Merchandising Tour: Conveying an environmental message

Giving back is a positive trend in business, but such goodwill must be authentic to resonate with today’s savvy consumers. SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright looks at how United by Blue conveys its environmental push straight into its merchandising story.

Giving back is a positive trend in business, but such goodwill must be authentic to resonate with today’s savvy consumers. Two-year-old United by Blue has an environmental focus on improving our waterways, but the company also designs and manufactures merchandise that stands on its own. Adding more power to the toddler company’s mission, it carries the message straight into its merchandising story.

United by Blue (UBB), Outdoor Retailer Winter Market’s 2012 Sustainable Best of Booth winner, initially caught our attention with one strong, story-telling detail: their hangers. From there, we were hooked!

UBB was born in 2007 out of a surf-inspired jewelry brand where 5 percent of proceeds went to conservation efforts. Mike Cangi, “director of clean-up,” and Brian Linton, “chief trash collector,” quickly realized that giving away money was less effective than they had hoped. While donations are valuable, they wanted to create a movement that was tangible and sustainable, so they internalized environmental operations.

UBB focuses on partnering with retailers who will carry its product on clean-ups in their local area. UBB does all the planning with the store responsible for recruiting volunteers. Through this model, stores can message directly to their consumers, and participation in an event builds awareness and has the potential for a lasting partnership.

UBB has learned through experience that effective messaging comes through subtle layering from the production of its merchandise to the labels inside, from the packaging to the fixturing — as opposed to what they call the “screaming” or “let’s walk down to the river holding hands” method. UBB assumes everyone cares about the environment, but hopes people are drawn to their product first because they like its style and the way it feels. Once they handle or purchase the merchandise, it’s hard not to become aware that for every UBB product sold, UBB will remove one pound of trash from the nation’s waterways.

Merchandising displays use reclaimed materials and are low-impact and earth-friendly, providing another layer to tell the company’s story, as does the product packaging that arrives at retail in banana fiber paper.

Partnerships are an important layer to the UBB story as well. Method, the soap brand, gets the 2, 4 and 5 plastic UBB recovers from clean-ups, and that plastic is made into new soap bottles.

In addition, UBB has two new partnerships launching in May. Subaru will be providing two Outbacks that will become the official clean-up vehicle for UBB, and UBB will be co-branding merchandise with the automaker. Sperry Top-Sider will join hands with UBB on a co-branded line of clothing that will kick off with UBB organizing a Brooklyn clean-up with its Manhattan store. Sperry’s “passion for the sea” is a natural for UBB’s “action for the sea.”

Attendees at Salt Lake City’s 2012 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market will have an opportunity to join this environmental journey through a clean-up at Jordan River Park after the show on Friday, August 3. Shuttle buses will transport volunteers to the clean-up from 6 p.m., and after participants get dirty, there will be a happy hour in true Outdoor Retailer fashion. Link to come soon on UBB’s website.

SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright

is the founder of Merchandising Matters,

which provides
visual merchandising and

marketing support to the outdoor retail industry.

Reach her via email at

with questions, ideas and suggestions.



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