The 15-year-old RailRiders Adventure Clothing company has decided it is time to return to the specialty retail landscape by re-introducing itself at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. It's been nearly six years since the company decided in late 1999 that it would be better for it to sell directly to consumers rather than battle it out with larger competitors such as Ex Officio, Columbia and others.
"In 1999 we pulled away from the wholesale market to re-invent the company and the brand," company President John d'Arbeloff told SNEWSÂ®. "We launched a consumer catalog filled with products, outdoor information and stories, and we re-branded our clothing as 'the toughest clothing on the planet.'"
d'Arbeloff told us that RailRiders is making a return to selling at wholesale because the company has reached a critical mass of loyal consumers who contact the company daily asking what stores carry the brand.
What's driven the word-off-mouth popularity of RailRiders, according to d'Arbeloff, is the 1.5 million catalogs that have been mailed directly to consumers over the last five years.
"Our direct-to-consumer strategy has brought the company to where it is today; healthy, profitable and thriving," d'Arbeloff told us. "And now, we are at a point where we receive 20 to 30 calls a week from consumers requesting that we find stores to carry the brand so they can touch, feel and buy. Electronic shopping is just not good enough for them."
Officially, RailRiders' return to selling at retail began earlier in 2005, when d'Arbeloff partnered with around 24 specialty retailers in the northeast, one of the company's stronger regions. The program he tested, quite successfully he tells us, was two-fold:
- Retailers were asked to carry at least $2,000 worth of RailRiders product at a 60 percent margin.
- Those retailers who did were featured in a RailRiders catalog mailed to 350,000 consumers.
"Of course, retailers don't have to buy $2,000 worth of product and every retailer receives 60 margin points," said d'Arbeloff. "However, those retailers who do carry $2,000 worth of our product get their store name, address, website, phone and two to three lines describing something unique about the store published in our catalog.
"We found the response directed to the retailers very strong. Consumers were going to those retailers featured in our catalog and asking and buying RailRiders product," added d'Arbeloff. "We also found that many of our existing consumer buyers were choosing to go to these stores rather than buy direct through the catalog as they could check out the products in person and not have to pay shipping charges."
Buoyed by that success, d'Arbeloff is replicating the program to encompass the three other strongest regions for his company: the Northwest, West Coast and Southeast.
"We are returning to the wholesale market with a strong purpose and an interesting business model," d'Arbeloff told us. "We are going to be very deliberate and very careful in seeking key retail partners in specific regions of the country to carry RailRiders. Every retailer will be offered 60 margin points, and the ability to have our communication engine drive consumers to their stores through our catalog circulation, emails to over 45,000 opt-in consumers and a dealer directory on our website."
RailRiders will also be supporting retailers, d'Arbeloff tells us, with strong POP programs (redesigned hangtags and rack toppers are just the beginning), excellent customer service, and a very good clinic program, led initially by none other than the man himself -- d'Arbeloff.
"Clinicing is very key to our success," d'Arbeloff said. "One store that carried our brand had employees who didn't even know RailRiders was a brand sold by the store until we put on a clinic at the store. Sales at that store have been strong as a result of awareness."
While there are retail staff that have never heard of RailRiders, d'Arbeloff pointed out that the brand isn't exactly an unknown, having sold over 45,000 pairs of Weatherpants -- the company's signature product with its distinctive styling of a reinforced seat and knees -- since 1992. Adventure racers know the brand well, and over half the teams in the circuit currently wear RailRiders clothing, according to d'Arbeloff.
SNEWSÂ® View: Welcome back, John. Staunchly independent by design and nature, RailRiders is a brand that will do very well, we believe, for specialty retailers willing to take a shot. No doubt that the company has built a very loyal customer base, and the fact that it has spent the last five years cultivating that loyalty will only pay dividends at the retail level, assuming retailers are willing to do more than simply dabble. Consider that in 2004, California generated $200,000 and Virginia $100,000 for the company in sales. RailRiders is being smart about this, offering strong margins, and supporting retailers with direct mail designed to drive traffic to doors, not just clicks.