Andy Palmer guiding Ocean Minded inland with beach inspiration

Can the co-founder of Animal watches do the same thing for Ocean Minded -- guide a company built in the surf market and expand its product line and focus to appeal to a much wider audience? SNEWS has the exclusive interview with Andy Palmer who believes success will be found in the outdoor playground.
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Ocean Minded CEO Andy Palmer knows a thing or two about taking a product designed for the beach and tweaking it sufficiently to be attractive to other markets. As a co-founder of the UK-based Animal watches in the late ‘80s, he helped that company take its watches from the surf market into a much broader outdoor adventure and extreme sports marketplace. As much fashion as function, Animal watches became internationally recognized. Now, he hopes to do it again, this time as CEO of Ocean Minded, a brand that is also well known in the surf and beach community, but far less so in the outdoor world. In 2010, Palmer set out to change that.

Showing at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2010 as a debut to the outdoor market, Palmer told us that he had no illusion this was going to be a long effort. But he also felt his company was well positioned in its alignment with outdoor industry passions of environmental stewardship.

In addition to using recycled and sustainable materials whenever possible in its footwear, apparel and accessories, the company works hard to walk its talk. Ocean Minded (www.oceanminded.com) has been organizing community beach clean-ups since 1996 around the world, educating consumers on the importance of leaving their chosen playgrounds in better conditions than when they were found.

“As Ocean Minded aligns its focus on the outdoor and lifestyle markets, we will continue our efforts to protect the ocean and increase environmental stewardship from mountaintops to river basins and everywhere in between,” Palmer told us during a sit down in January 2010.

Six months later, SNEWS® reconnected with Palmer to find out how things were progressing for Ocean Minded as it readied to unveil new products at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

“I think things are going well as we are looking at 30 percent growth this year and will be a profitable entity -- so everything is going in the right direction,” Palmer told us. “As I told you in January, when we set out to bring the ocean inland at the beginning of this year, we knew it was not going to happen overnight. Ours is a three-year strategy and I am very happy with the direction and pace it is going now.

“We are in the very early stages, and I don’t expect just because we entered a new industry for them to think we are the new messiah,” he said.

Palmer stressed that success will be realized by consistency of delivery and quality, strong product direction and corporate humility. “We do not want to change who we are as a brand. I think we have to turn up and show very good product that goes beyond good marketing. Action sports is marketing driven first and product second. That is a positive the outdoor industry brings to us as a brand as it keeps us on our game.”

Telling SNEWS that he is bullish on the footwear his company is offering, he is quick to point out that while the roots of the company may be at the beach, success for Ocean Minded means not being just a sandal brand.

“We are a footwear brand and need a 12-month business. Half our potential is in footwear as well. That is a difficult road to go down, as it is very competitive category. It is harder to be a footwear brand than a sandal brand. I have no real big expectations of turning up at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in August and blowing the world away,” Palmer said.

He acknowledges that in the last six months of selling into the outdoor space, his results are modest and that most of the sales for Ocean Minded are currently in the action sports segment. But Palmer told us the company is hitting the small targets it set for itself in outdoor, which he sees as a very good sign.

“Long term, we will do more sales in outdoors than in action sports,” he added.

When we pointed out that 140 footwear brands alone were announced as exhibitors at the OutDoor trade show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, held July 15-19, Palmer said that was the biggest challenge of all for his company -- standing out, but this was not always so easy in the footwear world.

“We are always looking for that product that will make us stand out, and in the meantime, we have to design distinctive me-too,” Palmer told SNEWS. To that end, 70 percent of the product line for Ocean Minded will be new at Summer Market, with price points in the $50 to $75 range.

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Mike Gass, senior product line manager for Ocean Minded, described several of the new offerings from the company to SNEWS. 

“For both the Storm Surf (pictured middle left) and the Tamaraok (pictured top right), we felt we needed a bit of a higher-end, water-friendly sandal design that would bring some tech, color and freshness to the line, and allow us to offer something new as we continue to expand our distribution into accounts that are not strictly surf or on the beach,” Gass said.

“If you look at the product, there is a lot of tech built into the two silhouettes. The outsoles and midsoles are designed to provide a little more toe protection than your standard flip-flop while offering great traction in wet or dry conditions. The EVA foot beds are soft yet supportive with just the right amount of arch, and the water-friendly uppers are designed to comfortably hold the foot in place and offer great styling.”

As for the company’s take on more traditional footwear designs, Gass describes the Wender (picture bottom right) as “our version of the everyday casual lifestyle shoe.”

He added, “The Wender takes design cues that are a mix of things from nature and the casual shoe market. The outsoles are unique with the wood grain rubber pods, and the uppers are a mix of leather and hemp that bring some different lines to a familiar silhouette. The wave line pattern on the upper can be seen throughout our collection and gives our footwear its own unique identity.” 

While none of these shoes are likely to change the world, if they manage to turn more than a few retailer heads at Summer Market, Palmer said he will consider it a success in a hyper-competitive market.

--Michael Hodgson

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