Amy Roberts has a diverse professional background that includes time as a journalist, a governor’s communications director, a semiconductor firm’s government relations manager and vice president for the Outdoor Industry Association government affairs. And for the past three years, she was a member of the executive team and managed product and operational sustainability for MEC, Canada’s leading outdoor specialty retailer. It’s the perfect resume for her new job as OIA executive director — balancing retail and government affairs. Roberts shares with us where she sees challenges and opportunities, plus how OIA wants to partner with your store to test some innovative ideas.
You most recently spent time working for a specialty outdoor retailer. What do you see as the top challenges and opportunities that specialty outdoor retailers face today?
As executive director of OIA, I plan to listen to what members — especially specialty outdoor retailers — are concerned about, where they see opportunities and are finding success. My boss at MEC, CEO David Labistour, constantly reminded and challenged our management team to look at our business through the eyes of the consumer, and that lesson will stick with me. Specialty retail must recognize and adapt to the multi-channel environment, which brings new consumer expectations. The good news, I believe, is that our industry is well equipped to offer a differentiated experience to consumers. We design, produce and sell compelling, high-quality and innovative products. We are collaborating as an industry to lighten the environmental footprint of those products and produce them in a socially responsible way. We offer the consumer a retail environment that promotes education and serves up inspiration, whether that’s through the product itself, in-store or online service or through the many educational offerings, trips and community events that specialty retail supports.
What can OIA offer the specialty retailer in this respect?
In general, OIA needs to ensure specialty retailers have access to the most recent and relevant information on consumer preferences and the retail landscape. We need to provide that information in a way that makes it digestible and actionable. During Outdoor Retailer, OIA is launching activation guides to help retailers utilize and implement findings from the ConsumerVue outdoor segmentation study. This resource gives retailers actionable strategies and tactics they can implement to better meet outdoor consumers’ product and retail needs. Additionally, the OIA market and consumer insights team is partnering with retailers to implement in-store pilot programs that bring to life the value of the ConsumerVue research and tools and the benefit of being able to understand what segment is walking through the door and how to better meet their needs from a marketing, inventory, merchandising and sales perspective. The first partnership is with specialty retailer River Sports Outfitters in Knoxville, Tennessee.
In July, we announced a formal agreement between Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, Outdoor Retailer and OIA. The goal of this collaboration is to support specialty retail. Grassroots has been providing a lot of good feedback to the OIA board around the type of support specialty retail is seeking from OIA. I am really looking forward to using the platform of collaboration to build great tools and educational programming for our shared memberships.
The OIA board is bringing together a retail advisory group to encourage collaboration among specialty retailers and to guide our member offering. I believe OIA can be a forum for kickstarting and testing the ROI on innovative specialty retail merchandising, marketing, customer service and event projects and can subsequently build case studies to share best practices with other retailers.
There’s been some criticism that OIA has put too much focus toward its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. versus directing resources toward local outdoor communities and their shops. What are your thoughts?
The outdoor industry will always need to maintain a strong voice in Washington because federal government policies impact so many of the places where people recreate in the United States. Trade policy is almost always governed at a federal level, which impacts the cost of making products and, in turn, pricing to consumers. Having said that, we need to follow the money. Much of the funding for new parks, trails, bike paths and other recreation infrastructure is coming from the local level. Voters consistently pass ballot measures authorizing funding for recreation and green spaces even when they choose to elect fiscally conservative members of Congress during the same election cycle. That says to me that people broadly value their ability to get outside, recreate and enjoy nature, and they are willing to fund those places near their communities. Interim OIA executive director Steve Barker facilitated the collaboration between OIA, the Conservation Alliance and Outdoor Alliance to focus on local advocacy. I believe this is going to provide the opportunity for retailers to partner with OIA around specific issues impacting their cities and towns while at the same time raising awareness of their businesses in their local communities.