Last month Equip Outdoor Technologies, the parent company of Rab and Lowe Alpine, set up a Risk Management Action Plan to support retailers through this challenging economy. Can you tell us about that?
On March 20th we rolled out the initial stages of our Risk Management Action Plan to help ease the commercial pressures on our retail partners through the current and future seasons. There are many lenses through which a brand can view “retailer support” which makes this a challenging process. We wanted to take action quickly as we did not want our retail partners to feel stress from their Rab stock position and wanted them to see that we are all in this together through our actions and not just words. This included:
- Placing all S20 orders on hold with “call before ship” status
- No penalties or lost terms for any reduction or cancellation of S20 orders
- The offer to return up to 50% by value of the S20 received forward orders to be applied as a credit against F20 orders
Our view is that by working together we can help each other get through this difficult period. Our offers of support rely on close communication and trusted relationships. In short, if we can work together on this, we will build stronger partnerships in the future.
How was this plan received by your retail partners?
The reception has been positive, but the engagement will be mixed. Some retailers see this as a strong lifeline as this allows them to stock more inventory with reduced liability. Others took action early and canceled higher percentages of S20 forward orders so they do not see themselves taking advantage of the stock return. These retailers still appreciate the offer as it will be valuable in the worst-case scenario.
Some brands are reducing inventory and SKU options for F20 and beyond so they can carry inventory with less risk. Is this something you are considering for your brands as well? If so, talk about the advantages to the retailer.
We strongly feel that without serious action from ALL brands, excess inventory could be the biggest liability to both retailers and brands in the coming seasons. It is inevitable that we will see inflated levels of clearance inventory because of COVID, but if this can be managed with tweaks to the production timeline it can significantly reduce the potential impact on our industry in future seasons. Looking at F20 through F21 we accept that consumer buying behavior will be significantly different. To accommodate this, we believe that creating a longer shelf-life for Rab products is in the best interest of both retailers and consumers. We will accomplish this by both pushing out our production timelines as well as changing plans in regard to colors, etc. so carry-over products will continue to merchandise with future products. Retailers want to sell products at full price as this is what really pays the bills. The seasonality of specific products will always force retailers to closeout at the end of a season, but it is our goal to reduce the volume of products that retailers are having to sell at closeout through F21.
You have spent the past few years developing a strong relationship with Rab’s factories. Can you discuss how you approached future inventory management with them?
F20 presented a unique challenge because when the realities of COVID hit we were already in the middle of production for F20. Because of the strong relationships we have built with our factories, we do not believe it is appropriate to make them pay for the struggling economies in western countries. Instead of making rash decisions which would cause our partners significant strain, we looked at F20-F21 as a timeline in which we could spread out the impact to our supply chain partners. There will be an impact to our partner factories, but it will be a shared loss and one that is planned with them over a few seasons and not abrupt cancellations which cause severe loss for these factories that rely on the partnership of western businesses.
We are in this for the long game as COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while. Can you tell us about how Rab is forward-thinking with retail support for Fall 20/S21/F21 and beyond?
We think that short-term support is just pushing a problem down the road. We will be launching a retailer support plan for S21 sell-in which will clearly lay out our support plans through F21 so retailers know what to expect up front. There is no such thing as a “perfect” support plan for all retailers, but we want our retailers to feel like we are truly supporting them as partners, and our plan is built around maintaining sustainable partnerships. We do not think it is fair or realistic to ask retailers for growth, but instead want to build a plan that accommodates existing sales volumes and lays the groundwork for growth when the economy and consumer behavior have rebounded.
What is your outlook for Fall 2020? What are your contingency plans?
At Rab we are launching Khroma, our first ski collection in F20. While I would appreciate a more stable retail environment for the launch, we are feeling optimistic heading into the season. Our new offering is tight and has pieces which are not clearly replicated in the industry, so I believe there is room for a successful launch. Our contingency plan goes back to what we are doing with future production and colors. If F20 is significantly more difficult than planned we will not have to dump loads of product at the end of the season, but instead will be able to carry significant portions of the range into S21 Southern Hemisphere Winter and F21 with strategic new product and color additions.
Switching to your relationship with consumers, Rab launched #rabathome last month. How was this received? What are your goals with this social media campaign?
We are very happy with the engagement we have seen with #rabathome. Rab is typically a “serious” brand and our goal with #rabathome was to build a campaign that was fun and easy for anyone to engage with. Thankfully because the internet is an amazing place, the campaign quickly grew outside of our traditional customer base and became incredibly creative!
Any words of wisdom or encouragement for other SIA members?
We have been telling our retailers since mid-March that “we are all in this together”. I think this speaks to both the positive and negative outcomes. If we are able to band together and support each other we will share in the success together. If we have selfish motives and approach problems thinking “we have it worse than _____” then I am afraid that we will be forced to share in the loss together. If brands are expected to give everything up to support retailers, we run the risk of losing valuable brands and reps. If brands are not willing to give enough to truly support retailers and instead chase a future in d2c, then we run the risk of losing valuable retailers which are the lifeblood of our industry. On a more personal note, I have said for years that the grumpiest people I know are the people who work in the ski & outdoor industries and don’t get into the outdoors. We need to take risk more seriously than ever but please, for your personal sanity and the sanity of those around you, get fresh air however you can. Ride a bike, go for a run, put on some spandex and do aerobics. We need to remember why we all got into this and not get lost in the spreadsheets and zoom calls.
What does SIA mean to you now?
SIA is the community we will be looking to for shared wisdom as we attempt to navigate these uncharted waters. We feel like so many organizations have become mouth pieces for big brands and big retailers. We love that SIA seems to be carrying the voice of the people. To us, SIA is no longer a physical gathering, but is now something much greater with a greater potential to inform, educate and bring people together than ever before.