In May 2022, GoDigital Media Group acquired Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) and Bob’s Stores for $70 million in cash. SGB Executive talked with Jason Peterson, GoDigital’s CEO, and Dave Barton, president and CEO of Bob’s Stores and EMS, about how the company is repositioning the banners for growth.

The seller was Frasers Group, the U.K.-based owner of Sports Direct that had acquired the two businesses out of bankruptcy proceedings in 2017.

EMS, founded in 1967, sells outdoor apparel and equipment from its 24 stores in the Northeast, including The North Face, Merrell, Black Diamond, and Columbia brands. It also operates EMS Schools with classes in rock and ice climbing, kayaking, SUP, trekking, and skiing. Bob’s Stores, with 23 locations in the Northeast, sells casual and work wear, including Timberland, Carhartt, Champion, Under Armour, Adidas, Skechers, and Levi brands, as well as sports fan apparel.

GoDigital Media Group, a Los Angeles-based media and technology holding company, owns YogaWorks, Cinq Music, NGLmitu, and Sound Royalties.

What is the GoDigital Media Group?
 We are a privately-held multinational conglomerate laser-focused on addressing the convergence of media and technology. Our goal is to unify and build an ecosystem that connects content, community, and commerce across consumer passion points. Today, those passion points are media, entertainment, sports and wellness, but as a business, we also look to what’s next. We were the first to monetize YouTube, the first to create a digital content distribution network, and this past October at the United Nations, we were the first to call on businesses to make social good the primary purpose of their business, not a side benefit. We’ll be the first to meet business at its next evolution, including the coming revolutions in data, consumer access, and shared values as a business goal.

How is your investment and stewardship approach unique?
 GoDigital’s core purpose is to inspire happiness. Though this term has been overused by other businesses, GoDigital is actually focused on implementation to drive business results based on the understanding that people’s “feeling states” drive decision-making and behavior–and positive feeling states drive employee and customer retention, loyalty, acquisition, and ultimately, a better world. In doing so, the company will continue to play a vital role in connecting consumers as they live, work and play throughout their digital and physical worlds. The company encourages all businesses to focus on inspiring positive feelings that drive action. Ultimately, those positive feelings deliver loyalty, brand affinity, results and ROI.

Why did EMS and Bob’s Stores make sense for GoDigital to acquire?
Peterson: If you look at it through the ecosystem passion point lens that I mentioned before, Bob’s and EMS are much commerce, threaded through every community in which they’re located. They are best-in-class role models, and that’s the way we operate. Not to mention EMS’s incredible heritage in adventure and outdoor gear–a passion of millions of Americans that has, for far too long, been made into an expensive, elitist approach by other brands. We’re all about inspiring happiness for everyone, and EMS is a great place to do that.

When looking at EMS and the outdoor retail space, where did you see the opportunity moving forward?Peterson: For far too long, the outdoor retail space has been dominated by people who put something other than the customer first. Who can afford $400 vests? 100-mile treks? Sure, we welcome the hardcore adventurer and even the folks who want top-of-the-line gear, but EMS is about high-quality, affordable products for everyone to experience the happiness of the outdoors. Price should not be a gating factor to your enjoyment of mother nature. And you should come first, not a partisan political ethos or club-based approach. EMS is for every adventurer, and they should opt to go anywhere, anytime, not just when or where another retailer tells them to.

What changes were made with EMS, or planned?
 EMS is at an exciting moment, with new life injected into the beloved outdoors brand since becoming a subsidiary of GoDigital Media Group in May 2022. EMS is expanding its footprint by 20 percent in the next 12 months. With high-quality outdoor gear that’s more affordable, EMS is making the outdoors more accessible to everyone by sticking to doing things the Eastern Mountain Way. And we’re not going to be shy about it any longer, which is why we just launched our first new brand campaign in decades.

The Eastern Mountain Way campaign, which launched October 17, is the refresh EMS needs to drive attention to the company, build a new/younger customer base, and solidify our relevance in the outdoor equipment and apparel space by reminding everyone that you can enjoy the outdoors any way you want to. We just kicked off our first advertising spot, called Sorry About That, which represents our refreshed approach to our founders’ attitudes—irreverent, funny, honest. We have to be honest with where we’ve been, in not some great times a while ago, and where we are now—growing, thriving, refreshed. Some consumers thought we went out of business. We are reminding them that we’re here, we’re back and we’re growing. The omnichannel campaign will roll out additional creative through early 2024.

Additionally, our product development team has been hard at work elevating our EMS brand product offering. In the next few weeks, we will launch our new ‘67 line. This line is not just one capsule of product but a differentiated collection within the EMS brand to target and attract the next generation of consumers. This line represents a renewed commitment to excellence: sustainable materials, responsible sourcing, quality construction and product built the Eastern Mountain Way.

What about Bob’s? Where did you see the opportunity going forward?
 Bob’s Stores is seeing strong momentum, with continued healthy sales due to our unique mix of high-quality products from leading brands at more affordable prices combined with knowledgeable sales associates and understanding of our customers’ needs. Bob’s is there for you no matter what stage of life or need you’re in—first job, first date, first kids, and beyond. Bob’s has long been a thread of every community it’s in, and we’ll be leaning into that going forward with a new brand campaign launching in spring next year. Bob’s is there for whatever you need, whenever you need it.

What changes were made at Bob’s?
 Bob’s Stores continues to focus on elevating the shopping experience for our customers. In October, we kicked off a Remodel Sale in several Bob’s Store locations, but rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere! We are committed to investing in the shopping experience for our customers and will be embarking upon remodels of 50 percent of our current Bob’s locations. During the remodels, the stores will remain open, but we are selling off select merchandise to make way for the new Bob’s store experience. The remodels will be rolling out now through early 2024.

How are both banners performing, and what plans do you have for expansion?
Barton: Bob’s Stores and EMS are both in a period of strong momentum. Sales are healthy, we are investing in both businesses, elevating the store experience, and we are opening new stores, growing our retail footprint by 20 percent over the next year.

Additionally, we are bringing EMS stores into some of our new and remodeled Bob’s locations. Our goal is to not only modernize and elevate the shopping experience but to provide a wider array of products for everyone who steps inside our doors. In the coming months, we will open the first flagship Bob’s and EMS location in Norwalk, CT.

Can you highlight any other plans going forward?
 Our customers are among the most loyal in the business, and we’ve periodically rewarded them. But, in 2024, we’ll be taking it further by introducing our first, long-overdue public-facing rewards program for both Bob’s and EMS. Rest assured, it will be among the best in the business. Additionally, just as we are investing in the in-store experience, we are also focused on enhancing the online experience for our customers. The EMS website has already been upgraded, and Bob’s will be doing the same. In the future, we’ll be integrating useful content so it’s not just about shopping, it’s about being helpful—reviews and blog posts, advice, and how-to’s. All of that comes against a background of new product innovation that we’re excited to see hit shelves with EMS this winter in our ‘67 Heritage Line.

What’s next for GoDigital? Are you looking for any add-on acquisitions in the active lifestyle space?
 We are in a period of stabilization and growth for EMS and Bob’s, as well as GDMG as a whole. We’re looking to double down in commerce and content, and you won’t be surprised to see potential acquisitions in these spaces in the coming year from us. We’re always looking at synergies as well as new spaces that fit our corporate philosophy. We never stray from the principles that I founded the company on—playing “the infinite game” to build a better world around us through a compounding ecosystem that welcomes everyone.

Photos courtesy GoDigital Media Group