Moosejaw is celebrating its 30th anniversary as an irreverent outdoor specialty retailer and its fifth year reimagaining the outdoor opportunity under the ownership of Walmart. Eoin Comerford, Moosejaw’s CEO, discusses with SGB Executive ‘Moosejaw Madness’ and other keys to the retailer’s success, the Walmart acquisition and launch of the Moosejaw More Collection and how inflationary pressures have impacted the business.
Comerford started working at Moosejaw, based in Madison Heights, MI, outside of Detroit, MI, in 2008 as SVP of marketing and was named CEO in 2012.
When did “Moosejaw Madness” start, what’s unique about it and how has it evolved? The ‘Madness’ is the personification of our founder, Robert Wolfe, and his sense of humor. Over the years, as Robert moved away from day-to-day operations, the company integrated ‘love the madness’ as a core value and sought to hire employees who align with our ‘don’t take yourself so seriously’ mantra. Our marketing vibe is much the same as it has always been, but more outdoor companies are moving towards outdoor fun and away from the “misery marketing” that typified the space 10-to-20 years ago.
What other factors have helped the company stand out to support its longevity? The employees of Moosejaw are a big part of our success. When you get to 12 years with Moosejaw, we hang an oil-on-canvas portrait of you in the hallway outside our conference room. We have so many pictures that we are running out of wall space. That longevity builds consistency in how we go to market and make customers love us—another core value that helps drive our industry-leading net promoter score of over 85 percent year in and year out.
A milestone came in 2017 when Walmart acquired the company. How has the acquisition helped or changed the business? What hasn’t changed? Walmart’s acquisition gave the company the financial backing to invest in new stores, new technologies, and our employees. Our average hourly wage has increased by over 50 percent since Walmart acquired us. What hasn’t changed is our marketing voice, our culture or the majority of our management team.
When Walmart first introduced the “Premium Outdoor Store” curated by Moosejaw on Walmart.com, it sparked controversy. What lessons came from the launch? We’ve moved beyond that and are focused on developing outdoor products that combine value, performance and sustainability.
The Moosejaw More Collection recently launched at 150 Walmart stores and Walmart.com, including all 12 Moosejaw stores and on Moosejaw.com. What inspired the collection? Over the last four to five years, we realized that affordability is one of the hurdles to more consumers getting outdoors, so we set out to create affordable, sustainably-sourced performance outerwear. We are proud of the outerwear we have developed, and our customer reviews point to the quality, warmth, fit, and performance for the price.
How have consumers received the collection? The new outerwear line has been well received, with customer reviews averaging 4.9/5.0 on Moosejaw.com and sales in Walmart stores ahead of plan.
What’s unique about the company’s Gear Rental and Gear Wizard rental programs? Both Gear Rental and Gear Wizards were launched as part of our push to get more consumers outdoors. Gear rental lowers the barriers to first-time backpackers or campers accessing quality gear shipped to any location in the U.S. Gear Wizards leverage the outdoor knowledge and passion of our store sales associates to help online shoppers before and after a purchase. Their knowledge is especially useful to shoppers who are newer to the outdoors and unsure of what products they need. Every gear rental also includes a Gear Wizard consultation to ensure the renter has a wonderful trip.
How did the pandemic impact Moosejaw’s business? One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it got people outside walking, hiking, biking, kayaking, and more. The challenge, as a retailer, was that we didn’t have enough inventory to support demand, and it disrupted the supply chain to replenish what we sold. It has been a whipsaw with inventory and supply chains recovering just as demand wanes or returns to pre-pandemic levels. Overall, it required that we be more flexible and creative in buying.
There is talk about inflationary pressures, promotions and elevated inventories. What are Moosejaw’s current business conditions, and what steps might the company take to ride out uncertain market conditions? Macroeconomic pressures combined with unseasonably warm weather and bloated inventories create a highly promotional environment. We’ve been through these pressures in the past, but what’s different this year is that many brands’ own DTC businesses are driving the promotional level. As a retailer, we are left to match these discounts or maintain margins and lose sales.
A unique aspect of Moosejaw is that it’s rooted in Michigan. What makes the state a great outdoor destination and community? Michigan is an outdoor wonderland, almost surrounded by the Great Lakes. We get to experience all four seasons, sometimes within the same day. Our extensive state park system includes some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces, including access to quiet sandy beaches and incredible natural forests. The great thing about the Michigan outdoor community is that it’s made up of Michiganders, some of the most welcoming, genuine people.
Photo courtesy Moosejaw