What we learned at Outdoor Retailer Snow Show 2020.

Listening, learning, sharing and geeking out on gear.

Outdoor Retailer 2020 Snow Show

I’d made one trip to OR before, in Salt Lake City a few years ago. We were only there to meet with one client and one potential client. For the most part we just browsed around, drank beer starting at 3:30 or so, went to a music event, and ate dinner. We skied at Solitude then went home.

This was our (Teak and our partners at MBED) first real effort to spend three full days at OR, and really immerse ourselves in it. Our goal was meet as many people as possible and learn as much as we could about the industry, the challenges, and the opportunities that people (particularly marketers) are facing. We also geeked out on gear.

By 2pm on day one I was mentally exhausted. It’s both energizing and tiring to meet lots of new people, but combine that with the massive sensory overload that is OR and it’s something else.

We covered a lot of topics over 2–1/2 days of conversations. From a brand and marketing perspective, all of those topics ladder up to one broad theme: 

How do brands own and control their end-to-end experience?

Amazon.

The retail behemoth was the topic that came up in every conversation. Some brands refuse to sell direct on the platform, primarily as a show of support to their retail partners. However, the downside is a lack of control of the brand experience. Brands are also challenged when multiple retail partners sell their products on Amazon, creating confusion for customers and diluting the value of their brand. Amazon drives non-brand search so that decisions are based on price, which drives the value of brands down. (As one speaker said, “Your margin is Amazon’s opportunity.”) But at the same time, you can’t deny sales—Amazon is extremely effective and efficient. The question is, “Is it possible to increase the value of your brand and still sell on Amazon?”

 

Search/Keywords.

Brand search keywords (e.g. “Camry” for Toyota) are the tax brands pay to own their own brand in Search. But they’re competing with the same people who sell their products in-store and on Amazon. Their own wholesale customers are bidding their brand keywords up, creating a war of attrition in their own ecosystem. The most cutting-edge marketers are beginning to build search keyword guidelines into their decade-long wholesale agreements.

 

Content.

Marketing in 2020 requires content. Lots of it. Photography, video and the ideas and writing that go with it. Creating authentic, high-quality content at scale is a challenge that, it seems, no one has really solved effectively. It requires time and money, and most of the marketing teams we talked to are challenged in both areas.

 

E-Comm.

You’d think that when a brand sells direct-to-consumer, they have complete control over the brand experience. But this isn’t always true. Some of the brands owned by parent/holding companies are forced to use common e-comm and web platforms, which are often inflexible and put limits on how those brands can be distinctive and tailored to their specific customer base. There may be margins made in rolling out an ecommerce platform across a portfolio of brands, but at what cost? 

The assumption that margins are best when selling direct is often a false one. The cost of customer acquisition, marketing, and driving customers down the funnel has to be taken into account. However, the ability to tightly track these costs is a huge benefit—the key metric being ROAS (return on ad spend). 

With the exception of some larger brands, the majority of brands we talked to are on (or are soon moving to) Shopify. Many see the value in Shopify Plus, but struggle with the additional cost. 

We introduced a lot of people to Bolt—one of our clients—which optimizes the checkout experience on platforms like Magento, BigCommerce and Salesforce commerce cloud. They provide an “Amazon-like” single screen checkout, which is faster, safer and can increase conversion significantly. (They didn’t pay us to say this BTW.)

 

Passion.

The people we talked to work so hard because they love their industry. The passion for their respective brands was palpable. One of the most memorable conversations we had was with one of the founders (brothers) of a large, respected (and still privately owned) brand. Both founders have been coming to OR for over 30 years. They love the industry and believe in what it represents. We talked about their constant push to reduce their packaging footprint and improve sustainability (a big topic as well). They still get excited about products that enhance or improve the outdoor experience. A telling story—we gave out bags of homemade granola to everyone we met, and honestly were blown away by the response. One, everyone is so busy they don’t have time to eat, so any food was welcome. The owner of this company got excited enough about our “product” to offer up a connection to a major retailer to distribute it. I don’t think he was kidding.

Teak and MBED Granola with Soul

While exhausting, this was such an amazing learning experience. Our love of the outdoors led us here. I grew up in Colorado—learned to ski at Winter Park and started mountain biking when in college at Boulder. The gear has come a long way from my old Dynastar Omesoft/Rossi 4S and fully-rigid Bridgestone mountain bike. What hasn’t changed is the desire to get outside, seek out new experiences, and be in awe of something bigger than ourselves.

Kevin Gammon is the Managing Partner at Teak. His passions, beyond developing brands, include family and friends, playing music, CrossFit, mountain biking, the Chicago Cubs, Denver Broncos and Peet’s Coffee.

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