Outdoor industry execs: local support is critical

BOULDER – Boulder’s outdoor industry could use a little more cohesiveness and camaraderie, particularly as it relates to local brands landing their products in local stores.

That was one of the main talking points at BizWest Media’s CEO Roundtable on Tuesday, in a conversation that ranged from attracting more companies to Boulder to industry involvement on social media.

More than one of the participating outdoor industry executives at the roundtable, sponsored by EKS&H and Berg Hill Greenleaf and Ruscitti, said they’ve had trouble getting their gear on shelves at area retailers.

Seth Haber, owner of Trek Light Gear, a maker of hammocks, daypacks and other camping gear, said it’s surprising to him that there isn’t more of a push by local retailers to highlight Boulder or Colorado brands in their stores, even the ones they do carry, with more signage or small designated sections to appeal to consumers’ desire to support local companies. Haber said he’d pitched his products to a store in Bend, Ore., recently that liked his goods but ultimately turned him down because they were loyal to a similar local brand in Bend.

Jonathan Fox, president of water bottle maker Eco Vessel, said often he feels like there’s a divide between Boulder brands and retail stores’ buyers, who might be unwilling to take risks or try something new. But more than just being rejected, he said he’s had trouble from some local stores even getting calls back.

“I can understand rejection, that’s not a big deal if the products don’t fit,” said Fox, whose products sell in stores in more than a dozen countries. “If you get a shot, and you don’t sell, that’s cool. If you don’t get a shot … you’d appreciate a shot.”

Haber said there’s a need in Boulder’s outdoor community for an incubator or accelerator that could unify the local outdoors products scene. The Outdoor Industry Association is based in Boulder, but is a national organization that has to be careful about playing favorites in its hometown.

Nicole DeBoom, founder of women’s active apparel brand Skirt Sports, said that’s why Active Boulder formed about a year ago, to try and help bring Boulder County’s outdoor companies together through community, keeping Boulder beautiful through volunteering, and advocacy with local elected officials.

DeBoom is a board member of the fledgling organization.

“Maybe we’re not actively going out and approaching businesses in other cities but at least keep the people here engaged and happy,” DeBoom said.

Keeping local companies engaged is something some felt the city of Boulder could do a better job of in the outdoor sector. Xero Shoes CEO Steven Sashen said his rapidly growing company has been pitched by other cities that are trying to stake their own claims as outdoor meccas, like Boise, Idaho, which has a central distribution center set up that many companies there can use.

Sashen said Boulder and the state of Colorado do make an effort to attract and keep companies, but “compared to what we get pitched on a regular basis, it’s nothing.”

Roundtable participants included: 
Cliff Bosley, race director, Bolder Boulder; Andy Clurman, president and chief operating officer, Active Interest Media; Nicole DeBoom, founder and CEO, Skirt Sports; Jonathan Fox, president, Eco Vessel; Seth Haber, owner, Trek Light Gear; Steven Sashen, CEO, Xero Shoes.

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