Joe Flannery talks business aspects of Marmot and the future

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Joe Flannery has taken the lessons learned at his previous jobs to spearhead all business aspects for Marmot and sister brand ExOfficio. Here, he talks his past experiences, the "core and more" concept, and the future for Marmot as a Newell brand.

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Joe Flannery calls himself “insanely fortunate” to have landed the owner of several sporting goods companies as his university-sponsored mentor when he was a college freshman. That led him an internship at Jelco Ventures (part owners of Rossignol, Look, Bell, and others) at age 18, which he used as a springboard into gigs with Nike, adidas International, The North Face, and heli ski company Canadian Mountain Holidays, before becoming Marmot’s first-ever general manager in 2016. The luck continues: Last fall, Flannery, 46, took on a new role, overseeing all business aspects for both Marmot and sister brand ExOfficio.

1. What lessons from the Canadian Mountain Holidays job did you take to Marmot?

I call that my sabbatical. My time at CMH was a radically different experience. The first day on the job, I was handed a toilet bowl brush and told, “Everyone in the company is expected to clean the toilets, including the president.” It’s really important to check your ego at the door and make sure everyone understands the leader of the company is willing to do anything to provide the best service.

Also, the company experienced one of the largest avalanches in British Columbia’s history during my watch. When you’re dealing with life-and-death situations on a daily basis, it really puts life and work into perspective.

2. What’s the “core and more” concept, and how does Marmot embrace both types of consumers?

It’s having your teams revolve around understanding those core consumers—I call them archetypes. Having experiential research with those archetypes is imperative to bringing exceptional product to market. That said, those archetypes influence communities of people who are not hardcore athletes. That’s the “more.” The core are leaders, and the more are the people who look up to those leaders but might not be using the products with the same intentions. If you’re too precious and only express that you’re providing solutions for the core, then you’re exclusive.

3. Where do you see the industry going? What’s Marmot doing to adapt?

The industry is seeing significant headwinds. The currency and foreign exchange headwinds make our products in key markets around the world significantly more expensive than they were last year. There’s an excess inventory glut that exists in North America, Europe, and Asia. The immediate challenge is global warming. We are potentially seeing the extinction of our winters. Outdoor business brands need to evolve beyond just making insulated shells and rain jackets. At the end of the day, we’re farmers and the bounty of our crop is dependent on the weather. The patterns in the weather have not been very favorable for our industry.

Marmot is using this time to invest in innovation launches in core categories. And I continue to believe that there is incredible opportunity for our industry. People around the world are leading more and more stressful lives, and the outdoors is the antidote. Oxygen is our fuel.

4. Newell brands acquired Marmot’s parent company last spring. how do you remain a financial asset rather than a liability for large, multibrand company?

I’m blown away by the strategic plans put forth by Newell Brands. As an example, there is a massive innovation center that has been developed in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It’s filled with designers, color and trend experts, and it has a huge factory line and modeling shop. Leveraging the resources of those centers of excellence is something that I very much look forward to.

As far as multiline softgoods apparel brands, Marmot’s market share in the U.S. is number four. The top three are multiple times larger than we are. Many of them are making precarious distribution decisions because they have to grow the size of a Marmot every year to hit their targets. I do think that some of the industry’s growth rates in the past 10 years are so significant that they are leading to the saturation of certain brands, and that’s not sustainable. We have an opportunity to still be special.

5. Can we expect any more TV ads this year, à la your headline-grabbing Super Bowl commercial in 2016? 

No: 2016 was the apex of a five-year brand awareness push. TV was the primary vehicle to reach a broader audience to tell the Marmot message. Our focus in ‘17 is shifting to driving consumers to buy our products with our key retailers. Specialty outdoor retailers are our focus, and we will be overinvesting in marketing and visual support in this channel. Marmot’s Fall In Love with The Outside Road Tour, produced by RootsRated, is an example of how we intend to increase this engagement.

The Super Bowl ad was an above-and-beyond investment made by our former parent company, Jarden Corporation. We have measured brand awareness, and that has increased quite substantially. “The core and the more” continue to grow.

This article was originally published on p.62 of Outdoor Retailer Daily's Day 3 magazine. 

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