Welcome to Episode 379 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast and my conversation with Steve Lee, Hot Chillys Senior VP of Sales. Steve has been with Hot Chillys in one form or another since 1988. From outdoor and snow sports to running and cycling, their high-quality, durable base layer and winter accessories are ideal for staying warm and dry during your favorite cold weather activities.
How’d you get into the outdoors?
Steve got into the outdoors with some friends in high school. They went on a backpacking trip up to Desolation Wilderness and fell in love with it. They then took a 21-day backpacking and climbing course, which culminated in their love for the outdoors.
Where, where’d you learn how to ski? What was your first snow experience?
Steve learned to ski at a Tyrolia Ski School in Minnesota and then moved to Northern California before high school, where they used to go skiing at North Star.
Steve’s first experience with Hot Chilly’s
He was working in the San Francisco Bay area after graduating from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Steve and some friends then moved to the San Luis Obispo area and found work in an accounting and operations role for the company making Hot Chillys.
So you’ve held a leadership role there since 2006. How has your leadership style evolved over the years?
Steve said he has become more mature and learned to embrace the power of relationships, not just with people in the industry or reps, but also with their salespeople. “I will support them as best I can and not be another cook in the kitchen.”
Over the years, what do you think have been the two or three most significant changes in our business?
The two or three most significant changes in the business over the past 32 years include the introduction of online retail and direct-to-consumer, as well as the consolidation of specialty retail customers and the need for larger retailers to sell sports and outdoor products. Additionally, the eco influence on all aspects of the business is more prominent today than it was back then too.
So your mission for Hot Chiliys now is to keep you so comfortable you forget they’re even there. How do you deliver on that?
Hot Chillys is the first body fit performance base layer, created by two guys in Southern California who wanted to keep themselves comfortable while skiing and fishing. They partnered up with a guy who was manufacturing running tights for Nike and Adidas and had machines that could do the flatlock stitch. The three of ’em came up with the idea of making a base layer that hugs the body and performs better. The first product they came up with was the original, which was packaged in a can. They focused on sourcing and developing fabrics that are ultra-soft, comfortable, and comfortable on the body, so the focus is on having fun outdoors.
I love your warmth ratings. How are those developed?
The brand name Hot Chillys is an homage to their love of Mexico, and the warm factor thermometer is meant to mimic the mild, medium, hot thermometer found on a jar of salsa. Every product has a different rating.
Do you guys have anything new in the pipeline you could talk about?
We’ve always been known a little bit more on the Wintersports side and a lot of that product is body fit and comes in a variety of different weights and fabrications. But we’ve had a few products that have always done well, that were more on the relaxed fit side. So we have developed a line of relaxed fit products, such as Clima-Tek and Clima-Wool. Clima-Tech is made of what we call M T F Moisture Transfer Fiber polyester with activated carbon which make it even softer and perform better, and gives it some antimicrobial properties. And so that kind of launched us into this series of products that are more relaxed fit. They have great performance characteristics but the cut of them and the colors and the styling is very appropriate for like street wear as well. It’s not just pure on mountain base layer. It’s meant to be something you could wear as a lifestyle piece, whether it’s in a crew neck or a zip tee or a hoodie or a jogger or what have you.
What outdoor activities do you still participate in?
Steve gets out and does a lot of skiing, hiking, ocean kayaking, fishing, and camping.
Do you have any suggestions and/or advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoor biz and/or grow their career?
It doesn’t seem like there’s as many youth getting into the business as there once was. I think like I said before, the relationships are really key, it requires an investment of time. I don’t think that success in our industry comes quickly, you know? So if you’re passionate about the outdoors, which is a big reason why I’ve, I’ve stayed in the industry. Then you kind of gotta find where does that passion really lie or where is it most well expressed? Are you a retail person? Are you into developing product and, do you know, kind of like to invent stuff? Or are you more manufacturing and logistical minded? What’s kind of your path to go down
Do you have any, daily routines you use to keep your sanity?
My daily routines include getting up early, having quiet time, reading and meditation, and taking our small dog for a walk along the beach.
Do you have a favorite book or a couple of favorite books?
Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of my favorite books. Recently, I’ve been reading more business-oriented books, such as The Three Chairs and Never Split the Difference, written by an FBI negotiator which is primarily about negotiating to a solution.
What’s your favorite piece of outdoor gear? Under a hundred dollars?
Steves favorite piece of outdoor gear is a fanny pack, It is making a comeback. It’s efficient and has everything they need for hiking, biking, and dog activities. It may not be the coolest look on the block, but it is a great addition to your outdoor gear.
As we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say to our listeners or ask of our listeners?
Check out Hot Chillys, it’s a brand that’s been around since 1985, always evolving, we have lots of new stuff. As I’m traveling, I’ll have conversations with people in airports or on the plane and, you know, tell ’em what I do, and they’re, oh yeah, I love Hot Chillys, I’ve had Hot Chillys forever and they know us from, from way back when and there’s a lot of new and exciting stuff coming out this next year. So I would just encourage people to take a look at what we’ve got.