Change is upon the industry and it is happening disruptively fast.
Within a few short years, not only have customers changed their shopping behavior, the customers themselves have simply, completely changed, spurring a revolution in the ways that brands and retailers sell.
And yes, brands are now retailers, and neither of them have the option of “embracing” diversity, social media or mobile commerce – they must do it out of business necessity. Companies must be innovative with leadership to thrive and quickly adapt to consumer trends that steer the way.
These were just some of the issues discussed at the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Rendezvous event last week, preparing the industry for the future of outdoor retailing. This year’s theme – Learn. Connect. Ignite. – focused on diversity, the shifting internet retail environment, and the future generation increasingly being called the “Plurals” or “Generation C” for connected.
SNEWS reporter Yoon Kim runs down the top 10 lessons he picked up at the three-day leadership forum in San Diego:
Bonding During Timberland’s Service Project (Day 1 Service Project)
This year’s Rendezvous started off with a service project foraging garbage and washed up tires in the dusty brushes of the Tijuana River Valley. While the project was intended to be philanthropic, it also served as an ice breaker. Friends and strangers alike spent hours together in the trashed woods, shooting the breeze, talking business, and sharing their personal lives.
Getting introduced to the Plurals (Day 1 Evening Keynote)
“I had never heard the term Plurals until this week. Learning about them was particularly interesting to me,” said Michael Gionfriddo, CEO of Vibram. This upcoming demographic is the most ethnically diverse generation the US has seen yet. They’ve never known a non-digital world and according to keynote speaker Luke Roberts from ad agency Dieste, the best way to approach them is with empathy. Of course, that requires getting to know who they are, which takes effort because they are so fragmented socially, religiously, and culturally.
Learning to Tell Better Stories (Day 2 Breakfast General Session)
Rob Holmes, Eva Lorenz, Leif Steiner and Erika Napoletano took the stage for breakfast on Day 2 to talk about the power and urgency of telling good stories. Holmes, founder of Green Living Project demonstrated this principle by clutching the audience through videos that his agency produced about conservation work in the DR Congo.
Lorenz, general manager for Amazon’s Outdoor Recreation store, then spoke about the importance of building trust with the customer, before debuting Amazon’s newest product, Yesterday Shipping (some great tongue in cheek humor).
Steiner, founder of Moxie Sozo, reminded the audience that delivering the message is urgent. He then shared what is perhaps the most heartbreaking story ever told in the outdoor industry.
Napoletano finished the breakfast session by stitching together stories from the audience, which turned into an unforgettable tale about a swimsuit-less night in a hot-tub, drinking tequila and driving a golf cart into Jack Nicholson in a Montana library.
Managing Distribution Strategy (Day 2 Breakout Session)
Retail today is plagued with diverted inventory, fly-by-night resellers, and grey-market buyers. Today, a solid distribution strategy is crucial for preventing price and brand erosion. During a breakout session, Larry Pluimer and Jay Eckhardt shared ways to combat erosion of price and brand: careful monitoring of distribution, being ready to have difficult conversations with resellers and introducing reseller policies when renewing contracts.
Learning to Capitalize on the Speed of Change (Day 2 Lunch Keynote)
“Change is slow. Until it’s not,” said keynote speaker Peter Sheahan, CEO of ChangeLabs. According to Sheahan, the outdoor industry is still enjoying the growth stage of the lifecycle curve, yet soon it will hit maturity and enter into decline. At this point, companies move in one of three directions – they become volume sellers, service companies, or they develop deep niches. In order to survive and capitalize on this change, Sheahan suggested looking outside the payroll walls to partner with companies who understand the changing demographic trends.
Teambuilding During Prana’s Surf and Sand Games (Day 2 Networking Activity)
Sure, people bond when they volunteer together, but there’s no better way to create camaraderie than through Survivor-like challenges that involve teamwork and communication. During the Sand and Surf games, titles and credentials were thrown out the window in favor of some good ole competition.
“The OIA does a good job of bringing people together from different companies and getting them to collaborate. Everyone [during the games] had valuable input no matter their title, and that’s kind of how it is in the industry,” said Austin Prideax Western Regional sales manager for Gramicci, and part of the winning team, Purple Haze.
Partying at Silver Strand State Beach (Day 2 Evening Event)
Outdoor Retailer sponsored an evening of celebration in honor of the winners of the Surf and Sand Games. The evening provided a chance to get away from structured programming, allowing Rendezvous attendees to continue private conversations in an intimate, yet outdoorsy setting. Conversations went deep into the night, which tends to happen when there is plenty of food, booze and good people.
Building the Outdoor Retail of the Future (Day 3 Breakfast Keynote)
Not all customers of the outdoor industry are as hardcore as Christopher McCandless from Into the Wild. Infact, Kate Lydon and Clark Scheffy from IDEO would argue that growth in the industry will come from customers who are more diverse, more urban and less “outdoor.”
The pair continued a conversation that was started at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market by asking each table at breakfast to brainstorm ways of engaging future customer through social connections, inclusivity, experimental experiences and accessibility. Some ideas involved taking friends “hostage” into the outdoors while others talked about creating offices in the woods.
Using Images to Drive Business (Day 3 Lunch Keynote)
What does drawing pictures of making toast have to do with innovative leadership? According to keynote speaker Tom Wujec, visualization (the drawing of images to relay ideas) reveals the thought processes or “nodes” of how individuals think. Different people think in different node styles, which lead to different outcomes for the same task. Drawing the toast-making process might seem straight forward, but a quick glance around the room revealed dozens of different methods for getting to the same conclusion.
In a similar vein, Wujec encouraged the audience to tap into the minds of employees by having them draw out solutions to problems that the company faces at large. Not only does it make a fun exercise, it can help bridge impasses in communication while crowdsourcing ideas from your team.
At the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, appointments go fast, dinners are chaotic and it’s often too early or late in the buying cycle for deals to be made. On the other hand, Rendezvous is a much more intimate setting. It’s in October, when buyers can start planning decisions for the following year. It’s the perfect place to follow up on previous conversations, start new ones, and even do business.
When I asked nine-month pregnant Judy Kaufman-Ledgley, marketing director of Allied Feather and Down why she attended despite being in her third trimester, she said, “I felt that it very important for our company to be present. I really got a lot of heart and soul as well as useful information at this event – and I loved it. I really want to go again.”