Outdoor Research and Exped AG have mutually agreed to end the North American distribution agreement the two companies entered into four years ago. Exped LLC, based in Seattle, will take over operations as the North American distributor for Exped and will show 2010 product at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in a new booth.
Alex Kutches, vice president of sales and marketing for Outdoor Research, told SNEWS® that Outdoor Research will continue to handle all shipping, invoicing and warranty of Exped products through Dec. 31, 2009. All preseason orders of spring and fall '09 product will be fulfilled by Outdoor Research, and it will maintain sufficient inventory to assure ASAP fulfillment of Exped product through Dec. 31.
Exped LLC will be staffed by three industry veterans from Outdoor Research. Ted Steudel (pictured left), formerly Outdoor Research's western sales director, is now director of sales; Josh Espinosa (pictured center), formerly Outdoor Research's international sales manager, is director of operations; and Kaj Bune (pictured right), formerly Outdoor Research's director of brand development, is director of marketing. For all three, their last day at Outdoor Research was April 1.
Kutches confirmed that Outdoor Research is now interviewing to fill their vacated positions.
Discussions to terminate the distribution agreement began in November 2008, we were told. Both Outdoor Research and Exped told SNEWS the parting is extremely amicable and both companies are doing their utmost to fully support each other through the process. Exped AG, which has distributed Outdoor Research product in the Swiss, Austrian and German markets since 1997, will continue in that role.
"I can't emphasize enough how grateful we are to the team at Outdoor Research. Dan Nordstrom (owner of Outdoor Research) and the OR staff are a class act," Bune told SNEWS. "They made this transition as smooth as could be imagined. It seems like so many distribution deals end in hard feelings on all sides, but this has been truly amazing in its synergy. It means a lot to us to leave on good terms -- Ted has been with OR for 15 years, Josh for 10, and I've been there a combined 10 years split into two tours of duty. OR is special to us and always will be."
Bune recalled that he and Steudel sold Outdoor Research product as retail staff when they both worked for the Swallow's Nest -- more years ago than he cares to remember.
"Our relationships with Exped go back a long way as well," said Bune. "Exped has been OR's distributor in Germany, Switzerland and Austria for about 16 years, and Ted, Josh and I developed a close relationship with Andy and Heidi (Brun) and the Exped staff over the years."
From the time Outdoor Research began taking over the distribution of Exped in 2005, all three worked very closely on the integration and sales of Exped to both the U.S. and Canadian markets, we were told. Yet another reason why Bune said they feel this departure from Outdoor Research to launch Exped LLC is a next and very natural step for them.
Exped AG is the majority owner of Exped LLC, we were told, which is a Washington-based corporation. However, Bune, Steudel and Espinosa have minority shares. Currently, the three are working sans office space, using mobile phones and laptops until the fall, underscoring the fact that the new leaders of Exped LLC are not planning any sudden moves.
"Our plans are to do a phased expansion of the Exped product offering in both Canada and the U.S. over the next few years with a full focus on outdoor specialty retail," Bune told SNEWS. "Over the next few months, we will put together the spring 2010 product line and we'll be ready for the trade show in July."
Bune told us that the product mix will certainly include the sleeping mats, tents and sleeping bags that U.S. retailers familiar with Exped have come to expect. However, he promises new product categories that he said are popular in other parts of the world but have not hit the U.S. or Canadian markets.
"We are excited about telling the Exped story in greater detail -- the personalities that make the innovation possible and the product details that reflect the commitment to quality. It's a company full of users and real characters and that's always fun," said Bune.
SNEWS® View: Running its own distribution network is nothing new for Exped -- click here to read our April 2, 2004, story, "Outdoor Research to begin distributing Exped."
Since that time, Exped has garnered a much stronger following in the United States and Canada, thanks in large part to Outdoor Research's visibility. So why the need for a change? We could call it a need to focus -- a good lesson for any company to engage in, especially in this market. For Outdoor Research's management, we would suspect that they felt sleeping bags and tents were no longer a product category they could or should effectively support -- at least in any manner that was meaningful to either Outdoor Research or Exped.
For its part, Exped likely wanted to see its distribution expanded, with a broader range of product. And that would take a different kind of focus from Outdoor Research and, likely, the company felt it could not do that well and serve the needs of its own brand. Bottom line, Outdoor Research is a better manufacturer than it is a distributor. Now, as master of its destiny, Exped LLC can focus too -- on its own product and on its own unique customers, which bodes well both for Exped and any specialty dealer now or soon to be carrying the brand. And, it is a very good brand. For Outdoor Research, it will benefit from a laser-focus on its brand and retailers with no distractions, and that is a good thing too.
For those who might not be fully familiar with Exped or its owner/designer Andy Brun, indulge us for a minute. Brun owns the patent for welded sleeping bag seams, which Mountain Hardwear currently licenses. He also owns the patent for baffled mats filled with any type of natural or synthetic fill, currently licensed by Big Agnes. Exped's own products aren't too shabby either. In 2003, Exped was presented with the European Outdoor Award for Product of the Year for the company's down-filled air mattress and it also nabbed a Backpacker Magazine Editor's Choice Award for the company's Sirius Extreme tent. In 2006, the company's synthetic-filled mats earned a silver-place OutDoor Industry Award, as well as an Editor's Choice Award from Outdoor, a German magazine. Outdoor magazine awarded the mat yet another Editor's Choice Award in 2008.
And, if you are wondering about Carl Brody, who ran Exped's U.S. distribution from 2001 to 2005, he remains happily employed at Outdoor Research, as part of the planning department and, we were told, "He's an invaluable asset to the company as the main person coordinating inventory procurement."
Sounds like everyone is happy with this deal, and that's the kind of deal we like to report.