Outdoor Industries Association Blog

Can the industry do more to retain and develop the talent it already has?

The North Face Team

The North Face Team

As the inaugural OIA member columnist/ blogger, it would have been too obvious to talk about our great products, which is an opportunity that is painful to sidestep. I am a salesman at heart. On reflection though it’s easy for me to single out my colleagues – The North Face team – as worthy of attention in this article. People are central to any business, be they customers, suppliers or colleagues and it’s an important theme we can all relate to.

The team I work with has always been and continues to be the single most important and rewarding aspect of my time at The North Face. Why? I guess a lot of this comes down to the shared experiences we have as a group of individuals who have gone through various stages of life together – like any family does. And this family shares a common bond (interest is too lame a word) in our love and passion for all things outdoors. Starting with an intimate team of only five, we have grown to 20. Everyone who has been grafted onto the original group has added something unique and diverse to the team whilst at the same time absorbing the team ethos and spirit.

Key to this has been very low staff churn. In the last ten years there has been very, very little staff turnover within The North Face team UK. Those shared experiences on the mountain, on the hill, on the road and in life have all shaped us as people and formed a strong bond that has helped and continues to help, in shaping the team and creating the successful business that The North Face has undeniably become. Indeed this team ethic and bond is readily apparent to new team members and for all of us is the key reason our work continues to be rewarding and, above all, enjoyable.

All well and good then, isn’t that nice. What a great place The North Face is! What’s the point in sending this to the OIA? What relevance does this have? Well, as I cited above, the main reason for our team spirit and camaraderie is limited staff turnover. I believe this is solely down to recruiting the right individuals who fit into our team, enjoy the banter, relish the work and respond effectively to the demands of the business. Recruitment represents a huge risk and challenge for all businesses and it is costly to get it wrong. So is there anything we can learn here about how we, as an industry, can do more to grow our human capital and retain and develop the talent we already have? Are there creative, innovative ways that together we can encourage connections between our businesses that would enable us to do this? For example, we have found that people who have joined our business from retail bring a fresh insight into what is needed on the shop floor. Perhaps there is a reciprocal link that could be forged between a supplier and a retailer to cross-fertilize the knowledge and talent within our respective patches? Downstream, surely this might yield benefits for our customers too?

Imagine if we joined all the different sectors within the outdoor trade – manufacturer – supplier – retailer – training – marketing – sales – into a scheme, coordinated through the OIA, that would enable students studying outdoor qualifications to gain some worthwhile work experience throughout the diverse range of career possibilities this spectrum represents that would inspire them to make a passionate choice. Such a scheme might set off a virtuous cycle by attracting a larger pool of new talent into the “business”.

I’m thinking out loud here but what has prompted these nascent thoughts has been my own recent protracted head hunting mission. It has been brought home to me this year just how difficult it is to recruit the right caliber of individuals. I have been looking since February for three people to join our team and it is only now that I am nearly at the end of my search. Fussy? Possibly. Picky? Maybe. Mainly I’m mindful of the low turnover the team has enjoyed and I want to ensure that this continues. If I could work with an industry body like the OIA that had a database of people who had a passion for the outdoors, allied with a qualification and some work experience across retailers, suppliers etc, I’m sure that would have saved me an awful lot of time.

Alex Beasley
UK Country Manager, The North Face

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