By Eric Smith
It’s a time of renewal at Mammut North America, and not only because spring is here.
After leadership turmoil at the company last year, Mammut begins this new season bolstered by two strategic moves that should help the brand regain its footing and again focus on what’s important—growing market share in the U.S. and Canada.
Mammut NA, a division of Swiss-based Mammut Sports Group AG, in recent weeks named Kris Kuster as its new permanent managing director and also opened a new regional sales and marketing office in Denver, CO.
Kuster, in his second stint with Mammut, had held the managing director role on an interim basis since October, when the company parted ways with Joe Prebich. And Prebich had only been appointed to the position a few months earlier following the March 2018 retirement of longtime North America CEO Bill Supple.
Coinciding with this most recent executive appointment, Mammut also opened a sales and marketing office in the RiNo District near downtown Denver, CO, to be closer to key accounts. The 600-square-foot office, in the same building as Boa Technology Inc., is opening around the same time that other outdoor companies, namely VF Corp., are expanding in the area or relocating here.
These strategic decisions are sure to steady the brand after a shaky few months that took the spotlight off Mammut’s product innovation and efforts to expand in North America.
Kuster spoke with SGB during the recent Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver, and then he and Adrian Margelist—the company’s chief creative officer who was in town this week from Mammut’s Switzerland headquarters—on Tuesday sat down with SGB Media in the brand’s new Colorado home.
There, they outlined the rather ambitious sales goals of doubling the North American team’s revenues, something both of them argued can happen only if Mammut elevates its brand message—in both volume and reach—to end consumers and channel partners alike.
“We’ve been too quiet, I believe,” Kuster said. “In the U.S., if you’re quiet, you’re going under. You’ve got to have a voice.”
That voice centers on product. Mammut was formed in 1862 in Switzerland when it created the climbing rope, and its DNA is rooted firmly in the Swiss Alps. The outdoor apparel, hardgoods, and footwear brand is, and always has been, laser-focused on first bringing innovative product to market.
“The last two years we heavily invested in product,” Margelist said. “Marketing and making some noise is one thing, but if you don’t have the solid base to cater to the end consumer, then it’s only empty air.”
The company committed to product in a big way by almost completely renewing its Summer 2019 and Winter 2019/20 collections, Margelist said. “We have over-invested in the product,” he said. “The brand had become diluted over the last four years, starting from 2014 onwards. Now we’re really focused again on our strengths and the success we had for many, many decades on a global scale.”
One area of heightened investment has been climbing, especially with it becoming an Olympic sport. At the same time the brand is investing in product design and innovation, however, it is reducing product count. Mammut has cut its collection by more than 40 percent—from about 500 styles per season to about 300 styles, Margelist said—all in the hope of selling more and better products.
“This next phase is what we call repositioning, which is bringing this message and all these award-winning products to the end consumer,” he said. “That’s our job these next two years.”
While Mammut doesn’t officially disclose revenue figures, Margelist and Kuster said the company in 2018 grew 11 percent globally and in the low single digits in the U.S. The goal now is for North America to match or perhaps exceed the worldwide growth figure and move from the third most profitable region—behind Central Europe (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) and Japan, respectively—to second within the next five years.
So far, so good for this region with the first quarter of 2019 almost in the books.
“We’re actually over-performing the last two months,” Kuster said. “We’re growing about 15 to 20 percent right now, but we’ve got to keep that up, of course.”
Keeping that up means, as it does for most European brands, balancing heritage with innovation while also translating the brand message to the North American market. One way Mammut hopes to achieve that is by raising its voice on sustainability efforts, something that resonates with most consumers and especially millennials.
“With regard to sustainability, we’ve done probably almost as much as or more than Patagonia over the last 10 years, but we never talk about it,” Kuster said. “As Europeans, we think people will see what we do. No, we’ve got to do well and also talk about it. You’ve got to communicate that message. You’ve got to be absolutely authentic. And your brand integrity must be impeccable.”
Mammut also understands it needs to raise the brand’s voice with its digital community and within its channel partnerships. For Kuster, whose job includes overseeing the signing of new sales accounts and also increasing business with existing ones, it comes down to one thing: relationships.
“Our business is people and we need to be good networkers again,” Kuster said. “We need to listen to our customers—both the end consumers and our retailers. We grew in Europe, Asia and the U.S. thanks to very strong support from our retailers. They grew our brand. This loyalty we will always honor and respect, so we want to support the retailers because some of them have literally bought Mammut for 30 years.”
As Mammut contemplated how it could further grow the brand here, the idea of setting up shop in Denver made more and more sense. The company’s new sales and marketing office opened last month with four employees: Kuster, Josh Manson (key accounts manager), Mike Filander (marketing manager) and Stephen Barnes (category manager).
Kuster’s plan is to double the personnel as the company doubles revenue, but the office could grow exponentially if any employees from Mammut NA’s headquarters in Burlington, VT, decide to relocate here, something Kuster said is an option for the Vermonters. Likewise, Colorado employees can move east and work in Burlington.
Why Denver? For a host of reasons, including the presence of the Outdoor Retailer shows and the desire to be closer to key accounts.
“A friend of mine recently asked me, ‘Why is everybody in this industry moving to Denver?’” Kuster said. “First of all, 70 percent to 80 percent of our sales are in the West. The East Coast is 20 percent of sales, and I believe that division is the same for most brands. The logical move is to be where the market is. That’s why we said we want to have Denver as our West Coast hub.”
Additionally, the talent pool was attractive to Mammut. With so many outdoor brands here or moving here, having access to the industry’s best and brightest was another plus when choosing Denver.
“For us, talent is the most important thing we need to get that brand to the next level,” Kuster said. “We want to have individuals come together and build the brand, lift it up and bring it forward.”
The Denver office won’t replace the Vermont headquarters, where the company’s main distribution center is located, but Kuster said Mammut is considering a warehouse out West for logistical reasons.
It’s all part of Kuster’s bigger plan for Mammut to grow across North America, and he and Margelist both said they are starting to see the momentum that Mammut is gathering, the green shoots now arriving with the onset of spring.
Kuster likened the company’s presence in the U.S. and Canada to Mammut’s own mascot—a mammoth that might seem old and lumbering but can really move once it gathers steam. The goal now is to make sure that mammoth picks up the pace, charges ahead and avoids any obstacles.
“We kind of fell asleep a little bit,” Kuster said. “The mammoth is kind of slow to get moving, but once it’s in motion it has power. We coasted for a long time, but we’re getting back up to speed again.”
Photo courtesy SGB Media
SGB Executive, Senior Business Editor