Gary Kiedaisch was introduced to Colemans familiar green and red logo when he worked at his familys sporting goods store in Lexington, Massachusetts. Today, his name can be found on a Coleman business card. As President and CEO of The Coleman Company, Inc., Kiedaisch is aggressively re-energizing the Coleman brand and leading the development of the well-received Exponent line for outdoor specialty retailers.
Keidaisch grew up in an outdoor retail environment and built his successful professional career through sales and brand management. “My philosophy on business has always focused on the product. At the end of the day, the product has to deliver in an extraordinary way. If it doesnt, the product and the brand wont be relevant to the consumer,” he said.
Marketing one of the most recognizable outdoor brands in the country requires managing expectations and balancing the territorialism of competing retail channels. “The core of our culture here is to differentiate for different channels. In the past 10 years there has been a paradigm shift in the way consumers buy products. With the strength mass merchants have to penetrate certain consumer segments, it is important for brands to recognize there are different consumers and different channels that they buy their products through. You need to make sure these retailers are able to sell your products to their consumer segment in a way that they are not competing strictly on price. The product has to be differentiated to meet the needs of those different groups,” he explained.
Kiedaisch is working hard to position Colemans Exponent brand in the outdoor specialty retail segment. “Exponent is a different demographic and different consumer segment. Its designed to appeal to a more adventurous customer who will take these products to a more remote and challenging environment. Their demands are reflected in the design strengths and reflected in how well it performs for them. A lot of work has gone into the Exponent design,” he said.
Reviews of Exponent sleeping bags, stoves and tents published in outdoor magazines and websites are very positive and specialty retailers have noticed. “Were encouraged with sales of Exponent products across the board and with the positive reviews of the new Fyrestorm Ti Stove following the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show, were expecting that the line will gather strength in the specialty channel and continue to do well,” he said.
Most campers, whether they embark on month long wilderness expedition or spend a quick weekend at a state park, are aware of Colemans gear. Identifying the niches and creating appropriate product offerings is needed to keep both sets of customers loyal.
“When we introduced the Exponent line, we identified the remote camper as someone between the laid-back campground camper and the extreme outdoor sports fanatic. Now, were broadening that definition to include the extreme participants-the top-of-the-mountain types. We think we can appeal to them as well with key products, such as the Fyrestorm Stove,” he said.
Coleman spends more than $500,000 annually on market research and trend analysis. Statistical data is backed up with real world experience. “In the past year, we have virtually lived on the road. Ive thrown our product, brand, marketing, design, and engineering personnel around the world out of their offices and told them to talk to our consumers and experience the product,” he said.
Outdoor enthusiasts can be brutally hard on products that dont live up to their advertising hype. Exponent products have received kudos for functional design and technical details worthy of the most critical backpacker.
The opinions of hard-core users also matter to Kiedaisch. Mike Haugen, mountaineer, climber, and professional was hired to serve as the first Exponent Ambassador. Kiedaisch described the purpose of the program, “The philosophy behind the Ambassador Program is that these highly recognizable outdoorsmen and women will be the best evidence that Exponent products live up to their billing. We believe they will become an important voice to the specialty retailer market, carrying credibility for the brand and the products.”
Kiedaschs commitment to addressing the needs of outdoor specialty comes with a long list of initiatives. In 2006, marketing support for the Exponent brand will include a print advertising campaign, retailer training, and participation in grassroots camping events.
The Exponent team has created interchangeable, lightweight racks specifically for specialty retailers. “This is making it easier for smaller, independent shops with limited space to carry the Exponent brand, where they may have been reluctant in the past. Its still early, but weve already picked up a half dozen new specialty store accounts, due in part to these new racks,” he said.
As one of the largest outdoor brands, Coleman benefits from economies of scale unavailable to smaller companies. “Its one of Colemans core strengths. We can design it, engineer it, and we can source it more efficiently than anybody else in our category because of our scale and size,” he said.
One example clearly documents the benefit of scale. Working with Jarden Corporation, Colemans parent company, Kiedaisch saved $1 million in ocean freight costs over the previous year. “That means we are not paying premiums to move products and we can put the savings back into the design, features, and quality of the products.”
Competition in a product category like backpacking stoves is fierce. Every Outdoor Retailer Show announces the evolution of an existing product or the introduction of a new approach. Kiedaisch has committed resources to promote innovation. Design teams are located in Kansas, Texas, France, Italy, and China. “We have the largest design and research and development team in the outdoor world. We look at every single product from the ground up,” he said.
Competitive advantages take on even more importance when the consumer market isnt growing as fast as it once was. Few companies have the financial resources to create advertising and public relations efforts to attract new users. Without that investment, fighting for a smaller piece of the pie gets harder and harder.
Kiedaisch offered his opinion on building interest, “The reality is Coleman as the largest outdoor company in the world has not been actively driving participation, weve been more of a manufacturing company for the last 10 years. Weve rested on our laurels and didnt pay attention to specialty for several years.”
Bringing new people to the outdoors isnt as simple as placing public service ads showing happy campers. “We feel that it is our social responsibility to drive the category. We need to do that through developing product that entices people to want to go outdoors and use it. We have to develop products that are cool and captivate the interests of young users whose attention is distracted by a myriad of well-financed and well-designed products like electronics,” he said.
Once again, the strategy presented by Kiedaisch has clear tactical examples. Kiedaisch added, “Camping isnt something you buy in a box on a shelf. We have a very aggressive in-store merchandising initiative, investing a substantial amount of our dollars with specialty retailers to do merchandising displays.”
Creating an atmosphere of innovation, marketing products that connect with customers, and differentiating Coleman across channels keeps Kiedaisch on the road and in the office from dawn to dark. Finding time for his own outdoor adventures is one challenge hes trying to address. “The hardest thing is to find time to get out. My profession is my avocation. I enjoy it,” he said.
At the 2006 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show, Exponent gear caught the attention of shop owners, retail buyers, and magazine editors. As people criss-crossed the booth from display to display, Kiedaisch served as the brands biggest advocate.
“In our heart of hearts, we believe the consumer will accept the Coleman brand at any price point and any level as long as the product meets and exceeds their expectations. Thats the criteria to which we design,” he said.