Episode 294 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast with Jack Wolfskin US General Manager Diana Seung.
Diana and I talk about how she got into the Outdoor Biz, how a sociocultural anthropology major gets into retail, merchandising, and eCommerce, and plenty more.
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How were you introduced to the outdoors?
A very unexpected call from a recruiter. So I had a recruiter call me and say, I have this amazing opportunity with backcountry.com. And I misheard her as like bat country like a bat. I was like, what’s Backcountry? I’ve never even heard of this company. She’s oh, they’re in Utah. I’m like, oh, no way in hell. I was living in New York City at the time. And I’m like, there’s no way I’m going to Utah of all places, I’m a city girl, lived in New York City, San Francisco, like through and through.
She’s why don’t you just talk to them? Just have a conversation more informal. Yeah, just learn about them. I’m like, I’ll be, open-minded, I’ll speak to them. So I have a call with them. And at that point, we realized it’s backcountry. Not bat country, backcountry was a new term for me too. That’s how foreign the outdoor world was.
So finally put two and two together and had a conversation. Crazy enough, I actually had a personal trip planned to go out to park city. A girlfriend of mine had just moved out here and I was coming out to visit her. So I’d mentioned to them, it’s so funny that I’m getting this call and I’m speaking to you all cause park, city’s never been on my radar. And my girlfriend just moved out there. I’m headed out there in three weeks to visit her. And they’re like when you’re in town, why don’t you just swing in, check out the offices, get to know us. We’ll tell you a little bit more about the opportunity.
I said sure, why not that quickly transpired into being an all-day long, six-person interview back to back with a presentation. And then before I knew it, I was flying out here again several weeks later for another interview and got the offer and I thought, gosh, do I really want to move out to Utah and do something totally different in the outdoor industry? At that point, I’d spent seven years in Children’s Wear prior to that I was in fashion and I thought, heck, why not? Let’s try something different. This could be a really cool experience. And so I packed my bag and moved out here and I thought to myself if I hate it I can move back. But I might like it and five years later I’m still here.
How does a sociocultural anthropology major get into retail, merchandising, and e-commerce?
So college for me was about getting exposure to things that I probably never have the opportunity to learn again. So I took that opportunity just to take courses that were interesting. I was like, let me just have some fun here. So I majored in socio-cultural anthropology, which is definitely a mouthful. It’s the study of cultures and more indigenous cultures and communities around the world. And then from there, I also did a minor in Africana studies cause Cornell, which is where I went had an amazing Africana studies program and center. Then I did a concentration in Asian American studies. So for me, it was like, let me learn about people and cultures and ethnicities and human behavior. And that was interesting. And I thought to myself if I don’t do it in college, I probably won’t get the opportunity to learn it elsewhere.
So I did just that and always had the intent of going probably somewhere in the retail route and grew up with that. My father was a small business owner, he had his own small retail shops, jewelry business for a long time. So growing up I would hop in the van with him up to New York and the jewelry, wholesale district. So learned it very grassroots from him.
How did you get connected with Jack Wolfskin?
I left Backcountry and at that point, I was searching for a new role, and crazy enough, I was on a family vacation and an old colleague, Russ Hopcus he’s the president of prAna had texted me. He said, Hey, look I just got connected to the CEO of Callaway golf. They just acquired Jack Wolfson and they’re looking for talent and I gave him your name. I told him you’re on the market. And he sends me this text and I kid you not within 24 hours Chip Brewer, the CEO of Callaway is calling me.
He says Hey, I got your name from Russ. Do you have time to connect? And I’m like, sure. So we have an hour-long conversation and we talk about what he’s trying to do. Build out a team for Jack Wolfskin north America. Within two weeks I’m flying out there and then a week later I’ve got a job offer and I’m like, whoa, what did I just sign up for?
In your two years here what have been the biggest challenges?
So when we came on board, it wasn’t like tools were handed to us and it was just plug and play. Apparel as a business is newer for Callaway. And so we were implementing an ERP system. We had to launch our own website. And those building blocks take time and a lot of energy. So we knew that was always going to be a challenge, but that was the fun challenge. That’s what we wanted to all do. And that’s what we signed up for. But then to layer COVID on top of that, it’s whoa, now we’re going to be pushing a boulder up the hill to start. But now we’re pushing up five boulders up the hill and COVID was definitely unforeseen by all of us, total curveball. I went out and had a whole strategy and plan of what we were going to do. And then when COVID hit, it was like, whoa, screeching, halt. Let’s readjust.
Do you feel like your team has gotten even closer? Because you’ve all had to deal with that?
This team is phenomenal. And they all have their unique personalities. They all gel together play off of each other really well. And so it’s very complimentary and very colonial. And I think that’s the only reason why we were able to survive COVID right. And get through the pandemic because they all had such a great attitude and just a willingness to just conquer this journey and just get through it and just figure it out, despite whatever challenges came their way.
You’re also a board member and were the interim director at Camber. Tell us a bit about that.
For those listening who have never heard of it, it’s Camber Outdoors, they’ve been around for many years. They originally started as a networking group for women in the outdoor industry.
They went from a women’s networking group and then evolved to be a 501 C3 nonprofit around equity for gender within the outdoor industry. And that has since evolved even further to more diversity equity inclusion in the workplace in general. So a really great mission, really great vision, and amazing staff.
I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to step in when Deanna stepped down and serve as our executive director. At that point, I had been serving on the board. I think it was my second year in and she just happened to leave Backcountry. So I was available to step into that role. And it was a humbling experience. I have to give a lot of credit to folks who do DEI work day in, day out, and professionally because it’s very difficult work.
What outdoor activities do you participate in these days?
Moving and living in Utah has definitely opened my eyes to a lot more than I grew up doing.
It was mainly hiking, do some fishing-type stuff, but nothing crazy, skied, a little bit as a child. So coming back out to Utah as an adult, I’ve gone back into skiing. Which has been a lot of fun. So that’s my winter sport of choice. I also own a pair of snowshoes, which I never thought I would. So that’s a fun activity for me. And then in the summer you usually find me hiking. I attempted one year to try mountain biking and had a horrible accident. So I’ve since said no to mountain biking and now have an e-bike. So I’m sticking to the pavement.
Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoors?
Network get to know folks, I think now, more than ever. There is a greater appetite in the outdoor industry to bring in folks who are not from the industry. I think companies are recognizing the value of having folks that come from other industries with that different experience. And, they just come with different ideas and different ways to challenge the business. And that’s extremely valuable. Because the outdoor industry has plateaued a bit, and there’s a lot of opportunities to continue that growth.
I think oftentimes, especially for women, they look at a job description and when it says must have outdoor experience, they’re like, oh, I don’t have that, So I’m not even gonna apply. And actually, that was one of the things we took off the job description. And right off the bat, we saw a tremendous amount of more female candidates applying. So just in general, I’d say don’t be afraid to apply. Don’t be afraid to, get rejected here and there cause that’s just how the job searching process goes. But eventually, if you find the right fit, it could be a really great career.
What’s your favorite piece of outdoor gear under a hundred dollars?
I have to say I’m so thankful when I had that mountain biking accident that I was wearing a helmet, and I still have my Smith helmet. It is crushed in at the top and it’s got blood all over it and I just saved it. I don’t even know why. But thank goodness for that, because it totally saved my life. And I am a true believer of helmets while riding your bike while the ski slopes.
Is there anything else you’d like to ask or say of our listeners before we wrap up?
I have to say five years in the outdoor industry, it’s been amazing. I think the folks in the industry, what I love the most is just there’s this common thread of passion and appreciation for outdoor activities, nature, wellness, health. And I think it’s so balanced. I really just appreciate folks being so open-minded to introducing folks that aren’t as immersed in the outdoor space like myself and, welcoming me into the industry and into those activities, and showing me how fun they can be. Because without those friends I wouldn’t have had that exposure. So I’m so appreciative of that, and that just speaks volumes of the industry that we’re in. It’s a great community. It’s such a great community.