Steady hand: Eagle Creek founder Steve Barker to steer OIA in interim

SNEWS talks to Steve Barker on why he took the temporary job, plus how OIA can do a better job at fostering collaboration.
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The Outdoor Industry Association named Steve Barker as its interim executive director Wednesday, calling on the Eagle Creek founder and former CEO to provide “stable and consistent leadership” while it searches for a permanent leader.

Barker, well versed in the outdoor brand, retail and nonprofit scene told SNEWS he got a call from OIA Chair Jennifer Mull 10 days ago, asking if he’d be up for the temporary job. A few days prior, OIA had abruptly parted ways with its longtime CEO Frank Hugelmeyer.

“This is a very interesting time to be part of OIA,” Barker said. “The industry is dealing with an evolving and changing consumer accelerating out of the recession, a need for a more transparency in the supply chain and changes to the ways people recreate. The outdoor industry is rapidly growing, but it’s also rapidly changing.”

Barker said his goal is to try and bring the industry together on those issues and foster collaboration and conversation.

“I’m not sure OIA is in the position to say, ‘here’s what you need to change,’” he said. “Rather, we can be a place where retailers and brands can come together to collaborate and find solutions. There are some really smart people in this industry and we want to be really good listeners.”

Barker said he expects to be on the job no longer than 6-9 months, giving OIA plenty of time to find a permanent leader, adding that he isn’t interested in the job long-term. He will spend three- to four-day stretches at OIA’s headquarters in Boulder, Colo., traveling from his home in California.

Before founding and running Eagle Creek in 1975 — a more than 30-year journey before selling to VF Corp in 2007 — Barker cut his outdoor teeth in retail. He worked in a small ski shop at age 16, and then opened his own specialty retail store called Mountain People in Idyllwild, Calif. in 1971. He's also no stranger to OIA, serving the board for a decade, including two years (2001-2003) as board chair.

“I think the health of industry is highly dependent on the health of specialty retail and the small entrepreneurial brands you see at Outdoor Retailer,” he said. “One of the things that attracted me to the job is that the chair, Jennifer Mull, is a specialty retailer.”

While Barker declined to share his favorite outdoor specialty retail store — “I won’t let you get me in hot water there,” he said — he did share his thoughts on what makes the best retailers stand out and succeed.

“I really like retailers who are not only doing great things in the store, but are participating outside the store, leading activities and being part of their community,” he said. “That missionary endeavor has always proven successful — get someone out on an SUP for the first time, strap on a pair of snowshoes or lead a trip to Nepal. It’s the engaged, switched-on retailer I have the most respect for, and they’re always the ones to succeed,” he said.

“At OIA, we’ll be highlighting more stories like that.”

--David Clucas

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