When Kristin Carpenter started the Channel Mastery podcast in October 2017, there was no blueprint for navigating outdoor specialty retail. One hundred episodes later, there still isn't. But through her interviews, Carpenter has answered many of specialty's biggest questions, from "Winning on Amazon" to "Creat[ing] a Nimble Company Culture Through Growth Hacking" to "The Impact of the Moosejaw/Walmart.com Announcement."
SNEWS caught up with Carpenter last month to talk about what she's learned through the podcast over the past two years, her new book and online course, and who she still wants to interview.
Give us a glimpse into your thought process before launching Channel Mastery.
Kristin Carpenter: The show originated from me caring a lot about the survival of brands and retailers, and taking it upon myself to make it my beat to find solutions for them as my business Verde Brand Communications was evolving. At the time, there were issues around organizational change, business practices, and how teams were incentivized. Like incentivizing sales reps to meet numbers every quarter and month, when that’s not necessarily the best thing to do when you’re trying to aim for consistency across channels. Because of the myriad of changes being navigated in their businesses, our specialty brands were not prioritizing storytelling on the level they should. It's so critical in specialty to create an emotional bond and differentiation from Amazon-like commoditization. I felt like I had to do something about it.
As I was developing questions and getting the first shows together, I would picture different brands I worked with and things that they needed. There were very few, if any, resources available that are really relevant to our brands. The resources out there cover the Nordstroms and big big entities of the world. But where does that leave us? That meant there was an endless amount of topics to go after and chase and help our specialty people keep their customers engaged.
How did you come up with 100 interesting people to interview?
KC: I think it's a bi-product of being a journalist. I read and research incessantly just around the topic of specialty, and I have for a while. When I read about somebody interesting quoted in the media, I pop over to LinkedIn and say I’d love to interview you. About 99 percent of the time, I get them to do it. When I interviewed Blair Clark with Canyon Bicycles, he sent me 15 names of people he wanted me to interview. I get guest recommendations every couple of weeks or so.
Who else is on your short list?
I have not been able to reach Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of Camping World. I'd love to talk to him and Emily Weiss, the founder of Glossier.
What are a few key things you’ve learned?
KC: I force myself not to lead interviewees to certain themes, but there are some that constantly rise to the top. First is the mindset around testing, failing, and learning. If your business comes from wholesale and that’s your comfort zone, it’s really scary for brand leaders to protect the revenue while also trying to test and grow new channels. They’ve really taken a different look at the wholesale experience. There’s really no place to look for a blueprint really, but there are some things emerging as almost a bit of a toolset to do this no matter how it’s changing.
Another theme is humanizing your branding. As consumers are required take time out of their already crammed days to engage with and follow a brand, they want to really connect with them either through a cause, transparency, or something else. It's not always about putting your best face forward in marketing. They’re more looking for human and real than perfection.
Where are you taking the podcast next?
KC: We have more content coming for sure. It’s going to become more market specific, but not entirely because I feel like there’s so much to be learned from cross training. Right now, I have contracts with Snowsports Industries of America and Bicycle Retailer and Industry News to provide market-specific shows and trainings to those audiences in addition to the normal show. Next, I’m taking all the things I’ve learned in the first 100 episodes and launching a six-part digital course and membership opportunity at the beginning of November. Essentially, it’ll give brands a framework that they need to constantly be evolving what they do, how they serve, and how they grow their audiences.
I’m also writing a book that’ll be out early next year. It’s self-published and it’s not the same content as the course, but it’s ultimately leveling the playing field for specialty. It ties in nicely to Verde. I like that it all works together. It helps our clients and agency.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment with the show?
KC: I remember when I found my first industry job as a reporter with Bicycle Retailer & Industry News after I had just finished two years with a daily paper. While reporting on the industry and the business of specialty, I fell just madly in love with the outdoor active lifestyle specialty markets. Soon after, I was writing for outdoor, paddlesports, and on-snow business publications. I remember being in my mid 20s and knowing that through my career, I wanted to help the people in these industries grow and thrive. When specialty outdoor wins, more people care about the outdoors and conserving it, more artisan brands are helped and more retailers are supported. I'm trying to give back through this podcast and the community growing up around it. I feel like the show is helping specialty brands and retailers, as I hear from a lot of people who run retail and brands in this space and they listen to the show and that it’s really helping them. It's the best when listeners come up to me and tell me that they love the podcast and what we're doing. And to be honest, with all that I have to lead at Verde, I haven’t even had time to lean into it on the level I want to. I’m really excited to expand the community and our resources because it’s what I love to do—it's a great way to serve. Who knows where I would be in my career if I didn’t find my people. I’m so grateful that I did. It’s brought me a lot of happiness in my life and I want to give back. That's what motivates me.