On July 14, 2003, Will Manzer was appointed president and CEO of Eastern Mountain Sports. Prior to his position with EMS, Manzer served as president of the Perry Ellis Menswear group and was slated to become president of the Perry Ellis Brand before he left the company to take up his current role.

Manzer graduated from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Political Philosophy and is an avid outdoor athlete who competed at an elite amateur level in road running in the 70’s and triathlon in the 80’s. Manzer lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire with his wife Ann.

BOSS: EMS is opening two new stores, what does this mean for the company?

WM: After we bought the company, after about six months, we went into a zero base planning process to determine what the footprint really should be based on and the businesses we wanted to represent, which was based on what our customers’ expectations were. We did a lot of research and… came up with a 15,000 square foot plan or footprint, a plan to move off-mall, which would be into a lifestyle center, strip center, or free standing. The concept is to make sure we are providing easy access, convenient locations, located in areas that are dense with our target customer and our existing customer as well – the ones who have been shopping with EMS for years… We will maintain an 8,000 square foot footprint in smaller markets, but that will be very rare. That will only be about 20% of our portfolio over a long period of time.

BOSS: What is the reason for the two new locations?

WM: The first location, we closed our location in Nyack, New York, which is right down the street from the Rockland Center store in Nanuet. That was a third floor mall store, and now we are in Rockland Center, which is a very nice strip center. We have about 13,000 square feet there – it’s a smaller version of the 15,000 square foot model.

The Christiana store is literally an addition to the portfolio. It is a new store in a very dense shopping market with a lot of our customers – especially in mountain biking and kayaking. The demographic and psychographic are perfect. It will probably be – undoubtedly our strongest location. It will also be a showcase store. It will start out a little slow, because we are not as well known in Christiana, Delaware, but we are planning to correct that soon.

BOSS: What was the average square footage of you stores before?

WM: The average was about 7,500 square feet if you aggregated the entire chain. However, we went from some stores with 3,500 square feet to one store in Colorado, which we closed, that was 21,000 square feet, that the company never committed itself to prior to us buying the company. We closed down the Colorado and Michigan markets because we need to focus on the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States. Until we can do that we are not going to expand out of this region. So, it’s about focus and it’s about managed control.

BOSS: Do you have a set percentage each year that you would like to expand your square footage?

WM: We are still proving out our model, and it’s going very, very well. It’s no secret in the industry that this has been a turn-around. We are on a ship right now that is turning hard and its well on its way. We just had our fifth consecutive monthly comp gain, and we are comp-positive for the year, which is a big plus. We’re excited we had a 16% comp gain in September. We have new product and new content that is being received very well. Both the board and myself approved the opening of these two new stores and we are opening eight new stores in 2007, well actually one of them is a re-model. So, each year we will commit to new stores as well as growing the web. So, simultaneously we have committed to growth – as long as we have re-positioned the company – and both the board and I feel we are ready to grow.

BOSS: Is your on-line presence growing as a percentage of your sales?

WM: Yes it is. We expect the web to be roughly 13% of our total revenues.

BOSS: What about your private label program?

WM: We continue to do that, Eastern Mountain Sports is the brand. We don’t accept the nomenclature in our company called “private label” and we hire a very talented design staff to make sure we can say that… At the same time we are very focused on building strong relationships with other brands that compliment our assortment rather than duplicate it.

BOSS: In the turn-around process, how far along would you say you are; how much further do you need to go?

WM: I think we are about 70% there. We’ve got the management team in place, which was really the biggest issue. It takes quite a while to hire real talent to come all the way over to Peterborough, New Hampshire… So, that was the first step. Of course the next thing is to make sure we get it right with the product. When you introduce a design team to an organization that doesn’t have any experience with how to work with a design team, it takes time to get that right.

So I said 70% – most of the basic operating improvements are done, the general mapping is done, but now improving store operations, improving content, improving the web, improving the marketing, and improving our relationship with our customer, that’s where the next 30% has to come in.

BOSS: As far as solidifying your presence in the Northeast – what kind of goals would you have to hit before you looked beyond that area?

 WM: What we would have to do is completely fill-in the Northeast – all of the markets we need to shore up. We are working to do that now. We are comfortable with REI in our market, we have no problem with that, especially with our existing model. Until we have completed our goals in the Northeast, which is to have roughly 90 stores over a period of the next five years, and to have a web business that supports roughly 13% to 15% of our total revenues – once we’ve done that, we can start to begin expanding beyond the northeast.

BOSS: We have seen quite a few new players moving into the Northeast. Is competition in the region increasing?

 WM: Yes it is. But, keep in mind, EMS is going to be a very different customer experience with a very different customer profile. We expect to continue to enjoy the patronage of the 25- to 40-year-old customer, but we are very focused on the outdoor athlete and we want to be relevant, much more relevant to a younger consumer than we have been. But we also want to be relevant to customers like me…

We are certainly focused on fusing the fashion part of it in a much different way than other outdoor retailers have been doing. We are also very focused on the female outdoor athlete. So, you are going to see a very strong fashion sensibility fused with the outdoor athlete. We believe that color is a good thing, fashion is a good thing, and the outdoor retailer needs to embrace that. And, honestly, we will be a very different in-store experience than our competition.