As SNEWS® reported in its June 5 story, "Retailers of the Outdoor Industry: Not your typical buying group," ROI has been undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts for more than a year. Though by no means complete, the transformation from what most industry folks thought was simply an outdoor buying group into a coalition of outdoor industry specialty retailers is well underway, beginning with a new name and mission statement.
ROI is now the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, a name that members we interviewed for this story says best defines what the group is -- a collective of locally focused, independently minded, environmentally passionate, entrepreneurial outdoor specialty retailers who want to ensure outdoor specialty not only survives, but prospers in the ever-changing market.
That feeling is summarized in the group's new mission statement:
"The Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is a group of independent outdoor shops dedicated to the sustainability of the specialty outdoor channel and the quality of the outdoor enthusiast's experience. We stand together to help facilitate a market for performance-oriented, revolutionary products, create a unified marketing presence for high quality, local outdoor specialists, and help protect and sustain the quality and access to the environment on a local, national and global level."
Dave Matz, president of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, knows the name is a mouthful, but stresses that for those who want to shorten the name do so by calling the 32-member group simply Grassroots, and not GOA or Outdoor Alliance or any other creative offering.
As for how the group finally arrived at its new name, Mike Massey, president of Massey's Professional Outfitters, in New Orleans, La., can state unequivocally it wasn't easy.
"We went through about 500 names and for a while we were stuck in that rut of trying to name ourselves in a manner that would create a perfect three letter acronym," Massey told us. "At some point, and with a lot of outside advice from experts, we managed to get away from that and started putting all kinds of words together."
Massey told us that the group wanted to have something in the naming mechanism that symbolized the membership's environmental and local focus, and the word grassroots just kept coming up.
Added Dawson Wheeler, president of Rock Creek in Chattanooga, Tenn., "The name plays to who we are, a grassroots group with a strong heritage of getting things done from running our businesses to environmental stewardship to marketing to special events at a purely grassroots level."
Along with the name change comes a new website (www.grassrootsoutdooralliance.com, though, it is not active as of this writing) and a firm commitment to advocacy, with the goal of the new website being a hub for that advocacy.
"We envision the website serving as a kind of portal for our new marketing and public relations efforts, a training center for each of our members, a community forum with product reviews and endorsements from our members, an event calendar so all of our member's local events can be showcased nationally, and a place where we can really promote what is special about each of our now 32 members," Matz told us.
Despite the renewed emphasis on advocacy, however, Grassroots is still first and foremost a buying group as defined by its corporate charter. But members stress that with its new name, new mission statement and clearer message about what it is, Grassroots is now a far better buying group.
"Part of our goal is to serve as a platform for our vendors and members to work together to engage consumers in a meaningful way," said Matz. "Our industry shouldn't be based on the fast food model of product consumption. We have an opportunity to really talk to people about active lifestyles, the environment and supporting local businesses."
Perhaps more importantly, Grassroots members say they are absolutely not trying to be an association or replace the Outdoor Industry Association. In fact, 24 of Grassroot's 32 members are currently OIA members, and Matz told SNEWS® the group would like to see 100 percent membership in OIA.
Lillie Gilbert, president of Wild River Outfitters in Virginia Beach, Va., and a former OIA board member, told us that there is a very key reason the word alliance is part of the group's new name. "We do work closely with our vendors and outdoor groups, and I think that what you will see from us in the future is a united group of outdoor specialty retail owners that are passionate about sustainable businesses, authentic experiences and industry strength."
And that means, Grassroots members will be working with its member vendors, its customers, and industry associations, such as OIA and SIA, to promote the unique experience of shopping in a core specialty outdoor store by underscoring the importance of recognizing the heritage of outdoor specialty. And it will do all that as it continues to strive for sustainable business growth and success for independent retail stores, Matz told us, in the face of very real and challenging changes in the retail landscape.
Jeff Weidman, co-owner of Rutabaga in Madison, Wis., is not a Grassroots member, but he is impressed by what the group is endeavoring to do nonetheless.
"While I am not sure I like the name, I really admire what these guys are doing. If they have the resources to pull it off, and that is the big question, it will be something really special to witness. No matter what side of the fence you are sitting on, you have to be glad they are there for independent dealers," he said.
SNEWS® View: Like most who are hearing the name for the first time, it will take us a while to put our arms around Grassroots Outdoor Alliance. Thank goodness they are not trying to go for the GOA acronym -- would make us think we're dealing with a government agency. Naming aside, this is an impressive effort that we've been privileged to watch for the last year from a special behind-the-scenes seat. The group formerly known as ROI is very right in one respect: If not them, then who? Whether or not you are a member vendor, or a member retailer, all stand to benefit from this banding together for a common purpose and mission.
When we asked Dawson Wheeler what he felt the biggest challenge facing Grassroots would be, he said without hesitation, "Delivering on what we say we can deliver on and we get only one shot to do it." And we would agree. IF the group formerly known as ROI, which collectively represents some of the most talented, entrepreneurial and staunchly independent minds we've had the pleasure of interacting with in one room, can actually stop acting like a herd of cats and unify in mission and purpose, then we feel there is little that can stand in the way of the group's goals and stated mission.
Their independence, as has been stated many times before is the group's greatest strength. It is also its greatest weakness. How they all manage to work collectively, while remaining staunchly unique will be a challenge. Not insurmountable, but a challenge just the same.
We see tremendous opportunity for the group to create a national focus on local issues and passions. Co-branding product with member vendors is a natural extension to be sure. Endorsing product, though a trickier road, is also something -- if the group can manage to remain on point -- that will serve both the industry and its consumers. Becoming a base from which to book adventure and experiential travel both domestically and abroad is also a no-brainer. Underscoring the importance of product lifecycles and sustainable business is without a doubt something that this group can now influence. It will be interesting indeed to see what Grassroots, the group formerly known as ROI, now does with its new, more clearly stated mission and purpose. It has much promise.
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