Online retailer Backcountry had one of the busiest booths at Outdoor Retailer Winter in Salt Lake City, Utah, last week.
Backcountry was there to launch its namesake private label line at wholesale and there was a lot of buzz around the move.
Colby Black, chief product officer at Backcountry, told The Daily at the show that the company decided to launch the line at OR because of the show’s legacy in the outdoor industry as well as its proximity to Backcountry’s headquarters in Park City, Utah.
“Outdoor Retailer is a very tried and true and storied outdoor trade show,” Black added. “People have known this show for a very long time.”
The brand was getting a lot of interest from retailers, he said. Some specialty and larger retailers had verbally committed to carrying Backcountry products, Black added.
When Backcountry set out to make this brand, Black said it was important they didn’t repeat the tendency in the outdoor industry to make copies of other apparel and “just swap out your logo on the left chest.”
As for Backcountry’s aesthetic, Black said it’s a combination of modern styles that are the result of paying attention to color and pattern trends “across the entire design world and applying it to garments that are very functional in the outdoors.”
The wholesale component is a way to showcase the Backcountry brand and its goat logo, according to Black. “We saw whitespace in the marketplace in products that we didn’t think were meeting our athletes’ and gearheads’ needs,” he said. “We created a line and over time had outside interest, people reaching out to us saying ‘do you wholesale this line?’”
Black said a lot of the design features in the apparel and gear are based on feedback from athletes and Backcountry employees testing the products. For example, Backcountry’s Slickrock mountain biking pant needed a better cinch ankle to keep from catching in a bike chain and to fit looser at the top for more mobility.
“When we build the garments, we’re taking the activity of the athlete in mind,” Black said.
Backcountry’s wholesale distribution strategy is a “little unconventional,” Black said, and doesn’t have a defined goal at the moment.
“Round One, we wanted to see what conversations we could have out there,” he added. “Our focused strategy is still our e-commerce platform and brick-and-mortar stores to build the brand.”
As for retail partners, Backcountry is targeting specialty outdoor that can teach the customer about the product, according to Black.
Backcountry doesn’t have a specific target for the number of doors it would like its products in but would also like to expand internationally, both in Canada and overseas.
“Some (international retailers) have expressed interest in representing us as a partner in a mono-brand experience,” Black said.
While buyers at Outdoor Retailer kept the Backcountry booth busy during the show, not everyone’s on board with a brand who some see as being at odds with the goals of independent outdoor retailers.
“In my opinion, no specialty retailer in their right mind will carry this line,” said Wes Allen, principal at Sunlight Sports outdoor retailer in Cody, Wyoming.
He cited reports from June of this year that parent company TSG Consumer Partners was considering selling Backcountry.
“If you committed to this line, you would have no idea what the future would hold as far as your relationship with Backcountry,” Allen said. “You would be throwing a lifeline to a company that has done its best to choke specialty out.”
Allen pointed out that in 2018 and 2019 Backcountry.com filed dozens of lawsuits against outdoor businesses for using the word “backcountry.” The lawsuits even spawned a “Boycott Backcountry” movement.
Backcountry later apologized, saying the actions “were not consistent with our values.”
If Sunlight Sports is going to gamble on a line, it’s going to be with someone like Rab or Artilect Studio or Northwest Alpine or any of 20 other brands, Allen said.
“There are so many great small brands, owned by actual people, out there who are trying their best to make great product and get a toe in the market,” he added.
To that point, Black doesn’t see Backcountry’s wholesale push as the company directly competing with other brands.
“There are thousands of brands in the outdoor space, in some ways competing, and in other ways complementing one another,” he said.
From Snow to Four Seasons
As for product focus, Backcountry prides itself on its snow outerwear, which uses Gore, Pertex, and Primaloft, among other materials. The company is also dedicating resources to base layers and insulation.
“We have more opportunity there both in down as well as in synthetics, whether you need a parka for mountaineering versus a layering piece for skiing,” Black said.
The next evolution is pushing for a four-season product line beyond snow outerwear.
“We’ll be moving a lot more into spring-summer training, and year-round training as well,” Black said.
Backcountry has built out its in-house design team recently to include product design, technical design, patternmaking, and sourcing.
Black added that the entire design and development team has a very strong point of view on the women’s assortment. “They’re taking a different perspective on what a fit should be and what the functionality should be for their bodies.”
Boulder Store Heavy on Private Label
Backcountry has been an e-commerce retailer for 27 years, and has now expanded into brick-and-mortar.
Backcountry now has nine stores scattered across the country in places where the brand already had a high concentration of online customers. “We knew from shipping zip codes and the data we had that opening stores in those locations would make the most sense for us,” Black said.
The Daily recently visited Backcountry’s Boulder store, which opened in 2022. The Boulder shop mostly carries Backcountry’s private label products.
Black said that store is different than the rest of its retail locations because it’s on Pearl Street, with a small footprint.
On that same street, there’s a flagship store for many of the brands Backcountry carries.
“It didn’t make sense for us in that particular store to also carry assortments from the third-party brands when they already have a store on that street,” Black said. “We focused that smaller space just on Backcountry in that singular location. The other stores are not like that, and we don’t intend them to be.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.