Paul Gagner talks to SNEWS® about his new role as president of Sierra Designs

April 21 will mark Paul Gagner's last day at Gregory Mountain Products as vice president of sales and marketing. On April 24, he begins a new job, as president of Sierra Designs and Ultimate Direction.
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April 21 will mark Paul Gagner's last day at Gregory Mountain Products as vice president of sales and marketing. On April 24, he begins a new job, as president of Sierra Designs and Ultimate Direction.

In an April 12 press release announcing Gagner, George Grabner, president of American Recreation Products, stated, "Paul is instinctively a great fit for Sierra Designs and Ultimate Direction. His experience and passion for the outdoors as well as his proven track record for sales and knowledge of great product design, is the exact formula our brands need. We are ecstatic to have Paul join our team and help us continue to push our brands' legacy and products as well as take them to the next level."

In an email sent to the Gregory staff and to friends of Gagner, he stated, "As most of you know, I have been a passionate outdoor industry advocate for over 25 years, and an active climber for almost 30 years. My career has afforded me the opportunity to work, play and learn alongside an incredible group of similarly minded people, and I have worked all sides of the table from retail sales clerk and store manager to sales rep and VP of sales and marketing here at Gregory -- this is an awesome career opportunity and logical next challenge."Â

Gagner has called Gregory home for just over 10 years, and has certainly been a passionate advocate and salesperson for the brand for more than 16 years, he told SNEWS®. While leaving will be difficult as he considers many coworkers at Gregory part of his extended family, Gagner is very much looking forward to the new challenge ahead, and the opportunity to cement new friendships.

Knowing he has not yet had the benefit of sitting in the president's chair for even a day, we nevertheless asked Gagner to offer up his thoughts on what lies ahead regarding the challenges and opportunities before both him and his new company. Here then, in his own words, Gagner runs the SNEWS® interview gauntlet:

What is Sierra Designs' current market position?
As I have looked at it -- Gregory and Sierra Designs are in similar positions in the marketplace. They are both brands with tremendous history and tenure and are both brands that make really well-designed, high-quality product offered at a fair price point. At the same time, both Sierra Designs and Gregory have brands that are perceived to be cooler or more innovative above them, and that creates challenges in terms of garnering shelf space.

What should retailers expect from Sierra Designs under your leadership?
We want to focus on really being a very reliable vendor, and one that is easy and fun to do business with. We want to focus on back-end business elements. As I look at the business from the outside in…Sierra Designs has good traction still in the tent and bag areas, but the apparel side has not been consistent in terms of direction. It has been here and there and everywhere.

To expect retailers to embrace a brand, you need to have consistency across all of your categories. What we have done very well at Gregory, I believe, is making the branding consistent and understandable. Marketing and product is all linked and consistent with the brand message, so it is understandable -- to retailers and consumers.

What is one of the first things you will seek to accomplish at Sierra Designs?
I hope I will be able to bring experience regarding the back end, bring some consistent focus across all aspects to the brand. And I want to drive a sense of urgency. Product life cycles are getting shorter all the time and a successful brand needs to look forward and not just at what is happening now but what is happening tomorrow. At Sierra Designs, I will expect our team to look ahead and move forward quickly with purpose. Especially when it comes to product categories where customers are also your competitors.

How will Sierra Designs look to work with those retail competitors?
A lot of core brands are doing business with REI and EMS and both of those companies are putting more emphasis and resources into their own brands and they are calling them their own brands. Within the merchandising mix of those stores, the REI or EMS branded product is being viewed and managed as a separate brand -- not as a private label or house brand. The quality is spot on, the design and styling of the product is spot on, so if you were to strip the logos off the products by an REI or EMS, they are comparable with what any other brand has.

Retailers such as REI and EMS are, correctly, looking for the same opportunities and things we are looking for. Now, with Lee Fromson driving the boat at REI, I would expect to see the effort to further develop the REI-branded product increase.Â

As such, they are our competitor within the store, but they are also a key retail partner that we need. The solution is to learn to design and build product that complements what those retailers are doing with their own brands and fill in around the edges.

What do you anticipate saying to the Sierra Designs and Ultimate Direction teams when you walk in the door on April 24, other than hello?
I will emphasize to the team that I know it is a really good team made up of users, and that is an essential element for any company that wants to retain authenticity and design-quality. Since Sierra Designs is located in the 'Republic of Boulder' -- tucked between the mountains and reality -- you would expect nothing less than to have a company staffed with climbers, backpackers, trail runners, skiers, mountaineers…all who love to be outside using the gear as much as they love being indoors designing it, marketing it and selling it.Â

But, just as I will embrace that ethos of being a user, I will also ask each of them to understand what motivates them to buy product or connect with a brand -- any brand, be it a car or a favorite food or clothing or appliances. One of the things many outdoor companies are guilty of, and Gregory included at times, is we are not always thinking about what the customer really wants or needs. Instead, we are thinking too much about what the company needs. I believe that to be truly successful, you have to distill all your passion for the outdoors and the passion for the company's success and growth into simply answering the question: What motivates the customers to buy the product?

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