June 8, 2023

Trade Shows, Inventory Management, and Retailer Challenges with BrandKeep and The Mountaineer [EP 385]

Show Notes

Rick Saez
Rick Saez
Trade Shows, Inventory Management, and Retailer Challenges with BrandKeep and The Mountaineer [EP 385]
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Welcome to episode 385 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast with Pete Ashley from BrandKeep and Charlie Wise from The Mountaineer talking trade shows, what’s working, how they facilitate buying, the current state of inventory management, retailer challenges, and some other goodies.

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Show Notes

Welcome to episode 385 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast with Pete Ashley from BrandKeep and Charlie Wise from The Mountaineer trade shows, what’s working, how they facilitate buying, the current state of inventory management, retailer challenges, and some other goodies. Brought to you by The Big Gear Show!

Trade Shows

Are things back to “normal?

Charlie

I really think it is, we’re going to have the same attendance as we normally would at our primary sort of national show. in the G O A Connect event. We will have two buyers and myself attending the principal’s meetings and then, obviously, the buying sessions. And I think travel has settled down, prices notwithstanding. Everything’s more expected. But we’ll be there for a full slate of vendor meetings, business meetings, and line showings. It’s going to look and feel a lot like it did pre-pandemic.

And Pete, you’re representing BrandKeep, obviously, give everybody a little background on BrandKeep.

BrandKeep will be doing GOA, Discovery Marketplace, and 360 Adventure. That’ll be kind of our real hello world. But BrandKeep is a platform designed to help retailers, specifically specialty outdoor retailers. manage all these digital assets and information in one central hub across all the brands in the shop. We’re excited to bring this to the trade shows and introduce it to some of these retailers and hopefully get some folks on board and help them make their lives a little bit easier.

And what do you think the greatest benefits to retailers and brands are for shows? Now that we had that pandemic situation where you didn’t have to go to shows? What did you miss the most, and are they still necessary, trade shows?

Charlie

I think having a chance to sit down with some of the principles of our vendor partners and suppliers it’s just really important. We have a relationship, I think, that extends beyond just pedaling their products in our shop. We want to represent their brand well, and they certainly want to understand who we are and the requirements we have as a retailer. And I would say that type of national show, again, Connect is really our primary event and is really important in that regard. We also have a number of charitable events throughout the year, so it’s a chance for us to also thank folks that are sponsors of those events in a way that would be harder to do just with our local rep presence or at regional shows.

Pete

Before BrandKeep, I was actually a buyer and general manager for four outdoor stores. And I mean, just it’s so important to get in there and make those personal connections. But just being able to like see and touch product when you’re making those decisions, that’s so important. And again, back to the human connection, you know, it’s an energizing thing. That’s why we do this. We enjoy each other’s company. We have a lot of shared interests. And it’s fun to go and, you know, make those reconnections, see friends, and get excited about what you’re doing again.

Are there any changes that were put in place in some of the recent Trade Shows you’ve been to as a result of the pandemic that you feel are working well or differently? Scheduling? Venues?

Charlie

We did actually thin out, even our Connect presence through the slightly hairier early days of the pandemic.

Obviously, some events were just impacted and didn’t go off, but we had concerns about safety and travel and those sorts of things, and some staff were more excited than others about climbing on an airplane and traveling. So I would say we maintained the connection to the events, but we didn’t have the full presence that normally we do prior to and again now.

I will say, and I agree with Pete, that getting your hands on products, seeing it, seeing a line, and putting things in context is super important.

We were, I think, given the pretty narrow slice and pretty specific type of consumer that we serve out of the mountaineer, we actually were pleasantly surprised at also some of the remote levels of support that we saw. That does not ever take the place of a trade show, but I think we were able to navigate, and I think our vendors were able to help us navigate some of the limitations of the early days of the pandemic. In terms of knowing what was going to come into the shop, even if we hadn’t had a chance to touch it. But now that we’re back, you know, more or less in the clear, we always are going to lean towards having a chance to sit down with the rep, see the line, touch the product, and go from there.

How can the show organizers and brands, and reps maximize value even further at these trade shows? Do you have any ideas on that?

Charlie

I think the balance that we try to find as a retailer, and I think this is up to the brands, either in terms of their investment, in terms of presence, or just the shows in terms of facilitating that cross-section of both regional reps and the higher-level principles. Obviously, you want everybody there, right? Right. But that’s not always realistic. The one benefit that was also a little bit of an outgrowth in terms of frequency and number of regional shows we attended, was obviously proximity, but also being able to sit down with the same person that’s normally coming by our shop or that we know already in our region. That’s not always possible at the national shows; we still, I’d say, at Connect, in general, we have pretty good success with having the people we know being on the other side of the table or whatever it is. But I think it’s important for event organizers and the vendors, and suppliers, to realize that when we show up and sit down to talk about products, we really do appreciate somebody knowing who we are and focusing in on the parts of a line that actually apply to us. I mean, we’re not going to focus on urban dog walking gear if we’re a mountaineering store, you know? So that sort of awareness of who we are makes the engagement that much more valuable.

You can’t pull that off a hundred percent, but get as close to that as possible without having to sit down and explain to somebody who you are, what your store is, and what you like from scratch when you go to these national shows.

Pete

Interesting thing back in the day, I think it tended to lend itself to the parties and socialization. Lots of happy hours and, I think, too,, with the pandemic and travel being cut back, and that’s stayed kind of cut back. I think we’re going to continue to see attendance levels rise at these things because it is an opportunity for those brands to really come in and see a lot of people and get a lot of really meaningful work done in a short amount of time. No matter how stressful that can be. But yeah, I think a lot more work is getting done, and I think the show organizers are doing a great job of facilitating the scheduling and all that.

and another change that I have seen, and one of the new things that GOA is doing, is the Discovery Marketplace. Which is really cool or such a working show because now it’s giving a lot of these folks that might not be attending these national shows an opportunity to see new brands and open a whole new avenue and that side of the trade show as well.

Charlie

I’ll second what Pete said there. I definitely think that the GOA Connect event is doing a nice job of bringing in new brands, exposing the retail members to some different options that they might not normally see, but also walking that line of doing it without the sort of full-blown zoo, you know, massive conventions atmosphere. I think that mix of really targeted business meetings, line showings, and then also some discovery, like just well-curated discoveries is a really nice setup

Do you guys have any thoughts on how a rep or a brand can help you maximize your time in the appointment part of it?. What’s the perfect appointment . . . the setup, the execution, the follow-up?

Charlie

I’ll jump back in, and I sort of touched on this earlier, I think, obviously, if that’s a rep you’ve had some contact with, which hopefully you have, and you know, we’ve been, as a business, The Mountaineer has been around for almost 50 years, so we have, we have relationships with reps that go back 5, 10, 20 years in some cases.

The ideal sit down is really obviously just a chance to catch up and be social, you know, get, understand what the rep’s been up to. What’s going on in life? But from there, I think again, knowing a rep, knowing who we are, the type of customer that we serve, and being able to really cut into that part of the line that applies. That’s the ideal appointment. And then we can spend more time really focusing on the details of those products. I’d rather be narrow and deep than wide and shallow in terms of those types of meetings.

What’s the most daunting aspect of these shows? Is it just managing all the assets, workbooks, and orders, or time management, the travel?

Charlie

I’ll sort of tie in the brand key part of that. Having digital assets, having digital workbooks in advance, and then being able to take what we’ve done in terms of annotations or selections from those workbooks and the POs, basically having all those things in one place, is an evolving improvement that we’re starting to see through BrandKeep as a utility.

Definitely, the days of hauling back reams and reams of paper in these workbooks, we’ve sort of moved past that. We also have multiple buyers at the Mountaineer that are interacting with the same brand, and to be able to not have that information stashed away in a manila folder, in a cabinet under somebody’s desk, and have it all in one centralized common format is key.

And so I’d say that’s one of the big refinements that we’ve been working on. You know, the travels, the travel scheduling, the meetings, I think again, in the case of Connect, they do a pretty good job of that with their utility. But mostly, it’s that sort of post-show. . . okay, what did we just do? So actually BrandKeep is really actually a fairly important part of where we are with that right now

Pete

I was going to say as a buyer . . . even now that we are in the digital landscape, I would show up with a laptop and an empty bag and come back with, good grief, I mean, a full laptop bag, usually like one of those totes that you inherit when you get there full of random printouts and workbooks and swag. My desk was generally kind of a nightmare for about two weeks after that as I sorted through it. So I will say one of the things that the brands and reps could do to that did make my life easier. The ones that were doing it well, were the ones that just had those digital assets accessible. They had links that worked, they were updated. The B2Bs have come a long way. But even if it’s just a simple order form, just have that order form simply have it work. Here’s your thumb drive. Everything’s available, and then beyond that, just communication.

How’s business? I know during the pandemic, everybody seemed to be killing it. I’m sure it’s backed off from what it was during the pandemic, but is, is it still booming, still good?

Charlie

I would say we’ve been looking back on 22, and 2023 has its own story to tell that’s been evolving. I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to stay as close to the pace of 2021.

Obviously, the fuse was lit basically midway through the summer of 2020. Outdoor was sort of everything for people that had been pent up right, and needed fresh air. And we as a business, not only in that industry but also sort of in ‘sitchu’ here, literally at the doorstep to the Adirondack Mountains, we benefited from that pretty mightily and that trend, and also just the remote work trend, you know, played heavy through all of 2021. As I talked with my staff, there was that question, what is the back end of this hump look like? Is it gonna steady out and plateau somewhere near here, or are we going to go all the way back down to the valley floor on that? And I would say in general, it’s been pretty steady.

Pete

Again, with the shop I was in, we were seeing pretty much the exact thing that Charlie was seeing. We were staying strong, and I think, too, it forced us to, and I think a lot of businesses out there. It really forced them to learn that sometimes you can do more with less. You find creative ways to find new products, to fill in for those that you couldn’t get, new creative ways to merchandise, to sell your product, be it online or whatever. Um, So I think those, those lessons carried forward too. And as we look forward to 2023, hopefully, those are hardened in the retailers.

This will drop in June of 2023. So we’re halfway through. What’s beyond summer look like?

Charlie

Summer’s big here. We do have a healthy winter business, and the shoulder seasons have continued to shrink. Meaning we’ve got people here pretty much year-round. But in summer, my real focus is on summer. And candidly, as well as I think we’ve been doing top line, inventory control has continued to have some challenges, both on the can’t get ahold of it, and, on the now have too much of it kind of side of things. So, summer 23 is, obviously, we’ve got preseasons in for fall and increasingly spring of 24. But that’s going to have a real bearing on whether we hold the line on those preseasons if we need to start tweaking or tuning those. So definitely, I like the longer-term perspective. I like the question, Rick, but so much, really, how that’s going to feel and look is going to start to shape up in the next 10 to 12 weeks.

And, uh, yeah, continue to, to keep, keep moving forward, keep doing those things

How is fulfillment coming? Are brands fulfilling orders, or are there hits and misses? How’s that going?

Pete

I’m a little bit removed. It’s been a good six months since I’ve been wearing the buying hat. I’m hearing from brands and from some stores that fulfillment is getting a little bit better, but it’s still a challenge. And you kind of have to order accordingly. So for us, a lot of times, it was a lot of over-ordering or ordering a replacement product in addition to that gold standard that we were just hoping was going to come at the right time.

Then beyond that, really staying on top of it because, you know, if it all comes at once and you’re not ready? Like Charlie was saying, you either can’t get it, or you got too much of it. So really staying on top of those POs, those cancellation dates. Checking your inventory because, again, you might have had to replace one of your best products with something new, and how is it doing? Do I need more of that? It was a constant daily challenge.

I would say that the folks that did the best job, like brands and reps, were the ones that were communicating Letting you know this is going to be a partial ship or if you’re getting a ship a month late, giving you a heads up on that. And you, and as a rep and a sales guy, you really can’t over-communicate on that.

Charlie

it’s funny, I’ve sort of referred to this a few times, but early in the pandemic, it was a fairly predictable set of ripples coming out from that stone hitting the water. And we were ahead of the backcountry skiing thing and stocked up and ready for that. With each passing year, those ripples have just sort of turned into chop. It’s just been a grab bag of different circumstances for different vendors for different seasons. So we definitely, sort of to what Pete was saying in terms of operationally, have tightened the process around really tracking what those ship dates are.

Let’s talk about staffing a little bit. Seems like there are a lot of issues around staffing, whether it’s inflation and wages or lack of people. How are you guys handling, handling that?

Charlie

We were very fortunate. We’ve enjoyed long-tenured staff, and obviously, for those folks, originally, it was heightened gas prices last summer and then just increasing inflation over the past 12 plus months and just cost of living increases.

So we try to do everything we can. When I do an end-of-year, and I sit down, I say, Hey, look, we can’t change this entire game plan, but I can do the best I can to keep you in check with what I know your overhead is, and so I think our staff appreciates that we do what we can from the wages standpoint.

There are some other things you can also do just to ensure quality and work-life balance. We have my full-time staff. The entire set of department heads runs a four-day on, three-day off. So we won’t call it a weekend because it could be a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, but that kind of perk, if you will, and just us doing our best to have a solid package and overall compensation plan. That’s the best we can do. And hopefully, just maintain a work environment that’s fun to be in.

Let’s talk about some fun stuff. Charlie, what are you getting out doing these days for your outdoor activities?

Oh, man. Well, I am retraining my body from a winter of backcountry skiing into the pounding rhythm of trail running. And that takes me, I’ve actually gotten a little smarter over the years as to how aggressively I try to make that transition. I’m also getting a little older, so that’s new. April is a good month. I had some fun. I did a backcountry trip up into the Chick Chocks on the upper Gas Bay Peninsula and Quebec, which was pretty fantastic with some good, good ski buddies.

And that was all backcountry skiing. And then I doubled down and did some tarpon fishing down in Florida a couple of weeks later. So, I’ve had my fun, and now it’s time to get to work.

Pete

Oh man, I had a really busy summer last year with moving and, and what have you. So I’m looking forward to exploring my own backyard. I live here in western North Carolina, so I got a backpacking trip in Panthertown this weekend planned, and lots of boat trips. I’m trout fishing and just starting to be outside. Get the garden going.

Do you have a favorite piece of outdoor gear or equipment that you keep with you or that you like to use? Something that just rises to the top all the time, whether it’s a favorite pair of running shoes, a little gadget for when you’re not hiking?

Pete

I really love my gravity filter. I do a ton of backpacking, and I’ve spent too many hours knelt over my knees aching and falling in cold creeks pumping water. So I have a big 10-liter gravity filter that I can just dump in and hang. That’s probably my most used.

Charlie

Be Free bladder filter. As a trail runner, and somebody sort of looking to carry as little on me as possible, that’s just a scoop in the brook screw on the cap and you’re sucking five nines filtered water through the, through the top unit. You’re not getting 10 liters out of that, but you can get up to a liter at a time.

Do you guys have any business books you recommend for everybody? Maybe one business book that’s been particularly valuable to you?

Charlie

Let My People Go Surfing

Marketplace on NPR stations. It’s an American public media broadcast.

Pete

Value-Driven Management

Let My People Go Surfing

Follow up

Charlie Wise

The Mountaineer

Pete Ashley

BrandKeep