Consumers might never even hear the name Vista Outdoor, but that’s just the way CEO Mark DeYoung likes it. Because at Vista, parent company of CamelBak, Jimmy Styks, Giro, Bell, Bushnell and more than 40 other outdoor companies, it’s all about the brands. The Utah native sat down with SNEWS to talk about how the company is evolving, its acquisition strategy (aggressive), how it will support both its specialty retailers and big box partners in this tumultuous business climate, why it’s not interested in pursuing military contracts, and his favorite places around Salt Lake City.
SNEWS: I read that you want Vista Outdoor to be the world leader in “individual outdoor recreation.” Can you describe that concept and talk about what it will take, what sort of new acquisitions or growth, for Vista to get there?
Mark DeYoung: We see outdoor recreation as a $63 billion industry [that number refers to US sales of individual outdoor recreation equipment], and right now, Vista Outdoor is the largest company at approximately $2.75 billion. It’s a fragmented market, with a lot of opportunity for a company like ours to grow. I’ve said before that Vista Outdoor will continue to pursue opportunities in individual outdoor recreation. The best way I can describe this is to imagine an outdoor/sporting goods store and remove all of the team sports apparel and equipment. Everything that is left is something that our company is interested in. So that includes camping, fishing, golf, trail sports, water sports, wildlife viewing, cycling, and of course hunting and shooting sports. Obviously, our legacy brands are extremely strong in hunt/shoot, but now with the combination of Bolle with our acquisitions of the Action Sports brands (Bell and Giro) and CamelBak, we are the leader in cycling and snow sports equipment. Our mission is to bring the world outside, and we will continue to grow our business, both organically and through acquisition in the individual outdoor recreation industry.
SNEWS: Vista has a lot of “hook and bullet” companies. How do you see that industry differ from the outdoor/ski/bike industries, and how are they similar?
MD: Obviously there are some differences in culture. But one of our goals at Vista Outdoor is to be a bridge between those two categories. I’ve said this to our employees and our investors as well: “The outdoors is big enough for everyone.” I’m a hunter myself, but I also snow ski, golf, mountain bike and paddle board with my kids. I believe that we’re seeing more overlap between these sports. People who hunt in the winter, bike in the spring or ride paddle boards in the summer. Our company supports consumers in the outdoor activity of their choice.
SNEWS: What Vista brands will be exhibiting at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market?
MD: CamelBak and Jimmy Styks will be there, and you’ll see a bigger Bolle and Bushnell presence as well. All the brands will be together in a booth that’s about twice as big as CamelBak’s old space (located in the same spot), divided by brand, to help people understand what Vista is and what it offers.
SNEWS: Is it difficult to allow the individual companies that make up Vista to each follow their own paths, create their unique cultures, while still being a part of a larger company? What is your strategy for continuing the culture of innovation for a company like CamelBak, for example, as Vista grows?
MD: This is something I’ve talked a lot about during our first year as a company. We are a company that is brand-focused. That means we are not marketing Vista Outdoor to consumers. I don’t care if the people who buy Federal Premium ammunition or CamelBak water bottles or Bell helmets or Bushnell binoculars know that Vista Outdoor owns those companies. Vista Outdoor is for our employees, our communities, and our investors, and in situations like this interview, it’s for the media. But for the most part, we do not focus on Vista Outdoor as a brand. The corporate team’s job is to help drive the overall business strategy for the company. We empower our individual brands to make the right decisions on new product launches and branding and other areas.
But I will say that Vista Outdoor is not a holding company. We aren’t hands-off in that regard. We engage with the leaders of the brand and drive what we call execution excellence in processes throughout the company. As far as CamelBak goes, we acquired that company for a variety of reasons, but one of them was the culture of innovation. The same goes for the Bell and Giro acquisition. Our goal is to continue supporting and growing all of our brands. We want the consumers to see quality, innovative products that will meet their needs and perform for them when they are enjoying the outdoor activity of their choice.
SNEWS: When considering companies for acquisition, what sort of things do you look for?
MD: We have an aggressive acquisition strategy. In fact, we’ve done $850 million in acquisitions in the last 18 months. We’ve focused on top brands within our space. We look for market share leaders with strong brand position and common or adjacent distribution to rest of Vista’s portfolios. We like strong leadership teams, and we we like to keep key members of leadership in place. We’re not seeking fixer upper brands; we buy top performers, pay a reasonable price for them, and help them get even better.
SNEWS: CamelBak has does a lot of military contract work. Is winning military contracts a part of the strategy for your brands’ success?
MD: No, we’re focused on consumer products moving forward. CamelBak’s military experience was a roller coaster. During Sally McCoy’s tenure, they generated a lot of revenue in military contracts. But then as we pulled out of deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq, CamelBak suffered significant hits in profitability. Military contracts are a blessing and a curse. They’re cyclical. CamelBak enjoyed the upside of two theatres of deployment while we were fighting two wars in the Middle East that needed personal hydration. Then they suffered through the downside as we pulled out of those theatres. Vista is focused on the consumer side of things, but that being said, if the consumer product is so good that the military wants to procure it, we’re certainly open to that.
SNEWS: Many of Vista’s brands are sold in both big box and independent specialty retailers. What’s your take on the big recent shakeups in the big box outdoor recreation space and what does it mean to Vista?
MD: Vista is a $3 billion company and we had very little exposure in these bankruptcies. Plus, we’ve seen these scenarios coming for months and had many months to mitigate our exposure and risk.
I go back to the macro view with things like this. In general, demographics for outdoor recreation are very good. The average camper is 34. He goes camping 5 times a year and spends $200 per trip. It’s a healthy industry, overall.
We’re very focused on helping independent dealers, retailer chains and mass merchants to survive and thrive. And we can help because of our very diversified distribution network. We don’t sell all products into all outlets. Some only go to smaller shops, some only go to big box. We think we can play a role to support the independent shops while we support the larger customers at the same time.
The bottom line is that good companies who create good products and offer value to the consumer will weather this storm. And we’re committed to being one of companies.
SNEWS: You’re a Salt Lake guy. Many of our readers spend lots of time there. Got any insider tips?
I was born and raised here. I love it. I enjoy fly fishing the Upper Weber River which has some great secret holes. I like to hike the backside of Francis Peak and Farmington Peak. There’s beautiful alpine valleys, with not a lot of crowds but good drive in access.
SNEWS: What about your favorite Salt Lake hangout for nights at the show?
MD: I’m not the right guy to answer that! I’m more inclined to grab a sandwich and my fly rod and go fishing in the evening than sit in a restaurant.
SNEWS: Fair enough!
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