By Eugene Buchanan
Earlier this summer, California-based watch and accessory brand Nixon promoted Nancy Dynan to president replacing outgoing CEO Scott Kerslake. Dynan came to Nixon from Prana in 2018 as vice-president of marketing and has since helped script Nixon’s future strategic plan and global marketing landscape.
With 25 years of experience with direct-to-consumer brands under her watchband — including such brands as Boden and L.L. Bean — SGB Executive caught up with her in Nixon’s Encinitas, CA, headquarters to talk all things timepieces.
How has Nixon been forced to adapt due to COVID-19? The majority of our team will be working from home for the balance of the year… and we like it! We’re more productive and coming to decisions a lot faster. And, who doesn’t like working in shorts and bare feet? Our team is still very close-knit, and we don’t want the sense of community we’ve built to ever go away. We’ve drastically downsized our office footprint, but also set up some spaces that allow small groups to meet with safe social distancing when they want to connect offline, such as to look at product or onboard new employees.
Any particular hardships you’ve faced from it? Like everyone, we initially saw some decline in our wholesale business as a result of brick & mortar retail closing. It was like a flip of a light switch, which required us to streamline our operations and prioritize what would be essential to our survival. Unfortunately, we also had to let some of our staff go, and place many on furlough, which is always hard at any close-knit company.
If anything, COVID has taught us a lot about adaptability. We had to pause the development of some new products that were set to launch in fall 2020. Fortunately, we had just completed all of our major content creation needs shot for the fall season just days before the global lockdowns, so our marketing creative for this year is in a solid spot. I couldn’t be happier with the way our team juggled our marketing calendar so that we can still tell new stories throughout the holiday season.
The pandemic is new territory to everyone, so we’ve been careful to stay fluid with how we operate as a team. We’re monitoring and in constant discussion with our employees to make their work from home experience as comfortable and efficient as possible.
Any surprises that have come out of it? We’re working much more effectively on a global scale. Communication with our regional offices in Japan, France, Hong Kong, and Australia has improved dramatically – we’re closer than ever. Now that we’re all remote, connecting via online video is second nature. It’s super easy just to bring someone from our regional office into the conversation without feeling like such a production.
What challenges do you see ahead for your category? How people shop is changing rapidly as consumers have been forced to migrate their daily lives deeper online because of the pandemic. For brands, the challenges we’ve been dealing with for the last few years have increased exponentially because of the pandemic. It’s no longer good enough to have just a transactional website. You need storytelling, digital advertising expertise, strong social media marketing, and a presence beyond owned media. The customer has also grown to expect better and faster service with more transparent communication from every brand they engage with.
It’s a great time to be in the outdoor industry or sporting goods business, but only you if you have strong marketing, distribution and production capabilities already in place. The pandemic has led to many consumers being more active outside. Outdoor-oriented pursuits are somewhere Nixon has always embraced, and these activities lend themselves nicely to our bag and watch collections. Retailers online and off are reporting shortages of skateboards, bikes, and surfboards, and we have product lines that dovetail with those.
What are some ways retailers can better promote themselves right now? We all have to start thinking about the post-COVID world. The things we’ve liked about this time will stay – grocery delivery, work from home, ZOOM calls with family, outdoor exercise. And what we return to could be fundamentally different – travel, school, gyms. So, what will we bring to the market in a year?
In the meantime, COVID daily life has driven retailers to step-up their social media presence in a positive way. Brands like Nixon are seeing how they can effectively utilize their staff and customers to create content that builds a local and personal connection at a time when we can’t interact in person the way we used to.
What else is changing in today’s retail experience for consumers? First, it’s a mistake to think that physical retail is dead. We’ve seen first-hand that people will support, and visit in a safe manner, stores for the right reason. People may become aware of a brand or product online, and the shopping experience may start digitally, but it doesn’t always end there.
There is a digital halo effect that we often forget about. Studies have shown that roughly one-third of what’s spent online by brands goes to brand’s partners and dealers. With that in mind, we’re very focused on improving our customers’ digital experience. We’ve added new shopping features that allow them to try-on pieces via augmented reality and boosted our advertising to keep us top of mind.
We’re also closely watching consumer trends in our planning for 2021. As consumers’ expectations of communication, service, timing, and transparency are at heightened levels, delivering on those expectations will be a constant priority. You’ll also see us continue to introduce more products made from ocean plastics, in line with the values of our global customers.
On that note, tell us about your new line with Repreve, using ocean-bound plastics? Does that reflect a new direction for the company? Our new Repreve Our Ocean collection is just the first step in our commitment to being a more environmentally friendly brand, and something we’ve been working towards for some time. It’s not easy to convert our line to these new materials, but given our heritage in surfing and all things ocean, it’s totally worth every second.
We’ve just launched all our bags in Repreve Our Ocean fabric made from recycled ocean plastic. In November, we’ll launch our first watch in that same category, followed by more in Spring 2021. Our focus on environmentally friendly materials doesn’t just stop with the product. We’re revising and revamping our packaging as well because the last thing you want is to receive a product made thoughtfully with the environment in mind, but then disregard the rest of the equation.
What’s been the best-received product in the new line? The Bandit Bag has been a best-seller by far. We worked with Olympic hopeful and professional skateboarder Zion Wright on this new bag silhouette that is exceptionally versatile. It works for guys like Zion, who wanted some extra carry space as they skate to different spots, but also for people going to the beach, or walking around town, and need something safe and secure to store items, but also be able to take it off. When travel picks up, I’d expect this one to take off even more.
You were at Prana beforehand; any similarities from the apparel market to watches/accessories? The Prana and the Nixon customers both value details and individual expression. Regardless of the brand, you have to really know your market to make sure you are designing for the right customer. My goal when I first joined Nixon was to strengthen our understanding and connection with our current and future supporters. That mentality continues to drive my decision-making as its president. You have to be careful not to chase after another brand and lose your own identity in the process.
I’ve found watches to be quite different than apparel in terms of purchase consideration. We are used to buying clothing frequently and tend to have a lot of it in our closets, buying more when they’re already full. But we typically buy only a few watches and purchase a new one less than once a year. This requires us to focus on building customer loyalty through service, expanded product categories, and fresh, new marketing stories. It’s another reason why we’ve continued to build Nixon into a broader accessory brand. The wrist is where Nixon got its start, but our reach, through our innovations in bags or future introductions goes beyond that.
Any other new products/technologies on the horizon? In the next year, you’ll see us start bringing watches to market that are sustainably powered by alternatives to one-time-use batteries. Battery replacement is one of the top things consumers call our service department about, so we think the customer will be excited to have new options.
Any surprise standouts in the line this season? Tide watches, and digital watches in general, have taken off. We’ve learned that as people continue to get outdoors and active, they often don’t want or need a smartwatch since they already have their phones with them. Even non-surf watches like the Ripley, with its altimeter and dual Chrono, have taken off more than anticipated. Demand on our front carry bags and backpacks has never been higher, and we attribute that to people becoming more active outside as they look for safe things to do close to home.
What Nixon watch do you wear? The Staple, a gender-fluid digital watch that’s brand new for us and has proven to be rookie of the year for Nixon in that category. It’s one of the thinnest watches in our line and has a customizable dual display so I can keep different things top of mind with a quick glance. It also has a digital coin-flip feature, so when I just don’t feel like making another decision about something relatively trivial, I can hit one of the side pushers and be told what to do.
Photo courtesy Nixon