On July 1, Johnson Outdoors restructured the company's independent sales teams, essentially terminating reps who handled only the Carlisle or Extrasport brands, and consolidating agencies to those that will carry all four brands -- Old Town Canoe, Carlisle, Extrasport and Ocean Kayak. Necky reps were not part of the consolidation move.
In a letter sent to retailers, group vice president Mark Leopold stated the reason for the restructure as a need to "create a new and improved sales rep organization framework to grow your business and ours."
Numerous retailers contacted us and we also followed through with calls to others and the theme of concerns remained consistent:
1) How are we going to get better service with fewer reps?
Leopold assured SNEWS that his mandate is "no less physical coverage than in the past and a goal of having more."
"We have a very talented team of reps and the plans are in place for them to add support folks," Leopold said. "We are committed to an equal or greater than level of contact and promise that there will be additional help to add a stronger presence with the customer base than in the past."
2) We're losing our whitewater reps and they're being replaced with flat-water guys -- that's a huge worry.
"We are absolutely not abandoning the whitewater market," Leopold said. "If we find that we have a gap and we need to address it, we will. At this point, we are confident that we will get 80 percent of the distribution potential with the teams we have in place now."
3) Terrific, now we're going to get pressured to buy lines we don't currently carry if we want to keep the ones we buy now.
This was perhaps the biggest worry, and one that retailers are telling SNEWS is beginning to happen from other watersport companies with reps saying, "Gee, I know you carry line A of ours, but we're thinking you really need to pick up line B and C too if you want to carry line A next yearâ€¦" Ouch!
Leopold was very careful in the way he answered us. "Our commitment is to develop the products and offerings and the compelling rational behind them so that our customers will want to carry a wider assortment, and we think they will."
4) We're thinking this means they're not going to be as attentive to the specialty retailers anymore.
Not so Leopold stressed. "We have always been and will always be committed to our core rep organizations and their strength is the specialty class of trade. Specialty represents the lion's share of our business and we're going to stay with that. Specialty is our core!"
SNEWS View: Leopold didn't know off-hand how many reps were affected with this move, but we're guessing somewhere around 15. We know a number of the Extrasport folks and feel pretty confident in saying that trying to match the sales with a combined force will be pretty darn difficult. There is little doubt in our mind that Johnson Outdoor made this move to leverage the brands with each retailer so we'd be very surprised if retailers currently carrying any one or more of the brands -- Old Town, Ocean, Carlisle or Extrasport -- aren't offered some very attractive packaging prices and incentives to take them all on. The question is, which competing brands will a retailer be willing to give up should that decision have to be made? Most we talked to told us they don't want to be put in such a position and will carry a line only on its individual merits and how it best fits into their overall store mix, not because a manufacturer now deems the line of brands a collection.