Power Players' Lounge: What keeps you up at night?

Most of us in the outdoor industry are here by choice. For most of us, this means that we were the kids who lay awake at night thinking of the places that we would hike, the rivers we would run, and the mountains we would climb. Looking around this industry, I see people who could have done anything – we could’ve been doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, artists, scholars – and we have chosen to make their living here in the Outdoor Industry. Why is that? The common denominator is that at some point in our lives our passion for outdoor activity kept us up at night...
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In January 2009, SNEWS® named the industry's first class of outdoor industry Power Players (click here to read).

"Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in these economic times," SNEWS reported when it announced the Power Players. "Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. And that is the driving force behind the launch of the SNEWS Power Players -- an honor that will acknowledge outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors."

To acknowledge the honor of being chosen as the first class of Power Players, the group wanted to collectively give back to the outdoor industry through what we have dubbed, the 2009 SNEWS Power Players' Lounge.

Each week, through the end of October 2009, a new column will be posted to the Power Players' Lounge. It's intended to be a place where our industry friends can gather to read and hopefully discuss ideas for improving business -- especially important during these challenging economic times.

We encourage you to interact with others while hanging out in the Power Players' Lounge and it's our hope their columns will inspire imagination and debate. Use the comments button at the top and bottom of each article to post your own remarks and observations, and to engage in discussion.

Power Players' Lounge columnists include: Bill Gamber, Joe Hyer, Jennifer Mull, Brad Werntz, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, John Sterling, Josh Guyot, Mike Wallenfels, Beaver Theodosakis, and Sally Grimes.



This column was written by Brad Werntz, Pemba Serves Inc. (Brad@pembaserves.com)

“This one is going to keep me up tonight!” said our friend Ann as she dangled on a top-rope after falling from the crux alcove of Birch Tree Crack at Devil’s Lake, a classic sandbag 5.8 for 5.10 climbers. “I don’t know if I’ll sleep.”

Ann began climbing indoors not that long ago, and has rarely climbed outside. You can see from her Cheshire grin that what she’s saying is true: She’s going to lose sleep thinking about this climb. Chances are good that after tossing and turning for a few nights, she’ll come back next time and nail it. And, she won’t have missed the sleep. She’s got passion in her blood, and who minds losing sleep over a passion?

What keeps you up at night?

It is 2009, the economy is difficult, just about every type of major market (credit, housing, stock) has tanked the world over, and -- speaking of the world -- most scientists are now saying that man-made global warming has moved beyond “theory” and is well on its way to “fact.” If you read the news, your anxiety-closet is probably spilling into your dreams and keeping you awake. (Yeah, me too…)

When was the last time you couldn’t sleep because you were just too dang excited to close your eyes?

Most of us in the outdoor industry are here by choice. For most of us, this means that we were the kids who lay awake at night thinking of the places that we would hike, the rivers we would run, and the mountains we would climb. Looking around this industry, I see people who could have done anything -- we could’ve been doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, artists, scholars -- and we have chosen to make our living here in the Outdoor Industry. Why is that? The common denominator is that at some point in our lives our passion for outdoor activity kept us up at night.

Wasn’t this you? Isn’t this still you? If you are up at night thinking more about your balance sheet than your balance board, maybe it’s time to reconnect with that person inside. It can be good for business, too. Here in the Midwest, I see retailers who are thriving because they embrace new passions and incorporate them into their stores.

As I write this, Rod Johnson from Midwest Mountaineering is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. He was at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, taking a break en route from Canada to Mexico. Rod’s passions have taken him on journeys to mountains and backcountry areas all over the world. These are wild, quirky voyages, such as the time he retraced the route of the African Queen and traveled the length of the Nile to its source. In recent years, Rod has added sports as diverse as kiteboarding (winter and summer) and Nordic walking to his traditional hardcore mix of climbing, backpacking and Nordic skiing. Something interesting about his Nordic walking business: The average ring-up at the register when Nordic walking poles are sold is about $750, with the poles only contributing $150 to the sale. The balance of $600 is made up of technical clothing, footwear, hats and gloves.

Here in Madison, Wis., Rutabaga’s latest radio ad made me stop my car and listen: It was all about Stand-Up Paddling (SUP.) Paddler Numero Uno at Rutabaga Darren Bush has gotten behind SUP in a big way. “Is it a fad?” he asked, "Maybe. But I’ll sell a lot of them and get people involved with the local water, and then maybe in a few years, they’ll come back and buy canoes, too.” (Fair disclosure: SUP is what keeps me up at night these days; I’ve rented two storage spaces at the local park for boards I don’t even own yet.)

Mike Fowler at Uncle Dan’s in Chicago added longboard skateboards to his mix two years ago. He calls them “the fastest turning and most expensive clothing accessory” he’s ever seen. Incidentally, at an average price point of $150, he has asked me not to tell you how many he has sold. But it’s a big number, and they all go out the door with board shorts, flip-flops and sunglasses.

What do these three retailers have in common? Passion -- for the outdoors, the outdoor lifestyle and their businesses. Darren Bush and Mike Fowler are on the SNEWS® Power Players list, and Rod Johnson was a Retailer of the Year in 2008. Coincidence?

We’re an industry that runs on passion. We thrive on the new and special even as we enjoy our marriage to the tried and true. If you’re up at night thinking more about your outdoor business than you are thinking about your outdoor recreation, maybe that’s something to change.

What keeps you up at night?

Brad Werntz is founder and chief brand evangelist at Pemba Serves Inc., based in Madison, Wis. Lately, he’s been staying up at night thinking about SUP, and also tosses and turns about riding his longboards, urban cycling and open-water swimming; all of these are in addition to climbing, camping, skiing and paddling, and ways to do all of these things with his wife and kids. He also has a blackbelt in run-on sentences and wry, self-deprecating humor.

We have made this article public access, to ensure all may be able to read it. If you like what you are reading, and want to be able to fully participate in the discussions and view articles and expert corner columns in our archives, you’ll need your own SNEWS® subscription, which we’ve made really easy – the SNEWS Freebie. Click here to activate your own SNEWS access today and become part of the strongest and most interactive outdoor and fitness industry community on the web today.

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