>> W.L. Gore, Timberland and REI appear for the seventh consecutive year on Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list -- quite a feat and honor. They are also the only outdoor companies to make the list this year. More impressive is that all three companies improved their ranking in 2003. W.L. Gore ranked 12th this year compared to 27th last, REI 24th this year compared to 73rd last, and Timberland ranked 50th this year compared to 62nd last. To create the list, 46,526 randomly selected employees from 304 candidate companies were asked to complete an employee-opinion survey which measured pride in work, job satisfaction and camaraderie. Two-thirds of the list ranking is based on the results of the employee survey, and one-third is based on corporate information regarding company benefits, policies and culture. Other companies that have made the list in the past include Patagonia, which dropped off the list in 2002 after making it every year since the survey began in 1997. Rodale made the list twice, in 1999 and 2000. Cabela's made the list in 1999, L.L. Bean in 1997 and 1998, K2 in 1998, and Eddie Bauer in 1997.
>> We periodically look in on various online retailers, those typically considered outside of the specialty outdoor market, to see what products from our industry might be appearing -- eBay, Amazon, etc. Imagine our surprise to see how many products from leading specialty outdoor apparel companies were listed in the Amazon.com apparel store when we conducted a search by various brand names. As of Dec. 24, The North Face showed 615 products; Mountain Hardwear, 189 products; Marmot, 170 products; Arc'Teryx, 163 products; Columbia, 634 products; Prana, 42 products; and Salomon, 121 products. At the low end of the scale, Patagonia showed five products; Cloudveil, 29 products; Royal Robbins, 10 products; Ex Officio, 10 products; and Gramicci, 13 products. For each product listed, the "partner store's" name is also included. Most often mentioned were BackcountryStore.com, Altrec.com, US Outdoor Store, eBags, Bob Wards, Sportsrus, Sports Basement and Activa. SNEWS View: Hmmmm, while we absolutely support retailers establishing partnerships that make strong business sense, as well as cents, one does have to wonder what this means and how much of an impact this could have at retail on a broader scale. If a customer can order many high-end products from top name outdoor brands from Amazon, will it keep them from buying at an "authorized" specialty dealer? Granted, all the stores doing business with Amazon are authorized dealers of the product, but this is a gray area, and likely to become more of a problem if discounted sales are promoted. While many of the products we researched were selling for MSRP, quite a few were also selling at deep discounts -- not exactly what a manufacturer trying to control brand distribution and image might want to see, and certainly not what a retailer trying to hold price wishes to compete against.
>> Building on the success of last year's marketing campaign, Vibram is seeking to further boost its brand presence and in-store visibility through a new campaign with the theme "Vibram, Tested Where It Matters." The point-of-purchase program will be showcased in 200 selected specialty outdoor stores and advertised on television from the 2003 holiday season through February 2004. "Vibram, Tested Where It Matters" combines Vibram sponsorship of the widely televised Mountaintop Ski and Snowboard Series with a retail promotion that features: Vibram POP displays, promotional banners, educational materials, Vibram T-shirts for sales associates and consumer giveaways. The series is airing on local cable, independent and network stations in major markets including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and in upscale resort markets including Aspen, Killington, Tahoe, Vail and many others. United Airlines and US Airways will also air the series as part of their in-flight programming. Within each of the 13 televised programs, Vibram will air a 30-second commercial. The new TV spot will include the "Tested Where It Matters" tagline supported by footage of established outdoor athletes climbing, riding and adventuring in Vibram-soled products. Vibram is also placing dealer tags on commercials in a select number of markets. Featured dealers include: Adventure 16, Costa Mesa, Calif.; Any Mountain, Berkeley, Calif.; Backwoods, Lawrence, Kan.; Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, Charlottsville, Va.; Bob Smith's Wilderness House, Boston, Mass.; Erehwon Mountain Outfitters, Chicago; Midwest Mountaineering, Twin Cities, Minn.; and Paragon Sports, New York, N.Y.
>> Nalge Nunc International, manufacturer of Nalgene Brand Products, is launching a brand awareness campaign under the moniker: "It's not a bottle. It's a Nalgene." The campaign marks 50 years of manufacturing quality and dependable product. SNEWS View: As more companies put out wide-mouth water bottles, some in the colored Lexan-style Nalgene made unbelievably popular, Nalgene is realizing it has to work harder to ensure consumers understand that not all colored Lexan or wide-mouth water bottles are Nalgene. As our SNEWS survey this year identified (survey published in the GearTrends® Winter Outdoor magazine mailing to retailers in mid-January), other brands are garnering specialty store sales attention for the first time, and there's no doubt Nalgene, still the 10,000-pound gorilla in the category, has noticed.
>> ITALY -- The North Face has opened its first brand store in Italy -- its second store in Europe after the opening in London's Covent Garden. The Italian flagship store is in Livigno, a well-known mountain sports capital in the heart of the Italian Alps. The store is being operated in cooperation with Mottini Sport.
>> Superfeet has announced it will discontinue the manufacture and sale of patented boot stretching and modifying tools to focus entirely on Trim-to-Fit and Custom footbeds. The company will fulfill all orders for backshop tools placed before April 30, 2004, with deliveries that must be accepted before Dec. 31, 2004. The company will honor all repair and warranty work through Dec. 31, 2005. Superfeet has announced it is open to selling the tool business and interested parties should contact John Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
>> Princeton Tec has garnered two Trail's Best 2004 Awards from Backpacking Light. The Princeton Tec Matrix 2 and the Princeton Tec Aurora received the 2004 Trail's Best Awards for "their exceptional performance and usability" in cold conditions.
>> The Spiegel Group has announced it will close 29 more Eddie Bauer stores in 2004, 16 of which involve natural lease expirations. This announcement comes on the heels of receiving court approval to open 17 new Eddie Bauer stores in 2004. Store closings are expected to begin on or about Jan. 9. Stores slated for closing will remain open for business, on a store-by-store basis, until the related store-closing inventory sales are completed. At the end of 2003, Eddie Bauer operated 469 stores in the United States and Canada, including 330 apparel stores, 36 home stores and 103 outlet stores. The store closing list includes 25 apparel stores and four outlet stores, located throughout the United States.
>> Gregory Mountain Products has hired two new rep groups. Egan & Associates LLC, comprised of David and Tracy Egan, Jackton Downard, and Jeff Busic, will replace Barry Schrimsher and The Sherpa Group. Egan & Associates LLC will take over representation of the Gregory brand in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Jeff Hollis has been hired to cover the South Central territory, and will be replacing Jerry and Lois Horton. Hollis will take over representation of the Gregory brand in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Louisiana effective Jan. 1, 2004. Gregory is also realigning a few territories. Louisiana, which previously was a part of Bill Chandler's southeast territory, will now be covered by Hollis, and Nebraska, which was previously covered by the Hortons, has been moved into Brad Wernt's West Lakes territory. SNEWS View: Expect more rep realignment and new hires in the months to come from other pack companies as Mountain Hardwear reps have to jettison their pack lines as the company readies to launch its own line of packs.
>> GoLite, the leading manufacturer of lightweight outdoor apparel and equipment, is pleased to announce Kevin Volz has joined its Boulder, Colo., headquarters staff as customer service manager. Volz brings over 15 years of outdoor retail experience to GoLite, the past nine of which he served as manager of the Eastern Mountain Sports store in Boulder. Volz has exceptional sales and operational skills, and was recognized by EMS as one of its most accomplished store managers. At GoLite, Volz will handle dealer relations both domestically and abroad, and will also oversee the customer service team. Volz can be contacted at email@example.com.
>> Midwestern Outdoor University, a retail store employee training event, will take place this year May 18-20 at Devils Lake State Park outside Baraboo, Wis. Contact Ken Barmore at 608-223-9300, ext. 246, or 608-239-0038 or visit www.outdooruniversity.org for more information.