As Outdoor Industry Association enters 2015 poised to pivot on several fronts, including leadership, research and how its pursues its public policy agenda.
First, its board of directors will select their first new executive director in 15 years after parting ways last year with Frank Hugelmeyer. Secondly, it will have to decided whether to keep the Outdoor Retailer shows that generate more than half its income in Salt Lake City beyond 2016. Third, it will launch ConsumerVue, an online platform that aims to help its members identify and target emerging consumer segments.
To get a sense of OIA's priorities for the year, The B.O.S.S. Report posed a few questions to Steve Barker, who was tapped as the trade associations interim executive director in late October. Barker is best known for founding the Eagle Creek adventure travel brand with his wife Nona and selling it to VF Corp. in 2008. Since leaving VF Corp. in 2010, he has split his time between outdoor adventures and working on various conservation initiatives in his native California. Below are excerpts from his written responses to two questions.
The B.O.S.S. Report: Based on your discussions with the OIA board of directors, what are the industry’s top two or three opportunities and challenges going into 2015?
SB: As we head into 2015, the OIA staff and board of directors are focused on bringing the industry together to help businesses grow and get consumers outside, while dealing with a broad spectrum of change.
From changing demographics to the rise of urbanization and shifting shopping behaviors, we see understanding the consumer evolution as a big opportunity for the industry. In 2014, OIA conducted an in-depth segmentation study to better understand outdoor consumers, and to help members identify customers with the highest ROI potential. At OR Winter Market we are previewing ConsumerVue. Built on findings from the research, ConsumerVue is an interactive tool that brings the unique segments of outdoor consumers to life, helps outdoor companies identify which are most relevant, and provides guidelines for applying these insights to business strategies.
We can all agree that getting consumers, younger and older, outdoors is vital to the health of our industry. The shifting tides in outdoor recreation from more remote backcountry public lands to “close-in” opportunities near population centers are indisputable.
Specialty retail serves as a heartbeat of our industry. With evolving consumer-buying behaviors, retailers have been affected greatly. In 2015, OIA will be working with retailers to understand business issues and develop a collaborative plan to support their needs.
It’s true, we have challenges ahead of us, but the outdoor industry is full of tough, resilient people. As interim executive director at OIA, I have the opportunity to bring my 40 years of industry experience both as a specialty retailer and manufacturer. I look forward to conquering the obstacles we face together.
The B.O.S.S. Report: How is OIA tweaking its public policy agenda/strategy to reflect the new political dynamic on Capitol Hill?
SB: The OIA policy agenda will continue to focus on funding and access for close to home outdoor recreation. With recognition of the urban movement, OIA will advocate for recreation that is more available to all, while continuing to support backcountry access and participation.
The political dynamics in Washington, D.C. will clearly be different with a larger Republican majority in the House and a new, 54-seat majority for Republicans in the Senate, but we believe that most of the recreation issues we work on attract bipartisan support. Therefore, we anticipate building on many of the successes the industry achieved in 2014 and look forward to educating new members of Congress about the importance of the outdoor recreation economy in their states and nationally.
We see real opportunities to work at the state and local levels of government. In last November’s election, voters approved more than $13 billion in conservation and recreation funding in communities across the country. The politics at the state and local level are often less contentious than in Washington and we believe there is an army of advocates who are ready to support public lands, conservation, and outdoor recreation in their state and local community.
In December 2014, OIA convened a group of recreation and conservation advocacy experts in Boulder, CO to discuss partnership opportunities in engaging on local recreation advocacy. OIA will continue this work with groups like the Outdoor Alliance, Conservation Alliance, and others to present a united front on issues that support the outdoor recreation economy.
There are also significant opportunities to further our international trade and business agenda in the new Congress. Several Republican senators, including Senator Orrin Hatch, the incoming Chairman of the trade-focused Senate Finance Committee, as well as President Obama have said trade will be an area of priority and consensus. We could see some wins for the industry early in 2015.