Outdoor Industries Association Blog

A Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year? A View from Keswick

November 19th, 2010

The last 12 months have seen many uncontrollable and unexpected external forces have significant impacts on our trade. As usual the weather played its part; the winter could hardly have been more buoyant – conditions ensured that virtually anyone who ventured outside was a potential customer for an outdoor retailer!

Once the snow melted we “enjoyed” one of the most prolonged dry spells for years – by the end of spring the harsh reality of recession-hit Britain kicked in. The General Election, the World Cup, the first austerity budget AND the super dry weather meant our customers had little incentive to buy; customer confidence was more than dented and the announcement of public sector cuts encouraged people to hold onto their cash.

So far the autumn seems a little more positive – the odd colder day has helped early purchases of winter kit…but what can we expect next?

After helping destroy confidence over the last 2 years the media is talking up the potential effect of the up-coming rise in VAT – there’s going to be a bumper Christmas as we all buy now to avoid paying extra tax! Really? Will another £4 on a £200 waterproof make someone buy today rather than hang on till the sales? I don’t think so; but if the media are determined to encourage a pre-Christmas buying frenzy then I’m happy to see them try!

In reality several supply-side issues far out-weigh anything a marginal VAT rise will do. The seismic shift in China’s labour market and the massive increase in freight charges mean that the guaranteed supply of better & better quality products at lower & lower prices is coming to an end.

After living with a deflationary outdoor market for 15 years our customers will have to adjust to prices going up! Our challenge will be to reassure them that are still getting value for money, not by discounting, but by having the courage to sell at prices where we all win. Suppliers need to make enough to maintain the supply chain & invest in R&D, retailers need enough to attract, train and retain quality staff and the customer has to get a product that more than satisfies their expectations at a fair and reasonable price.

Compare Outdoor products to the non-technical stuff available on the High Street – we sell absolutely fantastic pieces of kit at prices way lower than most people see every day!

The challenge for our trade isn’t to do with the weather, the competition within our market or the projected sluggish recovery of the UK’s economy – the challenge and greatest opportunity for us as a trade is to tell our story to a broader range of potential customers! If we can communicate just how exhilarating, enjoyable and accessible outdoor activities are then we’ve the chance to grow our market for the benefit of us all.

If we take the chance and do this job properly then the Outdoor Trade will not only enjoy this New Year but also many New Years to come!

Andy Airey, George Fisher, Keswick

Inaugural OIA CEO/ Directors forum kicks off with some punch

November 10th, 2010

Last Wednesday saw the inaugural OIA CEO/ Director Forum, held at the Palace Hotel in Manchester.  Far from being a stuffy affair there was a relaxed yet focused atmosphere as senior figures from within the industry gathered, some meeting for the first time.  The theme was, perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘Government cuts – is it all doom and gloom?  Identifying the opportunities and threats to the industry collectively’.

Tom Franklin kicked off the main part of the evening with his key note presentation, which highlighted some of the main challenges the walking community is now facing.  As debate and discussion around the room ensued, there was consensus that despite the current challenging circumstances for the business community,  opportunities  for organisations operating in our industry outweigh the threats and some core focus points were identified.  That said it was also clear that these will only be realised if we work together, not just within our own membership body but by creating those important alliances with our counterparts across the other sectors.   And having Tom Franklin, CEO of Ramblers, and Andy Robinson, CEO of Institue for Outdoor Learning, there was a good start.

It was even better that we could put something back and raise money for an outdoor charity, Equal Adventure, and make a little difference directly while we were at it.  Thank you to all those attending for their generous donations.

Now we just need to carry that momentum forward and I look forward to reporting on that progress by the next OIA Forum being held during the Innovex Conference on April 12th 2011. You can read the full report on the event in our news section.

How internships can add value to our industry

November 2nd, 2010

At a time when we are debating how we can both retain and attract talent to the outdoor industry, especially during these lean times, internship provides a great value for money solution for businesses.  A recent survey report by the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) showed that 69% of employers see internships as a good way to develop new talent in an industry sector, and 76% think they can be used as a way to test potential new staff.  Internships can be especially beneficial for SMEs looking to either attract new business talent or take on new staff on a project basis without the long term commitment and cost.

The OIA has just partnered up with Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) to help its members tap into some of their expertise and talent pool. Internships bring many benefits to companies including investigating issues, opportunities or problem areas. It doesn’t have to be project based, although there are many areas theses students specialise in such as marketing and branding, HR management, workflow problems and organisational change. The employer also has the additional benefit of accessing the knowledge held at the University via the project supervisor.

There is no quick fix, but along side working on a new outdoor retail training scheme, our new partnership with LUMS provides another avenue to not only raise the professional profile of the industry but also give businesses a fantastic opportunity to work with some real business talent who can make a difference to their company.  And these students are no strangers to ‘the real world’ as they work with outside clients as part of their course.  Of course interns are not free, but as with everything in life, you get out what you put in.  So if you are in need of someone to make the office tea and do the photocopying on the cheap, then employing an intern is probably not for you…

Spending Review Cuts

October 21st, 2010

As an industry, we should be concerned at the intention to close the Adventure Activities Licensing Service, which was brought into being to safeguard all – and especially young people, using external centres/organisations for adventure activities, following the Lyme Bay disaster.
The opportunities to utilise such places of  adventurous learning, safely, whether in youth or business groups, or individually, are part of the life style making/challenging ethos upon which our industry depends and hopefully, thrives.

Please can we lobby for the AALS to be retained to ensure that such places, whether local authority or company owned and managed, provide a safe environment in which “the great outdoors” can remain both a learning and challenging growth experience.

by Keith Rugg, Keith Rugg Consultancy

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

October 18th, 2010
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