Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Varied Shades of Green

Becky and I just returned home from the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City. For us, this is a 4 day blur where we decide on our product lineup for Spring '08. This year, one of the over-riding themes that we saw everywhere we looked was the "greening" of our industry.

Only a couple of years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find more than a handful of companies talking about green technology utilized in their operations or their products. Now, it seems to be pervading everything. Forgive me for being the eternal cynic, but I wonder how many of these companies will be pounding the green drum 3 years from now.

The outdoor industry is perfect for championing all things green. All of us as enthusiasts love
the outdoors and (logically would seem to) care if a company is destroying the earth in order to produce a product for us to go out and enjoy the earth. Hmmm.... My question is do we really care? And how much do we care? Where is our threshold?

I found myself studying a new sleeping bag being made that is constructed using some recycled drink bottles. My first instinct was to: a) see how much it cost compared to its petroleum counterpart; and b) How much it weighed vs. the standard model. Obviously - even I have some kind of threshold. If the standard bag costs $150 would I purchase the recycled one for $175? How about $200? Even more disturbing is that I am checking performance questions - Will the bag be as warm? Is it as durable? Does it weigh more? In other words - I am all for the environment - but obviously because I am looking, there is some performance standard at which I would be more than willing to destroy the environment to have a better sleeping bag. Or a bag that costs less. Or a bag that looks cooler.

Which brings us back to the question of how many of these outdoor companies that are out there screaming "GREEN" right now will be doing so in 3 years. I think that all depends on me and it depends on you. Does it matter to us how the products we buy are produced? Do we care if the company that made the product has a zero carbon footprint? Will we pay more for a product made by a company like this? Will we even take the time and energy to find out? The answer to all these questions will determine the answer to the big question. If we respond and purchase from responsible companies producing great products that are easier on the environment, then 3 years from now, the sky is the limit.

We are all children of our society. In America, we like things to be black and white. We are programmed to think "What am I getting" and "What am I paying". We have all been brainwashed by slogans like: "Always Low Prices - Always". We are trained as Americans to make decisions on a strict price/value relationship. Our responsibilities are as consumers with regards to the treatment of the planet (as well as the treatment of the people) in the production of these products is simply not on the radar screen. But maybe they should be.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Just wanted to give everyone an update on what's happening with our construction project in the new room. Here's what you can expect when we are finished:
40% more floor space will allow us to spread things out and show all our gear better.
We will be able to show around 30 boats inside instead of our current 13.
We will have a dedicated "Tent Center" that will allow us to expand our selection of tents and make shopping for tents at Pack and Paddle much easier.
Gear such as packs, tents and boats will not take a back seat to ski and winter wear during the fall and winter seasons. You will be able to shop year round with the best selection anywhere.
Our roofrack department will be using a spiffy new fixture from Yakima.
We'll have some new surprises for you in the water treatment, stove and sleeping bag departments.
You'll be able to get the feel of climbing shoes on our indoor wall.

In case you haven't heard, our new room is convertible to a venue that will feature a variety of events:
Armchair adventure series will take you along with local enthusiasts to great locales and expeditions.
Clinics will help expand your knowledge of outdoor skills and subjects.
Environmental talks will show you both national and local issues and offer ways to get involved.
Adventure and environmental films are great evening outings that will keep your outdoor desire burning.
National level speakers a couple of times per year will be exciting events to participate in.

These are a few of the things you can expect. Again, mark your calendars for September 29th when we'll host our first national speaker. Nate Olive, thru hiker, writer, musician and storyteller will speak and show his photography. If you want to know more about Nate, see the previous post (July 19 - Wookie Wisdom) in this blog or go to www.thawookie.com
Of course, you'll be invited to participate

Friday, August 3, 2007

You Call This a Strategy?!!!

Lately I have been making lots of appointments with reps for the upcoming Outdoor Retailer trade show that we attend twice a year. Reps will call and invariably the conversation turns towards business. "How are things going?", "Are your sales up?", "Do you have any new directions that you are driving the business in?". Then I get treated to tales of other stores that are selling online or building new stores in other towns in their attempt to chase growth. By the time I hang up, I usually feel kind of small, unimportant and out of touch with the business culture.

You see, Becky and I have been following a different direction from what the business world of 2007 in America will tell you is right. Read any business magazine these days, and you might have a tough time finding any articles trumpeting the virtues of doing business in a small town, friendly way driven by your passion for an activity rather that a passion for growing your business. In America, bigger is always better. Right? Can a single store survive in a world with mail order, internet competitors, box stores and (horror of horrors) Wal-Mart?

Honestly - I really am not that sure. But chasing the aggressive, big growth route of business just doesn't seem to inspire me. It seems that the more you chase growth, the more you seem to separate yourself from being with folks that become customers and then become friends. Growth puts me in a chair, in an office, in front of a computer basking in the glow of my monitor instead of on a trail or in a canoe.

If the "business" part of being an outdoor outfitter like Pack & Paddle separates me from people and from being a passionate, active and real outdoor enthusiast, then it all somehow becomes pointless. If that happens, I become a fake - chasing dollars and pretending to be something I have "evolved" out of. This evolution would take me from Capilene to business suit, from Chacos to wingtips. If I can't regard myself as a paddler or a backpacker FIRST and a business person SECOND, I might as well be putting on a suit and working for X corporation.

So - that leaves us with one central business "strategy": Stay Real. Keep getting out, doing trips, sharing those trips with friends in the community, introducing folks to outdoor adventure and having fun with them inside and outside of the shop. Keep developing the best single store shop in the country with an amazing product mix that's exciting and different - born out of true experiences in the wilderness. Do our best to explain these products to friends that come in and match up our offerings with what their hopes and dreams are for their outdoor activities - and use our experiences to put these products into perspective in a real-world way.

So, class - that sums up our lecture for today. I feel bad about venting on this subject - but it's something I've been thinking about for a while. I feel a little like Jerry McGuire - writing his "memo". Even so - I feel hopelessly optimistic and excited. Whether our "strategy" works in the "growth at all cost" business atmosphere of America in 2007 or not, we will definitely have a lot of fun come success or failure.