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The State Of Outdoor Retail with Wes Allen

Wes commanding the sun to rise in dramatic fashion.

Today on THE ROCK FIGHT (an outdoor podcast that aims for the head) Colin is joined by Wes Allen to talk about what is happening at outdoor retail.

Wes is a principal of Sunlight Sports in Cody, WY and has had a long career in the outdoor industry. In addition to his work at Sunlight, Wes has also spent time at both REI and Chaco.

Today Wes talks with Colin about the state and mission of outdoor retailers, how brands and products have changed over the past few decades, as well as what the industry is missing in 2024.

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Episode Transcript

Colin (00:00):

Welcome to the Rock Fight where we speak our truth, slay sacred cows, and sometimes agree to disagree. This is an outdoor podcast that aims for the head. I'm Colin True. And today we are going behind the scenes of the outdoor industry with Wes Allen, who is one of the more vocal members and leaders in our community. So we can get a little deeper into what's happening at retail with brands and with the industry in general. Wes is one of the principles at Sunlight Sports, an outdoor specialty dealer in Cody, Wyoming, but he also spent nearly a decade working at REI and was also the national sales manager for Chaco in the mid two thousands, right when the famed Sandal brand was acquired by Wolverine. Wes has also served as the president of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, a community of some of the best outdoor retailers in the country. He's become a leading voice in our industry and platforms such as LinkedIn and recently contributed a piece to the OR daily. So to go a little deeper in the business of the outdoors, there was really no one better to talk to and he's here today to get into what's happening at the register and with the brands that make up our industry. Welcome back to the Rock Fight, where today it's the state of outdoor retail with Wests Allen.

Chris DeMakes (01:04):

Welcome, fight, fight, fight.

Colin (01:09):

Alright, well Wests Allen is finally on the rock fight. It's been a long time coming, but welcome to the show, Wes.

Wes (01:14):

Hey, I'm really happy to be here Colin. This is great. Very fun.

Colin (01:18):

Well, for your first time I kind of want to hit some broader topics that we've covered here on the show. Kind of get the specialty retail perspective. It looks like your background's similar to mine that you came up through retail, but also spend time working on the brands side. We were talking about you were therefore the Wolverine acquisition of Chaco and then went back to played for the last decade. Decade or so. I can't speak, you've been back on the retail side of things. That's that accurate.

Wes (01:43):

Yeah, that's right. It's been 14 years next month since I came back onto the retail side.

Colin (01:50):

How's the retail side going?

Wes (01:55):

Well, there are positives. How's that Outdoor retail right now? It is a bit of a battlefield. It's really rough right now. I'll just be quite frank.

Colin (02:06):

Well, let's actually talk a little bit about kind of the role of the outdoor retailer. The longest time, I think the role of the outdoor retailer was to get people ready to go outside. That was where it all started. Dr. Rachel Gross, who recently put out a book, she's been on another podcast I did, and she described it as like, listen, adventure starts at the gear shop. That's kind of been the mentality we've had with the outdoor industry, at least in the United States. So guiding people into these sports, helping to arm them for what they will or could encounter, I mean, is that still basically the mission from your point of view?

Wes (02:38):

Yeah, I think overall that's the mission. I think everybody's got very similar motivations for doing this. If you're especially outdoor retailer, I dunno if you remember the old movie, gross Point blank Love that movie that John Cusack movie. I love it too. And he's talking about how everybody gets into being an assassin. They've all got their different things. Some people fight for freedom against Marxism or whatever it might be. After retailers are like that, they've all got their origin story. People sometimes are really into it because they want to get kids outside. That's what Sunlight Sports is about. There are people who are motivated by getting people to get into the outdoors so they're engaged in the conservation movement. Well, those two things are kind of the big pieces, but it is hard. It is about getting people geared up and outside. We're supposed to, we are supposed to be the launching point. We're supposed to be an inspirational springboard to get people to go out and hike and bike and kayak and ski and do all those things.

Colin (03:42):

So who's coming in the store these days? Is it basically the same? Do you see a difference in the consumers who show up versus 10 years ago?

Wes (03:50):

It is very similar. I think that as you see the industry market to different people, you see warbles in the signal a little bit. There's always this kind of core group of people and they might look different from one another and they've got different backgrounds. Different backgrounds. Excuse me, but they,

Colin (04:16):

It's easy to fumble your words out of pocket. Yeah.

Wes (04:18):

Okay, so let's try this again. I know you're going to edit it. So here we are,

Colin (04:22):

Not now.

Also Wes (04:23):

Oh God. Oh,

Wes (04:25):

I fell into the classic trap. Yeah, there's a continuity in the customer,

(04:37)But one of the big things that we've seen, and we saw it starting in 2020, is you saw that core customer, but all of a sudden that core customer is surrounded by a bunch of other people that just wanted to get outside because there was nothing else to do because they were locked down. And now as we see that in our rear view mirror and all the effects of Covid and the lockdowns, what you see are, we're getting back to that core consumer that was there before. I think that there's a lot of conversation. I think it's true. I think there's still a little bit of leftover traffic from just how big outdoor got, there are a few more people coming in, but it is back down to that core consumer.

Colin (05:24):

Yeah, I think that there was a report from the OIA that came out yesterday and a lot of reports I've seen from the OIA and other groups. It was a little, I had a tough time deciphering it. Maybe you had an easier time than me going through it and looking at it given what you do. But the one thing I did notice was the participation numbers and if you look, you saw coming to 2023 that was on the decline versus where it was in 2020. And I didn't take that as, oh no, people are declining. It's like it's probably more of a return to the way it used to be. Is that fair?

Wes (05:55):

Yeah, it's very fair and I think it is quite accurate. I have a lot of thoughts on that OIA thing and actually later today I'm going to be on one of the webinars they're going to do to talk more in depth about it. But yeah, I think it's okay. I think that there are going to be a lot of people in brands and in associations and retailers that are disappointed that we didn't keep those people, but I think that we were never going to,

Colin (06:26):

Hey, you can't do anything except go outside. What do you think's going to happen? Right,

Wes (06:31):

Exactly. They're going to go outside and some people are going to be like, oh crap, there's mud and bugs. I do not like this.

Colin (06:39):

Right. Oh wait. Oh hey, the movie theater's back open again. Sweet, sweet. This is great. Yeah,

Wes (06:46):

And that's fine. It's okay. Right.

Colin (06:49):

Well, and I think the other thing I was thinking about, because I was reading some of the coverage about IEX coming back then there was a thing in the daily yesterday about that, and I think this is where we can credit, not credit, but I don't want to give credit to Covid, but it's what happened during Covid. I kind of shining a light on why brick and mortar retail is still important as well. I remember, I mean I was working for Polar Tech when Ted Banning took IEX and said, we're going D two C. And at the time, and I know I'm sure this is going to get your hackles up, but at the time it seemed like a rational decision. I mean all the brands we were working with D two C, I mean everything. It's like if you're going to start a brand now, why would you go to a retailer?

(07:29)It's dying Sports Authority, closing, all these big Sears going out of business. Why would you go wholesale? Why wouldn't you just keep that margin for yourself? And it does feel like, I mean there's a little revisionist history going back on it. It's like what's happening out? How could you do that? It's like, well, because that's what was happening in 2017. At the same time there's silver linings in everything. I kind of wonder if that's sort of the coming out of covid and everyone's like, oh actually you know what? It's really nice to engage other people. It's nice to walk into a store and have that community and that environment. Is that kind of a silver lining you think we can take out of the Covid situation? Well,

Wes (08:08):

I think it is a silver lining. I think one of the things I would say about that whole narrative, and Ted and I had an energetic conversation about Ivax when they did that. I think the thing is that there was a very much VC money driven narrative about retailers shutting down. Why wouldn't you do it direct and all that kind of thing. Yeah,

(08:41)Well I got to tell you, that was quite a story that people were spinning, but at the small shops that didn't happen did not happen. It kept growing right through covid and everything else and like Sears and Sports Authority and a bunch of those people went down. But the value that VC money was trying to extract from the direct connections to customers, that value was always going to be a little bit fleeting. And I would say it's a little bit shallow. I think anybody who's going to do just a D two C model would need to adjust their expectations because you're really going to be profitable with super fans. You're going to be profitable with people who love that brand, who are going to go to your website all the time, who can't wait for you to release your next thing. Guess what? That's not 95% of people.

(09:36)You have to have at least an onboarding process for super fans if nothing else. And that's really what wholesale distribution in a small shop, in a chain, all those kinds of things. That is the healthy piece that the brand can take away is they can on-ramp people who love them. And that's my job as a specialty retailer. Not to get on too much of a soap box, but if I look for it, if I look at the ecosystem outdoor in the outdoor space, sunlight sports' job is to serve our local consumers and to introduce them to brands that they love and products that they like. And in a good partnership with a brand, what happens then is that the customer maybe discovers gets talked about or we talk about the brand to a consumer, we sell something and then they might buy something direct that's a healthy ecosystem because everybody's going to win. What happens though, and what happened around Covid and what has happened since is that there's such a desperation from brands to keep selling direct that they are damaging themselves. They have one lever to pull. The one lever is price and discounting your product is the exact thing you want to do if you want to turn people off from your brand.

Colin (11:08):

Well, I think reflecting back on the retail those days when it's sort of like, oh, it's the changing marketplace. Actually no, what it was is you had poor retail models and it was being exposed by this now additional bit that is direct to consumer. I remember when I was national sales manager for Go for a brief stint, and I remember going to some bike shops in 20 12, 20 13 in Portland, and I mean I'm sure you have these stories both in retail and when you were working for brands as well, where you hear what an owner or a buyer is saying and you kind of run it through your bullshit detector and see if it lines up. And it's like I remember somebody like, oh God, we're just struggling. These shops up the street are opening up and they're taking all of our business. And I remember sitting there being in my head thinking, yeah, so what are you going to do?

(11:58)Yeah, that sucks. It was probably way easier when that wasn't happening, but it is happening. So you're just going to roll over. What are you going to do? And I think that's a little bit of what kind of happened with some of those folks who were like, oh, well that retail, the chain's going out of business, it must be a problem with the retail. It's like, no, it was a problem with that retailer. And then now I wonder if the brands are kind of facing that element of it as well. Has retail come out on the other side? And then now we're starting to see the code epoxies who are like, well, we got to have wholesale now or the Allbirds, we're going to be the next big thing. And to your point realize, oh actually yeah, we kind of need these guys.

Wes (12:37):

Yeah, and you talk about Allbirds, their new CEO, Joe Vernac, that guy, he is actually super solid. He was the president of Mountain Hardware.

Colin (12:50):

Yes, he was.

Wes (12:51):

The changes he made actually put Mountain Hardware in a really good course right now. And I think the leadership that there is continuing it, but to your point, I think that brands are our, I think to their disappointment, they're still so reliant on retailers and when they make bad on retailers like Sports Authority, some of those other things have gone away. It's easy to paint all of retail with a broad brush. I don't think it's accurate.

Colin (13:27):

So last thing on retail, I was kind of thinking about it, so I'm going to get a chance to go to the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance show coming up in June and I was just kind of taking a look at who's going to be going and a lot of names that I remember from my tech rep days of the early Ts, right? Just still all kicking some that we're missing some new ones, but not a lot of new ones. I didn't think, maybe I'm wrong, but do you fear that there are not enough new retailers? Is this a little bit of the old guard when you look at the specialty retail scene in the outdoor industry? Are enough new faces entering the chat here?

Wes (14:01):

No. No, there's not enough new ones. And I think there have been some additions and there's some cool young stores that have popped up. I think about Road Rivers and trails over in Cincinnati or Three River Outdoors in Pittsburgh or Slim Pickens down in Texas. There are people that have entered the market recently that are doing some great stuff, but the outdoor industry just in general is not conducive to new shops or new brands sticking around for very long. And that's a huge problem. It is a real challenge and I think you can talk about it on both sides, but one of the things that's gone on with the specialty retailers, because when I go to the grassroots show, I see a lot of people that I used to sell to when I was at Chaco and they're the same people. The folks that have survived specialty retail, one of the conundrums is they tend to have a pretty conservative business model. They have to a conservative buy. They do all those things. The people who take big risks have not succeeded. And what's happened is the old guard has kept chugging along. You see people pop up, you see people go away. And I think that that is something that the whole piece, grassroots, individual outdoor retailers and the brands really need to take a look at and decide to solve if we want the industry to maintain health going forward.

Colin (15:37):

You and I, when we first started chatting over LinkedIn, it's like, and you got to mention that you had spent time at REI and I definitely have had some folks write in who think maybe I'm a little too harsh on chain outdoor retail versus kind of favoring the specialty retailers. And I mean some of that's just selfish. Specialty shops are more fun to hang out, let's just be honest. There's cool personalities and there's cool things going on and you're the taste makers, the ones who kind of really get things going and kind of the pulse of the outdoor community. But there is a healthy balance, there's a healthy ecosystem there of the roles that everybody's played. I've kind of been kicking around for a long time an episode about giving REI some credit because there's ideas and things that need to happen in the industry and the community that you need the scale of an REI if we put it all on your shoulders to say, Hey, sunlight, can you solve the DEI and the LGBTQ plus inequality problems in the outdoor industry? You're like, well, we can do it in Cody. Exactly, but you need go in any REI and what's on the walls, here's the local clubs, here's the come and hike with us and try to include the larger community. And then on the brand side, you obviously need to have the brands soon and we're going to get into the brands in a second, but I do think that that is something we all have to keep in mind is there's a real balance to how we have to keep this thing going.

Wes (16:56):

There is, and I think like you said, REI is a really important part of a healthy ecosystem. I worked for them for almost a decade and I loved being there. The REI that I worked at is not the REI that exists right now and it's a little inside baseball, but of course this is an inside baseball podcast really for the outdoor industry. So I will say that the challenge simply is that REI is not fulfilling their role for brands right now. And historically how brands have worked with R-E-I-R-E, I was very dependable. They're good planners. You might not agree with everything that they did and I didn't. I still don't. But you knew what you were going to get from them and they were the benevolent 800 pound gorilla. There was a point where they kept ARC TerraX afloat. They gave them money to keep them from going out of business. So they've done some very positive things in the industry last 24 months. They're one of the things that's causing the most problems. And that leadership team in Seattle, we need them to get their stuff together. We really do because if REI goes out or they can't maintain the position that they have right now for whatever reason, that's going to cause that's going to be cataclysmic for a lot of good people in the outdoor industry. They do not have it together right now. And I will just say that they need to get it together.

Colin (18:41):

If you'd proof of that, just search for REI. On Reddit, there are several active subreddits with some spicy opinions about current REI leadership. Let's say.

Wes (18:52):

I have read some of those subreddits and spicy. Yes, they're very spicy.

Colin (18:58):

How did you describe your conversation with Ted Manning Energetic, that's kind of, that's what these are as well.

Wes (19:04):

They are, man, and I don't want to betray any confidences, but man, you talk to brands right now and they would, if they weren't afraid of damaging their business or being fired, they would be out there with all the torches and pitchforks right now, right? I mean behind the scenes it's a thing. And we need REI to be good. We need REI to be healthy. One of the things to think about, because I'm reflecting back on your conversations about the bike shops in Portland, we're at the point where we've reached a tipping point where RE i's model, and I don't want this to be on REI podcast, but RE i's model back in the day was they were going into maybe communities where there wasn't outdoor shop representation. They were going to go into suburbs that weren't served by an independent outdoor or whatever. And that was a healthy piece of growth for the industry. I think that they really believed in that.

(20:09)Now we're looking at an REI store about to open in Durango, Colorado, and the conversation is, oh yeah, we have all these active members there. Well, there's also, it's a town of, I mean the area is less than 40,000 people. There's 10 outdoor shops, there's like 13 bike shops. There's all this them going in isn't going to do anything positive. All you're going to do is you're going to trade dollars in between the small shops and REI. It's a zero sum game right there in Durango. Those are the kind of decisions you would want 'em to rethink. There's plenty of room still to get outdoor industry product out to people who don't have easy access to it maybe. But doing those kinds of moves like the Durango store is not what we need from

Colin (20:58):

Them. Well, it's a good segue into more of a brand conversation too because I think that has been what's led to a lot of the problems we're having now and a lot of my harping about CR opening 26 new stores and all those things is there seems to be a continued approach by evidence by REI opening store in Durango and by what brands are making and things like that, that there's this limitless demand for all of these products. And if that's the case, then could we just rename ourselves the fashion industry or say we're part of the fashion industry because that's not the case. And look, part of the reason I wanted to do this podcast, it's not to sit here and just beat everybody up. It's because I care and I love this stuff, but also I don't like bullshit. It's kind of like if you're saying to me that, Hey man, we're going to make as much stuff as possible so we can make as much money as possible and that's our mission.

(21:45)I'll say, all right, good luck with that. Go do that, but you're telling me that we care about the environment and we care about outdoor recreation and inclusion and all these things. It's like, yeah, but okay, so then that's two very different things and to your exact point, what does opening an REI in Durango do other than just you're going to go try and steal share from who's already there? Like you said, you're trading dollars, you're not going to sell. It's not all of a sudden be like, oh, we have so many more opportunities to buy things in Durango. The same 10,000 people live there

Wes (22:16):

And if they really needed REI brand stuff, they have the internet

Colin (22:21):

Back 50 to C, here we go. Right,

Wes (22:23):

Exactly. That's a good

Colin (22:24):


Wes (22:27):

When you start talking about brands, it gets really complicated because I think that my take on this is these brands, these huge organizations, and I'm going to pick on one of 'em, vf, they're made up of a bunch of people who really want to do the right thing. You walk into the North Face, I have an affinity for the North Face. There was a podcast that you did in a recent episode where you're talking about the products and the way you thought about them previously, the things that actually it was the Cotopaxi episode.

Colin (23:06):

Oh, what they're known for, right, right. Yeah, right. The product innovations that they, they've changed things by making this thing. Yeah,

Wes (23:16):

There was a moment, the moment that I knew that I was going to be, I wanted to make the outdoor industry my career and I wanted to stay in there. I was working at Sunlight back in the nineties and I remember clearly I did this hike on the Brown Basin Trail, goes into a huge remote wilderness and the thing that I remember the most about that was my North Face Mountain light jacket. It was red and black and it's great piece. It was late October, early November, it was starting to snow and I did this trip and I got back down to the car and I was like, this thing is unbelievable. I just had a great day and this thing performed exactly like they said it would. From that moment on, I've had an affinity for the North Face. That brand is made up of a bunch of people who really are trying to do the right thing.

(24:08)Their behavior in the market as a brand over the last 18 months has not been ideal. I think that's the polite way to do it and they are embodying the, we're going to try to make as much money as we can by making as much stuff as we can, and then we're going to try to sell it anyway that we're able. So let's get back to limitless demand. It turns out there's not a limitless demand for North Face's product and they found that out again and again and again. They've had to discount and send 8 million emails and do all these things. The soak rate on product from the North Face is not as high as they had hoped, and everybody in the world is not going to buy North Face. There's a healthy, there's money to be made with the North Face. There's a healthy brand to be had there. It's not there right now because they're finding out that they can't sell all that stuff

Colin (25:04):

Because that's a really good point. It goes back to the boom coming out of the nineties and early two thousands and every new outdoor brand being like, we're going to get acquired and be the next big thing. And I remember that first was pointed out to me by somebody I worked with and we were at or probably 10 years ago at this point, and they're like, what do you think the open to buy is? How much of the open to buy looking at this show do you think is controlled by a publicly traded entity? Were like 80%. Yeah, probably Patagonia the only thing that was still independent at the time, right? Of the big apparel brands anyway, and I think that's just that we're still suffering from that. You're absolutely right that the people on the inside of most of these places feel like they're doing the right thing.

(25:46)They feel like they're creating products that matter, even if how then they're being marketed and distributed says otherwise. But when you now as working at a store, you're engaging with newer brands. I think about the conversation I had with Justin a couple of weeks ago about the COT brand that he went to go pick up something from a local maker, this guy who started his and Mind, it's a classic outdoor story. Somebody who's like, I want to create a new product that's going to benefit the person who wants to sleep in the back of their car and he's all fired up about it. When you are having those kinds of conversations, are those conversations still to be had? Are you having less of them? Are there more of them? Do you feel like the up and coming brand is still an opportunity in the outdoor space or is it just overrun by these kind of big publicly traded companies?

Wes (26:31):

I would love, and we work really hard to try to find those up and coming brands, but there's no room to breathe for them. They can scale to a certain, getting to the first million dollars of sales is probably absolutely doable for most of these brands, but that's not enough to keep going and it's almost impossible to get past that, right? Because the big publicly traded people, the established brands, they take a lot of the air out of the room. One of the things that's really admirable about Cotopaxi is it is one of the very few brands that has made an impact that started in the last 10 to 15 years.

Colin (27:15):


Wes (27:16):

It's almost, I would actually ask you, okay, there are small brands that are in the industry and I don't want to belittle the success that somebody who's doing a million or 2 million in sales a year is having, because that's a lot of work and congrats, keep going. Name besides Cut Epoxy a brand that you would consider to be significant in the outdoor industry that started in the last 15 years.

Colin (27:45):

Define significant.

Wes (27:49):

If somebody's going to talk about product or activity, they're a natural inclusion in a conversation. Not the local maker, not Justin going and buying that cot because I went and looked up that company after he said it, and the stuff seems super cool, but this is the thought experiment that I do. It's like what brands independently owned have popped up in the last than 15 years.

Colin (28:18):

Code Epoxy is easily the leading example because the things I talked about on that episode going from truly D two C to now in a thousand locations, and I'm sure that map includes all the reis and everywhere, but whatever, it doesn't matter. They're in a thousand brick and mortar stores per their store locator. So even if they're fudging it a little bit, it's still a pretty decent amount of lo you can find it in a lot of places. Everything else you write is pretty niche, I would think. Yeah, well that's kind of the thing too. It's still all a lot of the same players at the end of the day. And honestly, that's why I made the Code Epoxy episode. I said to someone recently who asked me about it, and it just came out this week, but we were talking about it a couple of days ago.

(28:56)I said, and no offense to these brands I'm going to mention, but I'm not about to make an episode about Cool or VU or any of these sort of other brands who've been around for a long time, but don't really, what do they really bring to the table other than, Hey, we make outdoor stuff too, and it's fine. I would wear a lot of the stuff that they make, but Coat Epoxy, to your point, they kind of broke through, but they feel like they're really doing themselves a disservice by the quality of fabrics that they're choosing for their products, which is not good. And I do not mind, and I'll say that to anybody from Coat Epoxy who comes on this podcast and they're burying their most interesting story, which I actually got some responses to about, well, they're probably not all made from scraps and the Del Deal line and all that kind of stuff. They're probably not. But at the same time as a marketing story, it's the most interesting thing you do, and it's like on the third page of your website. So stop trying to hang what these other big brands we're talking about who are all financed by these massive organizations and talk about what makes you different because that's where the success has always been in the outdoor industry. What makes you different? What problem are you solving?

(30:00)It was a really long way to answer your question. No,

Wes (30:02):

But that's exactly right. When I go back and I do this thought experiment, I come back once you get past the click past code epoxy, and I'm going to caveat this by saying that we're not a cycling store. I haven't really kept my eye there or paddling very much, but if Xi cycle through camping, outdoor climbing, ski that we do, the next one's back are like NEMO and Big Agnes.

Colin (30:30):

And Big Agnes has been around 20 plus years, five years. Okay. Right? Yeah. And Nemo too, remember the inflatable tent from NEMO blowing up or back in the day and they're getting a lot of press and they're doing a lot of great things, but they're not brand new.

Wes (30:45):

They're not newest. They're older than epoxy. Yeah, they're the newest thing we have. So I think we're circling back, and this is a problem because it's really hard to find. We're at a commoditization phase in outdoor where it's really hard to find the gap where you can provide a new answer to a question that we have. And it seems to be an intractable problem right now. I would love to see somebody come up with an answer to it. I don't know what it is.

Colin (31:14):

I think it's the same old, same old, and I know I've harped on this a lot, but it's just that was the real opinions that were formed by working for a textile manufacturer and sitting with all these brands and hearing them say, we want innovation and we're going to market an innovation. And I can tell you that most of the fabric breakthroughs anyway, most of them like breakthroughs, not like iterations or whatever happened before the year 2000 happened. 1998 was a huge year in fabric innovation, and I can talk about that all day long and bore you to tears, but since then it's been iterative and been little things, oh, this is cool, that's different, whatever. So then when I see that in 20 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, it's like we're still marketing and talking about technical innovations as a brand or product story. It's not true. And there are other things being left on the table like sustainability and circularity that could be are more interesting and frankly what we actually need. But that's hard.

Wes (32:14):

It's hard, but it provides really good air cover when people talk about it, right? When you're talking about the fact that the last major advance in Materializations for outerwear came 26 years ago, my stomach just curled up a little bit more into a ball. I'm like, yeah, it's true. And I think that makes epoxy conversation really interesting because I agree. They formed and they were like, this do good thing. And the people who work there really believe in that. It was a great brand statement. They had that Del thing where they were picking up scraps. The picture they painted was them running around behind Osprey and Gregory picking up scraps and sewing 'em back together. Right? Great story. But again, I think they would be the first to admit that they're trying to figure out where they go from here.

Colin (33:08):

Last thing I want to talk to you about is just the industry in general. I definitely get a little weary of the kind of pervasive trade show and industry gathering conversation that's constantly going on, and I feel like it's the loudest voice in the room that gets heard. Mostly guys our age who just miss going to Salt Lake City twice a year and having fun and do you want to say, we need to do this again? And I just sort of like, what are we really missing? I don't know. Frankly, you can make the case that it's better not to have the mandatory twice a year boondoggle in Salt Lake City. Do you think we're getting leadership on this from the OIA? Do you think we need more? Is this a moot point? Should we move past it?

Wes (33:50):


Colin (33:50):

We need it?

Wes (33:52):

Wow. I mean that's just a little question. Okay, so here's

Colin (33:57):

What I would say. We have 30 seconds. No,

Wes (33:59):


Colin (33:59):


Wes (34:01):

Okay. Here's what I would say. Yeah, I miss the old ORs and I think a bunch of guys are age are that way, and that's part of that conversation. The thing that I would push back a little bit on here is first of all, tying leadership to trade show. It has been that way forever. I A was completely funded by the funds that they got from Emerald as they did, or they were getting millions of dollars a year as part of the contract to do outdoor retailer. And when Outdoor Retailer changed and went down in size and has flipped around in different places, that funding stream has gone away from OIA and it's reduced their ability to convene the leadership in the industry. And I know that people who are there are still trying. Here's the thing that I would say is we need something, and I'm not sure that it has to be tied to a trade show. I don't know that I believe that, but I do believe that the outdoor industry is stuck. And there was a time, and who knows why it was going, who knows why it stopped. But there was a time where you could at least go to the industry breakfast and somebody would get up and say, Hey, we're thinking about this now. And everybody would eat their bagel and go, huh, that's a really good point. Maybe we should do something.

(35:30)It's not, I'm

Colin (35:31):

Only laughing because I have all these same memories, but go,

Wes (35:34):

Right. So it's not there now. Gordon Seabury is not getting up at breakfast and talking about sustainability or DEI or circularity or any of those kinds of things. And I think that the proof that we need to do something to pull leadership together and set a little bit of a clearer vision is simply this. The things that brands are still talking about are the things that they were talking about at the last major attendant or the last well attended or breakfast. We're still talking about sustainability but not really doing anything positive about it. We're just making too much crap. We're talking about DEI and it's all the same people still leading the brands, still the same people designing it, and we're designing for many of the same people.

(36:26)We don't have the next thing to work on, and we haven't been successful. And the last things we talked about, the need and the opportunity is, and maybe this is looking at it through rose colored glasses, but there was a moment, several moments, a decade where the outdoor industry would pull together and they would talk about inclusion and participation and make a difference. We're not doing that now. We need something to happen. I A was never really that, right? They would convene people, but then leadership would stand up and talk about it. I A was the OIA was the vehicle. Yeah, the

Colin (37:08):

Conduit. Yeah. Right. Yeah.

Wes (37:10):

And I think that is kind of that at sea feeling that many of us in the industry are feeling right now. And the cure that we need is to get everybody together and talk and not be stranded in their own brand bubbles.

Colin (37:25):

You just made the case. I've heard so many people say, we need to have a gathering. We need to do this. But again, no one's really been able to say, here's why though, because the basic needs are all being fulfilled in some way. The way you point that out is an excellent point. Now I say there's two things that aren't happening that used to happen, and it's one, there's no that kind of getting together and putting yourself on display and being accountable to whatever was said last time, right. Little peer pressure, a little public shaming and just talked about all the, yeah, and like I said, the bullshit in the industry is what kind of motivated me to do the show, and it's because people say one thing and do something else, and that was an opportunity to hold people accountable to that. I think I did an episode on this not that long ago.

(38:10)If you go back and read old issues of Snooze, Bob Woodward and that crew, man, they pulled no punches and they thought you were misleading or greenwashing. And by the way, it's so funny reading those and if you don't remember what I'm talking about, news called Specialty News. Well, for the Listener, it was a monthly magazine about the outdoor industry, and I've been writing about it weekly for our newsletter and it's on our website, rock, check 'em out. But they always had the snooze view and they would call out brands. They would call out people mean, and that's another reason again, why I started this podcast is we kind of got in the safe world where you're not allowed to say anything and you, oh, these brands we hold up on high and don't really apply any criticism. And I think that missing that and now taking away the public gathering, which probably took the place of that it got so big has left us with what we've got. And you're absolutely right and it's not going to change unless we bring some of it back. Somebody told me the other day that there are people now who've been in the industry long enough and have no recollection of the OIA rendezvous. Yes. And that to me is like, why don't we bring back the rendezvous? That could be you don't need the trade part. We don't need the business part. What we need is the social part and all the things you just described.

Wes (39:28):

I am right there with you and like that rendezvous style of event, we need to motivate people to go there and we need to motivate the right people to go there and then we need to have the discussions that matter. I think that is the lifeline for us to stop. We don't want to, advent industry is awesome

Colin (39:48):

And it is awesome. We're criticizing we love it.

Wes (39:52):

Yes. I try to think about this now. What great thing happened today because of the outdoor industry? Well, I'm going to tell you, living in a gate town for a national park here in about two months, about 4 million people are going to go through and they're going to have a great experience in the outdoors. That is what we are here for. To circle back to the beginning of it, here's a great example. Here's something that I think about participation. We had that as a thing in the industry for a long time and we got participation, like participation grew. Some of it was because of what brands did and some of it was because of a virus. That's fine. We got that participation. Right now, we're in a spot where engagement and people going out and hiking and biking and paddling is great. Now we're in a spot where we need to manage some of that.

(40:51)We need to advocate for infrastructure to deal with the impacts of people going out and doing it. And we have a little bit of a group, the outdoor recreation roundtable that seems to be doing some good work there, but from the outdoor industry, if you suck it back in a little bit to the or crowd, we don't have a really consistent plan. We don't have a standard and we don't have something to move forward on. That's a small example of something that we can make a positive impact with as an industry. And I would love to see it because I think we need to do it. And I think to even circle it back one more time, our industry is filled with people who are here because want to do this kind of thing. They are working for us and not for craft or not for Nestle or whatever because they love being outside and they think there's a bigger purpose. Well, with a bunch of motivated people at all these different bands, this is our opportunity to get them together and aim them one direction and instead of greenwashing and BSing our way through sustainability, make a difference.

Colin (41:57):

Alright, Wes, thanks very much for coming on. We can wrap it up there. Anything you want. Should we promote? Do we have an e-comm store for sunlight? Can they go there instead of RE This is

Wes (42:07):

How old school it is. No, we do not. But if you're in Cody, Wyoming, why don't you pick up some gear sunlight. You don't have to buy it at REI before you leave

Colin (42:15):

Home. I hear it's going to be the hub for all of backcountry dot com's clothing that they're selling to. You guys bought it. All right. No, we

Wes (42:22):

Have an entire concept shop. That is not true.

Colin (42:27):

That was a lie. Folks. Don't go to Cody looking for stuff. Did anyone buy back Country Backcountry's house label? I

Wes (42:34):

Not aware of anyone, but sure, I'm sure somebody did.

Colin (42:39):

I'm not going to cut this out. I emailed their PR folks, sent them the episode like I would love to talk to someone. I sent it to 'em twice. Zero response. So anyone from Backcountry that wants to come on and talk about this initiative, you are welcome to come on.

Wes (42:50):

There are people from Backcountry that should be here and I will save that podcast in my favorites when it happens. I can't wait.

Colin (42:59):

Alright, well we can't wait to have you back on again. Thanks so much for coming on this time.

Wes (43:02):

Thanks man.

Colin (43:04):

Alright, that's the show for today. Want to weigh in on this rock fight or anything else we talk about? Reach out to the show by sending an email to my rock Please make sure you're following the rock fight wherever you are listening and leave us a five star rating as well as a review. You can even write something snarky like, I listened to this podcast and all I got was a stone off the dome. In fact, we encourage snarky comments in the comments. The rock fight is a production of rock Fight LLC. I'm Colin True. Thanks for listening and here to take us out. How can he be satisfied when everything is overrated? It's Krista Makes With the rock Fight Fight song will see you next time. Rock fighters. Rock fight,

Chris DeMakes (43:42):

Rock fight. We go into the rat bike where we speak our truth, stay sacred cows and sometimes agree to disagree. We talk about human power, outdoor activities and big bikes about topics that we find interesting. Black by caution. Music, the latest movie reviews, ideas for the this is where we speak our truth. This is where we speak our truth. Bike. Bike. Welcome to the.


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