a profit.” MYTH 2
Amazon is killing brick-and-mortar retail. Actually, some retailers are thriving in today’s Amazon-dominated scene, says Mike Massey. “While I agree that some types of brick-and-mortar stores have struggled, they’re generally the mid-market guys that sell cheap, low-differentiation products,” he explains. However, specialty stores that offer consumers more than just cheap goods are doing extremely well, says Massey, who points to running shops as one example: By offering custom fitting and consultation, they deliver an experience that shoppers can’t get online. And “[Amazon] sucks at selling authentic gear, like snow skis, climbing gear, and ski jackets,” says Massey. So to succeed as brick-andmortar, “You really need to be able to differentiate both the shopping experience and what you’re selling.” When that happens, shops—and entire
shopping malls—flourish. “Malls that are anchored by something like a JCPenney have no foot traffic, but when they’re filled with interesting stores, they’re amazingly busy,” says Massey. Still, he says, brick-and-mortar retailers do need to figure out how to connect with consumers 24 hours a day, as Amazon does. People do their comparison shopping online, often during the evenings or other at-home hours. But they don’t necessarily need items to be shipped to them. “Fifty percent of Home Depot’s online purchases are for in-store pickup,” says Massey. Plus, he adds, citing a 2014 Google study, shoppers are 70 percent more likely to come to your store if they know you have what they’re looking for. The takeaway? “Make your inventory visible to consumers 24 hours a day,” he suggests. And if you can figure out a way to out-Prime Amazon Prime by delivering your rain jacket to the customer who lives two miles from your shop (see #22, p. 68)? Even better. MY TH 3
Brands can control their pricing on Amazon. Fugeddaboudit. Amazon is an open marketplace that allows anyone to sell items, at any price. “The only time I am aware that [Amazon] gets involved [in policing] is if there is a belief that counterfeit, illegal products are being sold,” says Peter Sachs, general manager of Lowa Boots (which quit Amazon over pricing conflicts in 2017; see page 69). Some advisors maintain that strict relationships with third-party sellers can forestall price dives on Amazon. “You need to have a really good distribution strategy, with agreements that spell out your MAP policy,” says Kearns. Still, unauthorized “gray market” sellers have a way of popping up and undercutting that solidarity, says Massey, who suspects that Amazon itself creates fly-by-night resellers to unload stagnant inventory. “I have no evidence to prove this,” he admits. “But every brand tracks who it sells to, and can verify that it didn’t sell product to a random pharmacy that opened a website seven days ago and is now unloading your goods at a deep
Meet the Experts
Mike Massey The owner of New Orleans-based Massey’s Outfitters became one of the first specialty retailers to sell gear through Amazon when he opened a third-party shop in August 2004. In 2014, he launched Locally to connect online shoppers with local retailers.
Peter Kearns For four years, Kearns worked on Amazon’s Seller Services team, where he helped hundreds of brands generate more than $500 million in sales. Then, Kearns spent the next four years as a consultant helping brands and retailers hone their Amazon strategy. He’s now VP of Business Development for 180Commerce, an Amazon brand strategy and management agency that specializes in the sports and outdoor industry.
Larry Pluimer Responsible for launching the outdoor category for Amazon Retail, Larry Pluimer worked at Amazon from 2008 to 2010. Now, he’s Founder/CEO of Indigitous, an Amazon services agency that provides brands with strategies and resources for Amazon advertising, catalog optimization, and vendor representation.
A.S.G. discount,” he explains. “The reality is, [policing] is a persistent game of whacka-mole.” The only way to avoid that, Massey insists, is to allow no third-party sellers—not a single one. “Brands that allow nobody but themselves to sell on Amazon can feel confident that they’re always selling at full price.” MYTH 4
Brands can safely avoid working with Amazon because their specialty retailers will sell their products third-party (3P). That’s only true if the brand doesn’t care about creating a consistent image, says Pluimer. “If you have 10 3P sellers, they often won’t show customers images and content that’s all aligned,” he explains. In fact, it’s [the sellers’] job to differentiate themselves from competing retailers. Meanwhile, Amazon is offering brands more opportunities to use the Marketplace as a marketing vehicle, with increasing exposure for brand content and videos (see #3, p. 63). Says Pluimer, “Amazon is an important consumer touchpoint that needs to be used deliberately.” MY T H
Amazon plans to cancel the accounts of all vendors under $10 million. Last year, after Bloomberg published an article speculating that Amazon would purge small suppliers, rumors spread. Amazon actually stepped in to say that the article was inaccurate, and “I happen to believe [the purge rumor] is false,” says Pluimer. Still, he says, “Everyone at June’s Outdoor Retailer was asking me about it in panic.” Moral of the story: Beware of Amazon “news” that doesn’t come directly from the company’s HQ. MYTH 6
Amazon’s service reps go to bat for their clients. Knowing that its brands appreciate some hand-holding as they negotiate the company’s regulations and tools,
Amazon offers its own service representatives—known as Strategic Vendor Services (SVS) and the Vendor Success Program (VSP)—to help companies jump through the hoops. But that system doesn’t let resellers or brands take their hands off the wheel, says Kearns. Amazon’s in-house reps prioritize that company’s goals and benchmarks— which may or may not align with yours. They may push new shipping programs or international expansions, but brands must decide whether they truly benefit from Amazon’s initiatives. And Amazon’s in-house reps won’t advocate for brands or negotiate better terms. “SVS will never go to Amazon and say, ‘I think these guys should be paying less,’” says Pluimer. So as rising tariffs cut into brands’ profits, Amazon reps won’t campaign for cost adjustments. MY TH 7
Amazon’s e-commerce structure is environmentally wasteful. Shipping stuff around the globe for home delivery seems like a ghastly waste of energy—especially when the packaging doesn’t always fit the item (most of us have, at some point, received a large Amazon box that’s empty except for one tiny item). But Amazon is mending its sloppy shipping habits, says Pluimer. “It uses the same amount of cardboard it did 10 years ago, despite having doubled its sales since then,” he maintains. Amazon has also urged its brands to reduce their product packaging, since the e-commerce structure doesn’t rely on flashy shelf presentation to woo potential buyers.
Meanwhile, having scores of individual consumers hop into their cars and drive to stores isn’t so sustainable, either. Turns out, having one UPS truck drive around the neighborhood delivering packages is typically more efficient than having a legion of SUVs motoring to parking lots. “E-commerce is quite competitive, if not better than traditional retail distribution,” Plumier says. That is, until the consumer requests one-day shipping, which spikes the fuel demands of moving product. Only then does e-commerce get a sustainability black eye. MY TH 8
Amazon is unstoppable. Everything is fallible—even Amazon, which looks a lot like AOL to Massey. “Remember back in the ’90s, when AOL seemed like it would displace all of everything?” he asks. Yet AOL fell from relevancy, and poses a cautionary example for brands that assume Amazon is a rocket ship to triple-digit growth. In fact, the complex web of businesses that Amazon owns makes it tricky to discern just how much of the behemoth’s profits derive from actual retail sales: Tech platforms, media production, web services, cloud storage, and a health care lab all make up slices of Amazon’s pie, so when brands and retailers assume that all of Amazon’s power comes solely from selling consumer goods, they’re seeing the tip rather than the whole iceberg. To Massey, betting everything on that tip seems like a poor gamble. He urges, “Balance your business model.”
“When brands and retailers assume
that all of Amazon’s power comes solely from selling consumer goods, they’re seeing the tip rather than the whole iceberg.” –
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SEVEN OR EIGHT YEARS AGO, it was hydration packs. Everywhere. Before that, it was Osprey’s daypack style that seemed to replicate itself across brands and store shelves. After that, it was YETI’s double-wall, vacuum-insulated cups that everyone suddenly wanted to make. Maybe you’ve wandered the aisles of outdoor specialty shops and seen what has happened with lightweight camp chairs: Helinox came up with a new idea, and when it sold well, the industry went full copycat, saturating the market. The phenomenon isn’t particularly new or unique to outdoor. Indeed, it has a handle all its own: the sea of sameness. Most people have noticed it. Most people carp about it. But many brands and retailers are afraid that the sea is on the verge of an industry-wide 100-year flood. The reason? Data. If we’re all relying on the same numbers to make decisions, we end up producing similar products. Simple. “If you’re too obsessed with data, you’re just chasing a me-too rather than having the creativity to come up with something new,” says Barry Barr, the iconoclastic founder and CEO of KAVU. And statistics on what sells, which are often dominated by data from bigger chain stores, can bury a potentially category-changing innovation. In other words, if your brand’s product-development strategy relies too heavily on point-of-sale data, you can start to undervalue innovation. In that case, says Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, “All you’re doing is following what others did last year.” And that path leads directly into the sea of sameness. The amount of consumer data available today, especially if you’re a large gear manufacturer with deep pockets, is staggering: You can track how weather influences sales; the relationship between disposable incomes and participation; and consumer behavior. You can track your e-commerce numbers. You can understand what Gen-Zers are up to on social media. In the U.S., demand for data analysts grew sixfold from 2012 to 2017, and IBM claims that 90 percent of the data in the world was produced in the last two years. The competition is stiff; everyone is worried about being out–data mined and out-calculated. It’s no wonder some companies get sucked into what Mike Wallenfels, SVP of global sales for Helen of Troy Limited (the parent company of Hydro Flask), calls analysis paralysis. No one can quantify an innovation, so the safest thing gear manufacturers can do is to wait, see, and copy. But a small breakaway group of specialty retailers, led by Hill and Grassroots, think they have an answer.
It’s not to ignore data, because ignoring it is impossible—and irresponsible. “If you haven’t made a transition to data,” says John Sears, VP of design at Gregory, “you could be left behind, just designing your passion product that no one wants to buy.” Rather, Grassroots is developing its own specific, cooperative data system for its members and vendors partners—and ideally capturing the trends that specialty retailers often pioneer before they reach the broader market consciousness. The new system, called Switchback, will launch within four to 10 months and create a new data stream that will inform gear makers so those brands can more directly innovate toward the needs of specialty-retail customers. And they want to keep a lid on the knowledge so companies like Walmart and Amazon won’t be able to profit from it. At first glance, it sounds pretty straightforward. But, like anything related to data these days, it’s anything but. 8440956%7882%87251656$862
IF YOU’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT RETAIL DATA, you have to start with NPD. The NPD Group is a huge organization with 29 offices around the world that tracks $2 trillion in annual retail sales across multiple industries, according to Julia Day, NPD’s executive director of business development. In the outdoor industry, retailers can opt to share their point-of-sale (POS) data with NPD (they aren’t paid for this contribution). NPD aggregates the data, organizing the information into channels (such as outdoor specialty or outdoor sport specialty e-commerce) and hierarchies (footwear/ cold-weather boots/snow boots)—and then, because not every single retailer reports, it uses a multiplier to project out to the channel and the industry as a whole. In exchange, retailers can analyze their own data for free using NPD’s tools and compare themselves to their peers in their channel to keep tabs on market movement, compare sales against the total market, and suss out areas for opportunity and growth. And brands can purchase various data cubes or regular subscriptions to get a detailed view of what’s actually selling through at retail (as opposed to sell-in, which is what they deliver to retailers). The price structure is confidential, but by all accounts, not cheap. NPD gives a macro-to-micro picture of how the entire outdoor business is doing. And over the course of 20 years, they’ve amassed a huge amount of industry-wide data. But some specialty retailers are suspicious of how the sausage is made. According to Wes Allen, owner of Sunlight Sports in Cody, Wyoming, no one—not NPD, not SNEWS, not Grassroots—is sure exactly how many independent specialty stores actually exist, so that multiplier becomes, essentially, an educated guess. NPD keeps track of what is sold through the UPC data on each product, but not every retailer uses UPCs (barcodes) to track sales, and some brands eschew the codes outright. The result: Items that have codes are overreported—and the ones without codes don’t, in the NPD data set, exist. And then there’s the 800-pound gorilla of Amazon, which NPD slots in a retail channel outside of any of the sport specialty channels, meaning the data aren’t captured in NPD’s specialty retail figures, and that could lowball a given brand’s overall market share. The converse also holds true. “If you don’t sell on Amazon,” says Jonathan Degenhardt, senior market-
“The more retailers that
ing manager at Deuter, “you might think to yourself, ‘Wow, I got 30 percent market share,’ but it’s actually a lot less than that.” NPD is a black box by design, but that makes some specialty retailers suspicious—and not at all confident that the data giant is keeping their interests in mind. In theory, retailers who report to NPD get the privilege of seeing their data, or their buying group’s data, within the hierarchy; otherwise, they have no way to benchmark themselves against the whole or against their peers. (As in: If every other outdoor specialty shop is killing it in hats, maybe it makes sense to expand your business in hats.) But that doesn’t convince everyone. “NPD is extremely murky about where their data is going,” says Mike Massey, the founder of Massey’s Outfitters and Locally. “Smaller stores, with their enthusiastic customers and early adopters, are the ones that pioneer big trends.” Or, as Allen says, “Specialty stores are like beta testers for the big commodity boxes.” - CHRISTIAN MASON, OBOZ VP OF SALES But Day counters that claims of inaccuracy shouldn’t be taken AND MARKETING seriously. NPD, she claims, does know how many specialty stores are out there, to a large extent—and a large extent is sufficient for (in fact, the whole point of ) this kind of data. Perfection is impossible. “POS inventory faster than REI can inform brands to resupply. data isn’t accounting,” she says. Take the practice of data suppression: There’s a plus side to the proliferation of information, If a brand makes an exclusive model or style for any one retailer, NPD though—and maybe it will actually lead us out of the sea suppresses those sales numbers so it doesn’t tell the competition how of sameness. As more data become available from new many units a retailer is selling of that particular item. Confidentiality is and different sources, NPD won’t have a monopoly on it. of utmost importance. (“We go through enormous hoops to make sure it Rather, we’re all becoming experts in our own inforremains that way,” says Day.) mation. “The democratization of data is putting what I As for the fear that NPD is abetting Dick’s and Walmart, Amazon and call enterprise-level access, like NPD, on the chopping Zappos, as they try to steal the outdoor industry’s ideas? According to Day, block,” says Erica Rosen, VP of marketing at Biolite. the largest retailers like Walmart have access only to the mass-market “NPD isn’t a kingmaker.” channel—a weekly data set—and specialty retailers have access to the slowPerhaps, data create the cookie-cutter market and er-moving outdoor specialty channel. Sporting goods giants and big boxes amplify the products that drive it by creating a feedare in their own distinct silos and can’t even see the specialty channel. back loop—that’s the view of Alex Kutches, VP of sales Even so, persistent questions about the data’s usefulness have triggered and marketing at Mystery Ranch. Certain goods have an exodus from NPD. According to Hill, 80 percent of Grassroots’ 70 broader distribution and show up with greater frequency members have dropped out; they feel strongly that the system is serving simply because they’re widely available. The strong-perbig companies much more than it’s serving them. “We’re merchants who forming styles rise to the top. “It replays over and over are trying to pull together a mix that is unique to each of our stores, and until someone does something cool and relevant that we question why we would share that,” says Hill. But critics of GOA’s new stands out,” says Kutches. “And even then, it’s hard to plan suggest the resulting data pool would be too small to provide actionmake it through the storm and watch adoption take able insights. And no matter the source, there remain questions about how place.” data drive innovation. But if it does break through, that single product can reorganize the category around itself, spiraling out the next round of copycats who scramble to follow the 653%9887361,658,3822% leader ( just ask YETI). Products like that require a leap of faith—and no data, no matter how microtargeted or ONE SINGLE, COMPREHENSIVE, AFFORDABLE system all-encompassing, can entirely close the gap or eliminate remains an elusive holy grail. “We’re all in this together,” says the risk. You just have to leap. And ultimately, what Christian Mason, VP of sales and marketing at Oboz. “The more everyone wants data to do for the industry is impossible: retailers that provide data, the more accurate the data are. The There is no crystal ball. more accurate the data, the more insight, and the fewer mistakes made in “It’s not perfect to look at a data set and see what product development.” already happened,” says Mark Mathews, Scarpa’s VP of The reality is that brands and retailers have to cobble together various sales. “Data show you history, but that doesn’t predict sources to get a complete picture. REI has its own data portal that allows evthe future. If you can truly figure out a trend before it ery vendor to get an on-demand update on their sell-through by SKU—at any becomes a trend, that’s the magic.” moment, you can download it, manipulate it, and request that REI order more
provide data, the more accurate the data are. The more accurate the data, the more insight, and the fewer mistakes made in product development.”
JEONG OUTSIDE MPOWERDâ€™S HEADQUARTERS, SEPTEMBER 2019 PAGE
PHOTO BY SEBASTIAN JACOBO
hting it As the CEO of MPOWERD, Seungah Jeong is showing how making money and making an impact can go hand in hand.
PHOTO BY SEBASTIAN JACOBO
BY TRACY ROSS
Almost four decades later, as the CEO of MPOWERD, Jeong’s memory of the poorly lit village inspired her to improve the company’s solar-powered lights for use in one of its worldwide humanitarian projects. At her urging, MPOWERD began brainstorming with an organization called iDE to develop a solar light that could easily be installed within household and community latrines in Bangladesh. When the team started talking about the project, they focused on where to install the lights—but only in the context of the best place to capture solar energy. It was Jeong’s idea to incorporate a spot inside the latrine where users could hook up the Luci lantern to focus light at their feet, primarily because “I remembered how scary the latrine was for me,” she says. It’s one example of how Jeong’s unusual path from a rural village in South Korea to CEO of a Certified B Corporation makes her a unique—and effective—leader. Since joining the company in 2016, Jeong has overseen a radical period of growth on two key fronts: consumer sales of MPOWERD’s collapsible, solar-powered lights for recreational use, and distribution of its lights for humanitarian and disaster-relief scenarios. Founded in 2012 by Jeong’s executive partner, John Salzinger, MPOWERD sells its inflatable solar lights at retail outlets ranging from REI to Nordstrom in order to subsidize selling lights to developing communities around the world at a steep discount. To date, the company has delivered light to millions of individuals in countries ranging from Papua New Guinea to Tanzania. And by replacing dirtier light
sources (wood or kerosene), the program has prevented the release of some 650,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Sounds great, but Jeong isn’t satisfied yet. She wants to prove MPOWERD’s model is sustainable and scalable, and perhaps attract the interest of a mission-driven mega-corporation that will help grow the company exponentially. “Scale is what we need to create change because it isn’t happening quickly enough at the policy level,” Jeong says. “Help isn’t getting to actual people. And that’s what I love—when actual people write in to thank us.” THE ROOTS OF JEONG’S AMBITION
can be traced back to that South Korean village, to a house with no plumbing or electric light. Jeong was born there in 1976. Less than a year later, her parents emigrated to Texas, taking her older sister but lacking funds to bring their younger daughter. Raised by her “aunties and various villagers,” Jeong’s first fully formed memory is of deplaning in Dallas, after her parents sent for her in 1979, and seeing her father, whom she recognized only from pictures. The family was reunited, but that didn’t mean an end to hardship. America was not quite the land of opportunity Jeong’s father had imagined. To scrape by, he worked three construction jobs while Jeong’s mother stayed home. The family was too poor to afford toys, says Jeong, so the girls played with “Pillow” and “Umbrella.” Neither parent could read, so they didn’t own a single book. She remembers dumpster diving for books behind
her elementary school in Farmer’s Branch, Texas. She discovered a treasure trove of textbooks the school had abandoned, and dove in to pick through the pile. The kindergartener would find ones that looked especially intriguing, take them home, and pore over them in her bedroom. The best books were ones the teachers had marked up with notes. “I knew the questions to ask, and the answers,” says Jeong. “I could be the teacher and the student.” Her adolescence was a challenge even after the Jeongs moved into the middle-class tax bracket. “There was a ton of racism in Texas,” she says. “But I was singled out for more than my ethnicity. Due to our financial situation in my early years, my family always lived like we didn’t have money. We didn’t go to museums. We didn’t eat in restaurants.” But she was an attentive student who made her way to the University of Chicago on scholarships and earned a double major in philosophy and environmental studies. Then she went to the University of Cambridge, where she pursued a Master’s degree in geography (focusing on environment and development). But she found the classes frustrating. Half of the students were from developing countries, half from the West. And the Western students dominated the program, she says. “I was struggling. I didn’t know how I could become one of those [Western] people telling [people from less-developed countries] what to do.” She felt like she was back in high school, where minorities were invisible, and partway through her program, she decided to drop out and pursue a career in business. It appealed to her more than law or medicine, but some of her fellow policy students gave her hell for the choice. “Before I went down that path, I’d gotten a degree in environmental studies. I’d also worked on a farm, leading nature walks and training birds of prey.” And she’d gone far enough down the policy route that she understood how that path worked. “I had a globe on my résumé,” she says, laughing. Despite her newfound corporate ambitions, the seeds of social and environmental impact had been planted. Her decision to go into business might have been an unlikely transition, but it coincided with a new policy at Proctor
PHOTOS BY COURTESY; SEBASTIAN JACOBO
ne of Seungah Jeong’s most indelible childhood memories occurred when her family returned to their native village in South Korea to visit relatives. She was six years old, and recalls watching the light of a kerosene lamp and feeling frightened. “My community still didn’t have a toilet by then,” she says. “We didn’t even have what would be called a latrine. It was a hole in the ground … a scary hole. It was pitch black, and I was always terrified of slipping and falling in.”
PHOTOS BY COURTESY; SEBASTIAN JACOBO
JEONG, AGE 2, ON THE ROOF OF HER GRANDPARENTS’ HOUSE IN PUSAN, SOUTH KOREA (TOP); WITH MPOWERD FOUNDER JOHN SALZINGER IN THE COMPANY’S BROOKLYN OFFICE
& Gamble that prioritized finding talent from outside the company and outside of business majors. One of her first responsibilities was to be plant liaison at the Oil of Olay factory in Nenagh, Ireland, in 2000. Here, she could have had a conflict as a young Asian woman working with a bunch of “tough, Guinness-drinking Irishmen.” But on her first day, when all of the guys gathered at the local pub after work, she joined them, even though she usually didn’t drink. “I was downing Guinness!” she recalls. The icebreaker smoothed the perceived barriers of her age, gender, and ethnicity, and the team became more receptive to what she had to say while welcoming her transparency about what she needed to learn. After Proctor & Gamble, Jeong joined a cosmetics company and then co-founded the Candela Group, a home and fine-fragrance company that was subsequently sold. Then, in 2016, MPOWERD came calling. AT THE TIME, MPOWERD, four years
old, was “in debt, with legal and financial difficulties,” she says. The company was in a place where it needed new vision, and Jeong surfaced as the ideal candidate. What makes her so effective, in part, is her ability to take complex ideas and distill them into something digestible. Or, as her former Proctor & Gamble boss Bhavesh Shah says, “She can translate Plato’s Allegory of the Cave so simply it would make sense to a six-year-old.” With Salzinger’s support, Jeong got to work overhauling the company, from funding to governance to employees to retail strategy. Before her arrival, MPOWERD had just one kind of light—the Luci Inflatable Solar Light. Now it sells a wide variety of lights (all solar powered), plus STEM light-building kits. But as a B Corp, MPOWERD’s sales success wouldn’t matter without a commensurate improvement in the brand’s humanitarian mission. And since Jeong arrived, hundreds of thousands more lights are reaching those in need, thanks to strategic partnerships she and Salzinger have driven. These partnerships work in several different ways. One is the cause-marketing model, by which revenue from retail
purchases subsidizes sales in developing countries. Sometimes discounted Luci lights are distributed through NGO partners. Sometimes religious or mission-driven organizations like The Church of Latter-day Saints buy Luci lights in bulk to deploy through MPOWERD’s 650 NGO partners. Along the way, Salzinger pioneered a program selling lights to corporations in a twofer plan: for example, Direct Energy in Dallas, Texas, bought lights in bulk to give as customer gifts, and purchased an equal number of lights for disaster relief and humanitarian aid. MPOWERD is not alone in pioneering creative ways to incorporate a give-back element into its business model. Outdoor industry companies such as LifeStraw, BioLite, Sawyer, Cotopaxi, and MSR— to name just a few—have made significant commitments to humanitarian aid. BioLite’s HomeStove delivers energy to sub-Saharan Africa; LifeStraw’s Community purifiers, Sawyer’s Bucket Filters, and MSR’s Community Chlorine Maker provide safe water to families, schools,
Jeong’s success at maximizing profit and humanitarian work makes this the most fulfilling job she’s ever had. and communities. Such charitable giving is not without criticism. In October, E/The Environmental Magazine questioned if companies like MPOWERD could have a bigger impact through alternative models. The article quotes The Economist, which warns that, “Handing out aid in kind … could suck life from local markets, and foster a culture of aid-dependency.” Jeong pushes back. “In some circumstances, aid is absolutely nec-
essary. For example, our lights are used in disaster relief and refugee camps. And [in my community], having light helps fulfill a basic need.” That controversy isn’t the only question impact companies must face. Jeong says that many such companies rely on a model in which they need to raise capital beyond profit to fund humanitarian projects. “This can result in several rounds of fundraising, yet the companies still have to satisfy primary investors,” says Jeong. “So that model isn’t sustainable. If we’re going to talk about businesses really doing well by doing good, you have to find the model that works without this heavy reliance on outside fundraising.” Jeong’s success at maximizing profit and humanitarian work makes this the most fulfilling job she’s ever had. “Yes, there are hard days when you have to make tough decisions,” she says. But it’s those instances when she can provide real help, as MPOWERD did last October when it got 70,000 lights to Californians struggling with power outages and fires, that keep this CEO striving to grow.
Live to play another day.
Come see the latest in helmet and goggle technology at Outdoor Retailer in Denver, booth# 42117-UL.
In the outdoor industry, the path to equity and inclusivity is full of halting steps.
Diversity is an easy sell. Make the outdoors more welcoming? Sure thing. Be more progressive? Done. Widen the industry’s consumer base? But of course. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)—and how we can do better—have been have been hot topics in this industry for years. But, as usual, things tend to be much less glamorous in the weeds, and the diversity movement’s momentum is catching drag on the details: How can brands represent diverse groups authentically without tokenizing them? Why are gear makers hesitant to produce gear everyone can actually afford? Is it environmentally responsible to encourage new people to visit wild places when so many landscapes are already suffering the effects of overcrowding? In the stories that follow, we dive into the fray in search of ways the outdoor industry can come together— and keep moving forward. ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALAN KIKUCHI
over 300 million people visit national parks each year—double the number from 60 years ago, when most infrastructure was last updated.
Environmentalism gone wrong
Opening the Gates Do you have a noble sense of Leave No Trace? Or is that your racial bias talking? One outdoor enthusiast re-examines her position. BY COREY BUHAY
hen I hear about outdoor diversity campaigns, my knee-jerk, gut reaction is fear. The issue isn’t the newcomers. As someone who makes her living writing about the outdoors and sharing it with new audiences, I want to see our numbers grow. The issue is that I have an environmental science degree. I’ve spent seasons doing biological field research. I’ve edited a Leave No Trace column for BACKPACKER, a magazine that sells solitude on every other cover. I’ve been trained to value staying on trail, keeping group sizes small and respectful (as per Leave No Trace’s recommendation), and limiting impact. When I read about diversity in the outdoors, I seem to hear that new groups are getting outside, but often in different ways—big group hikes, Quinceañera celebrations, or family reunions, for example. On their own, I love those things. But
Many environmentalists share my fears of rising impact. But a growing number of reports indicate that, if left unchecked, that personal nervousness can manifest as something far nastier: xenophobia and racism, masked by a self-proclaimed dedication to Leave No Trace ethics. In reporting this story, I heard plenty of examples of so-called “LNT policing”: A Latino family told to stop talking at a campground. A family of Luiseño Indians shamed by passersby for their annual, traditional harvest of poppies during the California superbloom. A group of black hikers chewed out by a white woman, who claimed the dried bamboo and palm fronds the group had brought for their children to play with might be invasive species. And, of course, plenty of white hikers shaming other white folks for stepping off-trail. “People feel unjustly entitled,” says Nadia Mercado, an Osprey hiking athlete and outdoor diversity advocate of Dominican descent, of many longtime outdoorists. “They forget the land is public.” That mix of entitlement and fear for the environment can leave veteran hikers extra-sensitive to new groups of people on trails, especially those using the outdoors in ways white hikers might be unaccustomed to. The more I learned about these instances and ingrained biases, the more I started to ask myself an uncomfortable question: Am I afraid to share the places that I love?
But what about the environment? “There’s a perception, particularly in the white hiker community, that there’s a specific way to behave on-trail,” says Jackie Ostfield, director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All program. That perception traces back to the fanatical reverence for self-reliance and solitude espoused by 19th-century conservation icons like John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. “Going into wilderness for solitude is fine,” says Ostfield. “But it’s also fine to have a community experience.” Those transcendentalist values appear in the scientific community as well. A com-
mon tenant of Western ecological theory is that, in order to be protected, conservation lands must be restored to their pre-settled state. (That’s one reason indigenous communities were forcibly removed from early national parks, like Yosemite.) But in many cases, turning the land into a museum isn’t practical, or even necessary. “Native people have been managing land sustainably for a long time,” says Lydia Jennings, a PhD candidate in soil microbiology with a concentration in American Indian policy. She argues that, for centuries, scattered bands of human beings have been part of a place’s native fauna. Leave No Trace Executive Director Dana Watts agrees. She says LNT derives its guidelines from scientific research and input from land management agencies. She acknowledges that the organization could do more to loop in indigenous land stewards as well as people of color, and emphasizes that LNT guidelines are just guidelines. “There’s nuance to everything,” she says. That includes geotagging, plant harvesting, group size, and off-trail hiking. The takeaway: You can love the outdoors and want to enjoy it with groups of people.
The real meaning of LNT It’s easy to point fingers at the hikers around us, but there’s another, bigger culprit for the degradation of public land: lack of government funding. The only way to change that is to vote for it, and people only vote for the things they love, says Outdoor Afro Founder Rue Mapp. “We have to put our hands on the land,” she explains. “That’s what instills an environmental or conservation ethic.” Outdoor Afro is a good example. What started as a recreational hiking group has since become a nationwide network of outdoor leaders who have begun leveraging their numbers to enact political change. In 2019, Outdoor Afro dispatched 20 of its leaders to lobby with local congressional representatives, which helped bring about the reauthorizing of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Outdoor Afro demonstrates that new groups of hikers aren’t the problem: They’re a force for change. American public lands are under threat, but I’m starting to realize that the solution, ironically, isn’t to shut the gates. It’s to open them a little wider.
NEW AMGA SINGLE PITCH INSTRUCTORS (FROM LEFT) BETHANY LEBEWITZ, MONSERRAT MATEHUALA, SHELMA JUN, AND GENEVIVE WALKER
Representation, not tokenism True inclusivity takes movement on both sides: people of color developing their leadership skills and outdoor brands giving them the runway.
Many brands post token expressions of diversity (think: magazine ads, short films, and athlete profiles), or invite people from marginalized groups to speak in panel discussions at events like Outdoor Retailer. But this alone doesn’t bring more women, people of color, the differently abled, and folks from the LBGTQIA+ community into the business and culture of outdoor recreation. Doing that requires more than just showing black and brown faces on social media. To avoid tokenism, the industry needs to actually recruit and hire people of underrepresented backgrounds across all types of roles. Oftentimes, companies fall back on the excuse that they can’t find qualified applicants—but that’s usually because they’re not looking hard enough, or in the right places.
BY JAMES EDWARD MILLS
Getting the skills our women of color clad in climbing gear and heavy backpacks beam at the camera: The image (above) represents far more than a moment among friends. The women had just earned their Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) certifications from the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA), a small but important step in the advancement of women and people of color in adventure sports. “I never saw myself stepping into the outdoor industry as a professional,” says newly certified instructor Genevive Walker. “It was never something I thought I could do. But this opportunity to get my SPI certification is about getting my foot in the door and seeing if I can go further.” This authentic representation—of marginalized people gainfully employed because of their skills and merits—is what the industry needs to become truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
Through their own initiative, people of color and other marginalized communities are acquiring the expertise they need to take on more prominent roles across the outdoor industry. Organized by the affinity group Brown Girls Climb, the SPI course is one example. Thanks to the course’s specialized instructor training, these women are now better equipped to become professional guides—and therefore leaders—in the white male-dominated world of climbing. “Brown Girls Climb came into this realizing that we had to step up our game,”
says Bethany Lebewitz, one of the group’s co-founders. “As an organization trying to shift the culture of outdoor recreation, we realized that shift is going to require people of color and queer and adaptive climbers in leadership roles.” Other affinity groups, such as Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, and Flash Foxy, also provide leadership training. Qualified applicants are out there. Now, it’s up to senior executives to meet potential employees halfway.
The “human” in human resources Tokenism happens when companies and event organizers don’t do enough to promote hiring of those newly qualified applicants (like posting jobs in places where people of color are likely to see them), or limit their diversity initiatives to hiring without looking at the big picture. “Companies need to make cultural changes from top to bottom,” says Monserrat Matehuala, the membership and communications associate at the AMGA. For new employees to be successful and thrive, human resources managers need to look for workplace biases they might not be aware of. This is particularly true in towns like Jackson, Wyoming, or Boulder, Colorado, where most residents are white and socially mobile; those who don’t fit into the mold face added challenges that make cultural integration difficult. A black woman, for example, might have trouble finding a place to get her hair done. Or there may be no church community that suits her religious values. These things may seem small, but they add up, and they matter to a person’s well-being. Creating safe environments sometimes means letting people stay rooted in their communities and work remotely, says Matehuala: Ultimately, “If folks aren’t prioritizing the mental health and physical well-being of their employees, they’re not as invested as they say they are.” Through professional training, people of marginalized communities, like those four new SPI instructors, are acquiring the skills they need to make it in the outdoor industry. All they ask is to be granted the same opportunities as anyone else with the same qualifications.
Priced Out of Participation
tion survey, 29 percent of respondants listed cost as one of their biggest barriers to getting outside.
The cost of a hike Most people think of outdoor recreation as free, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not all Americans live within walking distance of a park or trailhead. For them, outdoor access requires owning a car or paying for public transport. Then there’s the cost of gear. At the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, it would take a worker two full eight-hour days to afford new hiking shoes from most major outdoor brands. And what about a good rain jacket? Or a backpack with a real hipbelt to prevent shoulder pain? As a little math reveals, getting outside is never as simple as just deciding to do so.
How can the industry help everyone get the gear they need? BY PATRICIA CAMERON
ne of the oft-neglected pieces of the inclusion and equity equation in the outdoors is a hard look at economic access. As a Black American, I’m well aware of the wealth disparities between black and white populations in the U.S. That’s why I founded Blackpackers, to provide outdoor adventures and gear-lending services at low or no cost. Plenty of statistics support my own experience: According to the Pew Research Center, white families in America have a household wealth value four times higher than that of the median black family, mostly due to inequities that have been handed down generation to generation since the Jim Crow era. A comparison of median hourly wages between similarly educated groups reveals the same findings: Black Americans, at any education level, make far less than their white counterparts. And the outdoors isn’t insulated from inequity: In a recent Outdoor Founda-
by the numbers 31%
Americans who don’t live within a 10-minute walk from a park or trailhead.
Average annual cost of owning a car
Where’s all the budget gear? When Walmart started selling outdoor brands like Black Diamond, LEKI, and Deuter in 2018, there was immediate fallout. All three brands, plus others, pulled out of the agreement. Industry insiders say the move was mostly due to fears about dropping prices and changing brand perceptions. The truth is that Walmart is perhaps doing more than anyone to try to address economic barriers to the outdoors, selling $25 tents and $16 sleeping bags under its Ozark Trail brand. Refusing to associate with the budget giant is evidence that the outdoor industry may be used to thinking
Outdoor participation in 2018:
74% 10% 9% 6% 1% White
Top reasons for not getting outside:
22% 18% Can’t afford outdoor gear 18% Have no one to get outside with 15% Lack the skills 11% Can’t afford facility or entrance fees
Are too busy with family responsibilities
Sources: The Trust for Public Land, AAA, Outdoor Foundation PAGE
Lowest-cost (full-price) gear at REI, one of the most widely available and popular gear purveyors for new users:
$100 Boots $40 Daypack $30 Rain jacket $100 Tent $80 Sleeping bag
of itself as premium—and might be hesitant to shift that perception, even when that means pricing lower-income families out of participation. Some brands have launched used gear initatives—like Patagonia’s Worn Wear or REI’s used gear shop (see page 58)—to help bridge the gap. Similarly, consignment and secondhand gear shops have long been a go-to for those looking for affordable gear. But used gear and discount gear can both have fit and performance trade-offs. I’ve experienced plenty of those trade-offs myself with Ozark Trail. And, for a lot of people, it only takes one collapsed tent to decide that maybe the outdoors isn’t for you after all. What aspiring outdoorists need is high-quality gear. However, brands do have business realities to contend with. “We stand behind our price pont,” says Corley Kenna, Patagonia’s director of global communications and public relations. “It is where it is because we want to source our materials from the most environmentally and socially responsible places. If you buy a $5 T-shirt, it probably came at the expense of the planet and the workers who made it.” Those are real considerations, but so is economic inequity in the U.S., and the fact is that price barriers are keeping people from the outdoors. Brands putting inclusivity front and center of their marketing strategies should remember: Social responsibility starts at home. Equity isn’t a lookbook with diverse faces. It’s a call to make structural changes in price points to ensure that the most economically vulnerable Americans can participate in outdoor recreation. Anything else is just lip service.
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Electric Potential L
Could e-bikes change the future of outdoor brickand-mortar retail?
ooking for the next Yeti cooler? It’s already here. Except it’s bigger, heavier, and much, much faster. ¶ E-bikes have been around since the mid-1990s, but they’ve only really taken off in the past few years. Turbocharging the category’s evolution: the success of electric bicycles in European and Asian markets, coupled with huge leaps in battery technology thanks to the automotive industry. Put those together, and you get better performance at increasingly affordable price points. ¶ In the North American e-bike market, that combination is creating a seismic channel shift that offers huge opportunity for outdoor retailers— even those outside the bike business. BEATING THE BIKE SHOPS AT THEIR OWN GAME In April 2018, Coontail, a two-location outdoor shop in northern Wisconsin, decided to start selling e-bikes. Just over a year later, the results were telling. “Our rep says we’re the number-one e-bike dealer in his territory, which includes all of Wisconsin,” says Coontail buyer Jason Schultz, “and we’re not even a bike shop.” Before bringing on e-bikes, Coontail sold gear and apparel, and rented out Hobie fishing kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and even
a few traditional Specialized bicycles. But business didn’t take off until Schultz suggested adding e-bikes to Coontail’s Minocqua location. “These were $2,500 to $2,600 bikes at entry level,” says Schultz, “and the first four, we sold without even a test ride.” That was in early spring, when there was still snow on the ground and ice on the bike paths surrounding the store. Five months later, the shop was selling its most successful model, the $2,600 base-price Specialized Turbo Como, at the rate of more than one a week. By then, the bicycle end of the business had grown so much that Coontail had to hire two full-time mechanics to handle the accompanying service business. The reason Coontail gets more e-bike business than any of Wisconsin’s cycling specialists? “E-bikes are hitting the bike industry like a freight train right now, and a lot of bike shops are just ignoring it,” Schultz says. He points to a tradition of elitism as one barrier to cyclists embracing the e-bike trend: “There’s that whole shaved-leg bike shop culture thing at work there.” Not every bike shop is as judgmental as Schultz suggests, of course, but consumers in search of a basic, moderately priced e-bike may be more comfortable in a laid-back outdoors shop like Coontail than in a store that caters to the core cyclist crowd. Ed Benjamin agrees. He’s a second-generation bicycle retailer who left the dealer end of the business twenty-odd years ago when he founded e-bike consulting group eCycleElectric. “Bike shops aren’t addressing the rest of the electric bike market—people who just want to commute to work, or have physical limitations, or whatever,” he says. That’s where outdoor retailers come in. A PART OF THE OUTDOOR RETAILER ECOSYSTEM Benjamin currently predicts that the e-bike boom will continue
PHOTO BY LOUISA ALBANESE
BY RICK VOSPER
PHOTO BY LOUISA ALBANESE
DENVER-BASED FATTE BIKES IS AMONG THE GROWING RANKS OF NEW E-BIKE BRANDS.
A longtime cyclist and Aspen local weighs in on exactly where e-bikes belong. BY CINDY HIRSCHFELD I’ve almost reached the end of Maroon Creek Road, a popular cycling spot outside Aspen, Colorado. Usually, the last uphill stretch is a sweaty grunt, taxing my asthmatic respiratory system—except this time my lungs feel full, I’m pedaling at a rapid clip, and I’ve hardly shed a drop of sweat. What gives? An e-bike, that’s what. I’ve been fully self-powered on Colorado’s roads and trails for almost 30 years, but unlike some cyclists, I’m not going all proud and purist on you. Though that first e-bike I tried, a pedal-assist Giant Explore E+, did feel a bit like cheating, I had a lot of fun. It was easy to see why folks with nagging ailments, aging knees, or unacclimatized lungs might prefer e-bikes. Around Aspen, both local and visiting cyclists have taken to the machines like Trump to Twitter. E-bikes are usually permitted on paved paths as well as roads, and so far, reactions are mixed. Some call them an accessibility godsend, while others claim that e-bikers hurtle down the valley-long Rio Grande Trail at reckless speeds. My biggest concern? The way-faster Tour-de-France wannabes who rocket by on their analog road bikes with nary an “on your left” or a warning bell. Bikes have always had the potential to be dangerous—it just depends on how you use them. Besides, who are we to determine the “right” way to enjoy a ride? That said, leave singletrack out of it, please. Currently, a few trail systems—like in Jefferson County, Colorado; Bentonville, Arkansas; and Mammoth Mountain, California—permit Class 1 e-bikes. But narrow, rocky trails just don’t seem a safe venue for electric motors, especially when faster e-bikers might try to pass riders going at a leg-propelled pace. I’m worried about e-bikes either clipping traditional riders as they go by, or causing full-on crashes. But, to be honest, part of my hesitation is selfish, too. If e-bikes offer me an excuse to forsake mountain biking’s sweaty, lung-busting, quad-burning climbs? Whew. That’s a temptation I don’t need.
into 2020, and that more than a hundred brands—especially those that produce low- to mid-price e-bikes—will experience huge growth. The kicker? “Almost none of these [brands] have significant distribution in traditional bike shops,” Benjamin says. Instead, he says, the traditional bike shops that do bring on e-bikes are opting for expensive, high-end machines by namebrand bike companies. This is often due to longstanding agreements with juggernauts like Specialized or Giant, which allocate a specified amount of retail floor space—as much as 75 percent—to one partner, crowding out smaller, mid-priced e-bike brands like Pedego, IZIP, or EVELO. Meanwhile, these and similar brands are increasingly being sold by a new breed of retailers who’ve chosen to skip over pedal-only models and focus exclusively on e-bikes. So why should gear shops get into the e-bike game? Simple, says Benjamin. E-bikes appeal to the customers outdoor retailers already sell to. Outside magazine’s most current consumer poll reports that 91 percent of its readers who ride bikes also hike; 58 percent camp; 48 percent kayak; and 40 percent downhill ski. These are people who might already shop at traditional bike stores, but they also spend time in generalist gear shops and are likely looking for a more beginner-friendly atmosphere—something that some traditional bike shops might struggle to provide. Take ex-pro surfer and general contractor Jeff Grell, for example. He bought his IZIP E3 Peak for $2,600 at Mammoth Lakes, California, snowboard shop Wave Rave. (Wave Rave introduced a rental fleet of IZIPs in 2015 and now sells 15 to 18 electrics each summer.) “I love the people there,” Grell says of Wave Rave. “It’s a great place to shop. And I’m a snowboarder, so it just made sense [to go there to buy an e-bike] as a natural progression.” As for traditional bike shops? Grell says the vibe is a little too intense: “It’s all serious bike business. The outdoors shop is a mellower experience.” Most of Coontail’s customers aren’t cyclists to begin with, either,
PHOTO BY LOUISA ALBANESE
SHARE THE TRAIL? SOMETIMES.
U.S. E-BIKE MARKET SHARE
E-BIKE SELL-IN TO U.S. BICYCLE RETAILERS Sales of e-bikes peaked prior to the Trump administration’s Chinese e-bikes and motors tariffs. (Experts expect the growth to continue, tariffs notwithstanding.)
E-Bike Sales (thousands)
8 7 6 5
Bike shops, including outdoor retailers that sell bike brands
Direct-to-consumer or mass-market retail (like Walmart)
1 JAN 2019
SOURCE: BICYCLE PRODUCT SUPPLIERS ASSOCIATION
PHOTO BY LOUISA ALBANESE
THE SELLING ECOSYSTEM Here’s a snapshot of e-bike market growth and who’s getting a piece of it.
Outdoor retailers aren’t even close to reaching their potential market share. SOURCE: ECYCLE ELECTRIC
Schultz explains. Often, they’re just garden-variety outdoor enthusiasts who come in to look for a kayak or a jacket—and end up leaving with an e-bike worth thousands of dollars. Believe it or not, “It’s easier than selling a $500 regular bike,” Schultz explains. As soon as customers hop on an electric, “They get it right away,” he says. “They come back with perma-grins. And from our end, it’s four to five times the gross margin of a regular bike, but for the same time investment on the shop floor.” IN SEARCH OF THE BOTTOM LINE Expanding an existing business to include e-bikes is neither a cheap proposition, nor a core competency for most outdoor retailers. In addition to inventory, there’s the expense of adding a dedicated bike service area, including shop equipment and trained mechanics. After all, an e-bike has all the same mechanical systems as a pedal-only bike, plus power supply, electronics, and a motor. But some of the largest outdoor retailers have already seen success with e-bikes. REI currently lists 30 e-bike models across six different brands. The Scheels chain offers 19 models of electrics in addition to being America’s largest dealer for pedal-only Trek bicycle. These chains have already proven the viability of e-bikes as a money-making category for the outdoor industry. Consider the other perks: The service side of any bike business is significantly more profitable than the equipment side. This has
“E-bikes are hitting the bike industry like a freight train right now, and a lot of bike shops are just ignoring it,” Schultz says.
been true since the 1970s, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association’s Cost Of Doing Business reports. So, even though there’s a high cost of entry, bringing on e-bikes offers three revenue streams: bikes, accessories, and service. Four if you include rentals, as Coontail and Wave Rave do. One secret to success, says Wave Rave owner Steve Klassen, is keeping his operation lean and simple. “We only service the bikes we sell, so it’s easy to keep the right parts in stock,” he explains. “We have a small, 10-by-30-foot area behind the shop that we dedicate to e-bike storage and tech work, plus another stand in the main store area in summer.” As far as service training? “We’re snowboarders who trained ourselves to work on bikes [with motors],” Klassen says. “It’s not that hard.” For Klassen, the payoff has been huge. The e-bike business alone allows him to keep on six extra employees through the summer. Electrics have also integrated the shop into the neighborhood in a new way. “Our rental customers are tourists, but most of our sales go to locals here in town,” he says. “Mostly they’re people who haven’t been on a bike in a long time. It’s opened up our connection to the community in a big way.”
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art meets gear
pretty face Artist-gear collabs are on the rise, and with good reason: Style sells. Here’s a peek behind the curtain of one of Atomic’s latest works of art. BY KRISTIN HOSTETTER
The 2020 Bent Chetler 120, a powder ski, is the latest fruit of Atomic’s 12-year partnership with Chris Benchetler.
As both a ripping pro free skier and a gifted artist, Benchetler is Atomic’s double threat, deeply involved in all aspects of design in his namesake line—from tip to tail to topsheet. “I draw inspiration from the natural world and try to incorporate a natural wood grain with splashes of bright color,” says California-based Benchetler, who blends line drawings, spray paints, acrylics, oils, and digital painting in his ski art.
Benchetler is known for his creative lines and descents on the mountain, and his art mirrors his style of skiing. He has complete autonomy over the graphics; the in-house team just makes tweaks to fit the design to the ski and adds branding. But the art goes deeper than the topsheet. Benchetler co-developed HRZN tech—the flotation on the tip and tail of the ski that gives it a super-playful feel. “Our partnership with Chris has been all-in,” says Global Ski Product Manager Herbert Buchsteiner. “He creates unique ski shapes that really perform, paired with beautiful design.”
Benchetler’s family of skis (there are three in the line) “sell very well for us,” says Buchsteiner. “It’s hard to credit its success to any one thing, but the Bent Chetler 100 is our top U.S. seller, and we like to think it’s because of a convergence of performance, affordability, and beauty.”
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B L A C K D I A M O N D E Q U I P M E N T. C O M
INDEPENDENT : UNFILTERED : ENGAGED, Issue No. 3