More than two and half years ago, VSSL Gear was making a range of outdoor products, including first aid and camp supply kits. Then it launched its Java coffee grinder, and everything changed.
“That thing shot up to the No. 1 seller within the first three to four months and has become 45% of our overall business in one single SKU,” said David Marsala, president of VSSL Gear.
That led the leadership at the Abbotsford, British Columbia-based company to start discussing changes in its strategic direction.
“We saw the way consumers responded to this $160, high-end, premium coffee grinder built for rugged outdoor use,” Marsala said. “We were blown away by the (initial) demand and the continued demand we see for that product.”
The Daily sat down with Marsala to discuss how VSSL has pivoted since the success of the coffee grinder, the overall business climate, and the company’s plans for the future.
Pivot to Coffee Grinder Focus
To react to consumer interest, in the summer of 2021 VSSL drafted a plan to orient the business around the grinder as well as bring in an assortment of products that complement it.
At the same time, VSSL pulled back on the wholesale push it had been making in 2020 and 2021 because it knew the product mix was changing.
“The business has always been chipping away at wholesale,” Marsala said. “But when we knew this change was coming, we made the decision to pull back and not burn equity with these dealers and buyers and not run into sell-through issues that coincide with us launching a new product.”
Last year, the company returned its focus to the wholesale channel and onboarded a new sales team to push the new grinder. Marsala admits VSSL didn’t get as many new retail customers as hoped, and chalks some of that up to inventory challenges and overall difficulties in the market.
“It’s been tough for a lot of brands and retailers out there,” he added. “That said, we have a nice swath of dealers that will be launching this product this fall. Several of them have already put orders on the books for next year.”
The brand remains mostly an e-commerce company, with about 70% of its sales coming from online shopping.
“We’ve tried on that wholesale piece,” Marsala said. “We’ve tried since the brand was started in 2014. It’s just that, outside of holiday, we weren’t getting sell-through against the original products.”
That sell-through data point was what led the company to revise its product line by promoting the grinder and supporting it with additional new products.
VSSL is still selling its other products, which are mainly gear preparedness, including camping supplies and first-aid kits, but Marsala said a lot of those products are something a consumer would only buy once then put away in case of emergency. “That really changed when we put that coffee grinder on the market,” he added.
New Coffee-Related Products
As VSSL navigates the changes coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the brand is still striving for a bigger wholesale presence.
“On the direct-to-consumer side of things, our business continues to grow and continues to be quite strong,” Marsala said. “Our wholesale business is a little bit different.”
To support the original grinder, VSSL is launching a pourover set it calls Nest. It has two stainless steel mugs that attach to either end with the centerpiece housing a larger-capacity coffee grinder as well as a drip pourover piece. The full set retails for $225.
The core tenets of VSSL’s products are compactness, durability, and integration, Marsala said, and the target market includes the overlanding customer. To showcase the durability of the Nest, VSSL filmed a video of founder Todd Weimer driving over it with his Jeep, twice.
“While someone could take the Nest with them in their backpack, it is meant for the trailhead,” Marsala said.
“We’re playing the quality and durability game more so than the weight game,” he added.
Marsala expects the company to post its best fourth quarter on record, especially since the coffee grinder products are well-suited for gifts, he said.
He also said he’s hearing that the industry is doing a good job of working through its inventory problem through winter sales and now summer sales.
“I’ve heard open-to-buy dollars are starting to open up,” Marsala said.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.