By Thomas J. Ryan
Scott Allan, who has led Hydro Flask since 2012, will retire as global general manager of the brand, effective March 1.
Allan was named president and CEO of Hydro Flask in 2012 and has served as general manager since 2016 when he led Hydro Flask through its acquisition by Helen of Troy. Under his leadership, the company has been twice named to the Inc. 500 List of Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America, recognized as one of Outside magazine’s Best Places to Work and awarded REI’s Action Sports Vendor Partner of the Year. Allan was also named EY Entrepreneur of the Year of the Pacific Northwest in 2015.
Hydro Flask will not be appointing a replacement for Allan, whose duties will be distributed among Helen of Troy Housewares divisional leadership, several who were part of the original Hydro Flask leadership team, as part of a detailed transition plan set in place last year. The Hydro Flask brand and team will remain in its hometown of Bend, OR.
Here, Allan discusses his plans for retirement and some of the ingredients behind the success of Hydro Flask.
Why are you retiring? You look pretty young. I look younger because I’ve stayed well-hydrated! Truthfully, following nearly eight years at Hydro Flask — including four years of successfully integrating the brand into Helen of Troy — the goals that I initially aspired to accomplish have largely been achieved. Over the past year, I’ve transitioned my responsibilities across the brand and divisional leadership, all of whom fully grasp the soul of our brand, team culture and strategy. With this in mind, I have no doubts that the brand is in great hands going forward.
Although I’ll be retiring, I still plan to be involved in the outdoor space. I’ve explored several opportunities for early-stage investing and enjoy serving on three industry and advisory boards at Rumpl, Cairn and OSU Cascades — the latter of which is building an Outdoor Products degree program. I’m passionate about giving back from my experience and hope to leverage this to help others within the outdoor industry. I’m also ready for some long-overdue travel, including a surf trip to Indonesia, a sailing and SUP adventure in the BVIs and an RV/road trip to surf, mountain bike and snowboard around the western U.S.
Your prior career was in Silicon Valley and high tech. Not too outdoorsy at all. Was that a hurdle or were you ideally suited to lead Hydro Flask? I’ve always felt a strong connection to the outdoors. Even while I was working in Silicon Valley, I made time to escape into nature — whether in Tahoe or on the very limited single track around San Francisco. I spent many hours in a car each week or two just to ensure that my kids could experience the joy of being outside. In 2006, I decided to move to Bend so that the outdoors would be more accessible and a primary part of our family’s active lifestyle. I continued commuting to the Bay Area or around the world 2-to-3 weeks each month, which was tough: I ran a tech company in Australia and then was part of the team that helped Apple create Apple Pay. The fast-paced and dynamic nature of the work was rewarding, though, and helped balance the long hours of travel.
In 2012, I was approached by the financial ownership group that bought out the Hydro Flask founders, who offered me the opportunity to lead Hydro Flask as president and CEO. Some of the new owners were business school friends who were now on the Hydro Flask board. I was hesitant for many reasons, including my inexperience in building an outdoor brand. The company was small and riskier in every possible way. When I finally decided to accept the role, many of my high-tech friends thought I was crazy.
I was certainly not the perfect leader. There is no such thing. However, I will say that by coming from outside the industry, I was forced to do what a strong leader should do anyhow — surround yourself with really smart, experienced people and learn to ask the right questions. The advisors we attracted were world-class visionaries behind successful brands like The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, SmartWool, Timberland, and others. Similarly, the leadership team we have built here is exceptional and several have since been promoted into divisional roles over Hydro Flask and OXO. I also think that coming from high tech —including both myself and the board — drove us in challenging the pace at which things can be accomplished. This stems from a sense of urgency or healthy paranoia in the Silicon Valley culture. We deployed the classic outdoor brand playbook but did so at a faster clock speed — more of a tech venture heartbeat.
Overall, what are the obvious and less obvious reasons Hydro Flask has been so successful and popular? Going back to the beginning, our Founders, Travis Rosbach and Cindy Morse, established a relentless focus on the consumer and on providing an elevated experience. Their initial realization that the traditional reusable water bottle experience was literally “lukewarm” ultimately changed the perception of what a water bottle could be via a relatively simple innovation. Up to that point, vacuum technology was thought of as something that was only used for hot liquids like coffee and only came in the form of a big, bulky thermos. Hydro Flask applied that same technology to a reusable, lightweight yet durable, portable, safe and aesthetically pleasing product that functioned like a thermos yet looked and felt like a water bottle. They thought through all elements of the experience, including color to personalize the product, powder coat for grip and durability and various accessories to ultimately create a new category and, as a result, a better experience for consumers. We’ve been building upon this ever since.
The essence of the brand, complete with joy and a focus on living happier, healthier and more sustainable lives outdoors, is a key differentiator — and I firmly believe this is rooted in Hydro Flask’s talent and culture. Culture, as I’ve learned from other leaders in our industry, is how you build a brand from the inside out. The authenticity of our hometown roots in Bend that aligns the way we live and work with how our brand connects to our consumers is so powerful. People here love where they live and want to take care of the places they play and call home. That unique spirit underscores not only Hydro Flask’s products but also drives our company culture — hikes before work, company ski trips or grill sessions on a sunny day.
This connection enables us to attract a great team — investors, advisors, company leadership, the overall staff, and even the right parent company. I continue to be amazed by the caliber of talent on board within the brand, as well as across our division and Helen of Troy.
We’re proud to see our core values resonate with active, conscious consumers who are driving trends toward reusable, durable, personalized products that replace single-use plastic. At the same time, consumers are increasingly aligning with brands that reflect their personal beliefs. If you know a Hydro Flask fan, watch them light up when they talk about their experiences with our products. We strive to bring joy into the lives of busy consumers and help them in their quest to spend more time outdoors and take better care of themselves, their family and their planet. We deliver this by creating innovative, insulated products that become indispensable, trusted sidekicks for their everyday adventures. At a high level in line with these values, we prioritize giving back to the outdoor spaces that make this all worthwhile. Our charitable arm, Parks for All, helps ensure there are clean, well-maintained public lands and green spaces that people everywhere can enjoy — whether that be city parks, public beaches, trail and river corridors, or the grander national parks. Since the launch of the program in 2017, Parks For All has supported 92 non-profits, given over $1,500,000 in cash grants and donated more than 26,000 bottles. Our products, and giving, create a virtuous cycle in which more consumers are encouraged to get out and live healthier, happier, more sustainable lives. It is all connected — better people, better lives, better planet. It’s what we strive for every day in Bend.
Being Instagramable seems to have been a key to Hydro Flask’s success. Is that something that happened naturally or was there a lot of work involved in creating a social following? Our brand has always grown via fans, product experiences and word of mouth. The first Hydro Flasks were sold at the Portland Saturday Market and festivals in Bend when early fans nearly dragged their friends over to the Hydro Flask booth and pressured them to buy one. Additionally, the inclusive aspect of our brand, coupled with the approachability of our product line, has helped the company organically expand across the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, then Southern California and beyond.
The launch of our social media and other vehicles, like Amazon reviews, further propelled word-of-mouth, since Hydro Flasks quickly became a favorite for gifting and peer-to-peer recommendations. Hydro Flask’s inclusive and playful nature was helpful in setting the stage for this growth since consumers are eager to get the word out about Hydro Flask and how it changed their lives. When your Hydro Flask makes your great moment even better, like on a beach in Hawaii or a hike in the Rockies, people want to share that, and social media like Instagram is an ideal conduit. Additionally, Hydro Flasks are a product that people simply carry with them wherever they go so, naturally, they appear in a lot of photos as a result.
Did the Helen of Troy acquisition significantly change Hydro Flask’s go-to-market approach or its culture? Considering how most acquisitions playout for promising outdoor brands, surprisingly not. As rare as this can be, it is not entirely surprising, though. Hydro Flask management had tremendous say in the acquisition process and the financial owners knew of our interests in staying on with the brand, keeping it in Bend and staying premium and specialty-oriented. Seeing how Helen of Troy had acquired specialty housewares brand OXO, kept the team and New York headquarters, and successfully supported what was best for the brand, was an important demonstration to us.
Nearly four years later, it’s played out as promised. The changes that have been made are more about applying wisdom from other more mature brands or accessing shared services to help us address growth-related challenges. Helen of Troy executives are smart operators and challenge us in a healthy way. On the flip side, Helen of Troy has adopted some of our best practices, including reinforcing culture and hiring approaches that have made this more about mutual learning versus being “dismantled and fixed.”
Hydro Flask has had an impressive growth streak. What advice do you have for managing hyper-growth? There are dozens of tips and tricks. Here are a few. Don’t get too accustomed to how anything is done — you will outgrow it quickly. Don’t blame people for problems caused by outgrown systems, processes or structures. Hire the right people (culture fit) so as not to make this anymore challenging than it has to be. Look after these people and develop the ability to laugh as a team. Live in an outdoor town so you can clear your head in fresh powder, on singletrack or at a good brewery. And, above all, have a little fun while you’re doing it.
Photo courtesy Hydro Flask