To carve out a niche in a competitive U.S. market, Swiss-based brand Exped has been focusing on the camping mat segment.
The company makes a wide range of camping products, including mats, sleeping bags, gear bags, backpacks, tents, and tarps that it sells internationally, but many of those categories are saturated with clear market leaders in the U.S.
However, Exped believes it can make its mark with its unique take on mats – specifically large mats. Exped’s MegaMat 10, which can go up to 30 inches wide and 78 inches long and sells for $240, is their leading product in the U.S. The mats are four inches thick, bulky, and designed for car camping.
The company sells in more than 400 doors across the country and has been focused on growing in the outdoor specialty retail channel.
According to Tracy Collins, director of U.S. sales and marketing, the brand has grown about 30% year-over-year in outdoor specialty, despite the challenge of merchandising a big product in typically small retail spaces.
“And sometimes specialty isn’t focused on the car camping customer because they’re smaller shops that focus on backpacking and technical things,” Collins said.
The Daily spoke with Collins about taking on a saturated market, Exped’s overall business health, and using DTC for marketing.
Overall Business Climate
Exped wasn’t immune to the post-COVID-19 pandemic volatility the broader outdoor industry faced in 2023.
The brand started taking action to control inventory in the fourth quarter of 2022, including eating low margins at retail so stores could still turn a profit if they decided to lower prices.
“We eased some of our MAP policies for 2023 because we knew it was going to be a promotional climate,” Collins said.
Instead of liquidating product, Exped chose to give that margin to its full-price retailers.
Exped expects to unload about 90% of its excess inventory by the end of 2023, Collins said.
“We’re in a very healthy place of right-sizing our inventory for market demand,” he added.
The company is still growing year-over-year compared to its pandemic financials, according to Collins. Exped expects revenue for the year to increase by double digits in the U.S. compared to last year, he said.
“Our pre-bookings for 2024 are larger than they were in 2023,” he said. “We’re not seeing that decrease after COVID.”
How Exped Started
Exped AG is a privately held company based in Zurich, Switzerland, with a subsidiary in Tacoma, Washington.
In 1983, the company began as a distributor of outdoor brands, including MSR and Outdoor Research. Then owners Andi and Heidi Brun decided they wanted to design their own products, and in 1997 launched the Orion tent.
Exped claims to have brought several key innovations to the market, including inflatable air mats for backpacking, flap valve technology, and welded seams on sleeping bags.
“They’ve never put a patent on those because it’s really about looking ahead to what the next innovation is,” Collins said.
Earlier this year, REI Co-op honored Exped with its Vendor Partner of the Year award in the Camp segment, saying “the brand is a value-driven company known for high-quality materials and construction to ensure a comfortable sleep outside.”
DTC As Marketing
Collins sees Exped’s DTC business as a branding vehicle to represent the full line of products the company offers.
“Then the market can understand we’re not just a maker of sleeping mats,” Collins said.
In the U.S., the company is starting to get more traction in backpacking mats and day hiking backpacks.
In Europe, Exped is much stronger in the packs segment. In other international markets, Exped is more competitive in tents, according to Collins.
“We’re very diversified across the world,” he said. “DTC really is an opportunity for the U.S. market to see that we’re a comprehensive brand, but DTC is not necessarily a growth channel or a vehicle for revenue for us at this point.”
Large Mat Strategy
In Europe, where camping is more in the backpacking style and there are fewer campground areas, the comfort sleeping pads don’t have as much demand.
The success of the MegaMat product in the U.S. developed out of the response from consumers, according to Collins. The mat was originally built for Everest base camp, and it was a natural fit for car campers.
“A light bulb went off and people just said, ‘Wow, I’m not just sleeping on a little one-inch foam pad on the cold ground,’” he said.
The company leaned into that comfort sleep space rather than go after market share in areas that were already saturated, such as backpacks.
Collins comes from a retail buyer’s background at outdoor specialty retail, and he also worked at Patagonia and REI.
“It’s really about how can we differentiate,” he said. “How can we complement what a buyer’s assortment should look like?”
For 2024, Exped plans to strengthen its position in the comfort camping space. Part of that defense is the LuxeMat, which builds on the foundation of the MegaMat.
The product has more features, including more carry and storage solutions, four-way stretch fabrics, and a wool topper, according to Collins. It will be available in March of 2024 and will retail for $350-$550.
“That’s really going to continue to help us defend that space and be the market leaders there,” he said.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.