(This story was updated on 4/13/2023.)
Retailers and brands are sitting on tons of inventory as the pandemic fever for outdoor goods has slowed since last year.
After a few years of “reinvigoration” in the specialty outdoor retail space, “we’ve hit a bit of a wall,” Chamberlain said in an interview with The Daily. Chamberlain is based in Louisville, Colorado.
“That’s where the disruption in the business has come from,” he added. “Brands and retailers are struggling to figure out the best way to manage it.”
Chamberlain started at United Kingdom-based parent company Equip on March 1, after five years as U.S. sales manager and the first U.S.-based employee at Norrøna Sport, the Norwegian technical apparel brand.
During his more than 20-year career he has also served as the vice president of marketing at Black Diamond and in various roles with Patagonia.
Rab Remains Strong
Retailers and brands are faced with tough choices about launching new plans and initiatives when there is so much extra inventory in the market.
“It’s really going to be about hanging in there,” Chamberlain said.
That’s not to say Rab is going to start heavily discounting.
“We are a full-price brand,” Chamberlain said. The company is committed to not eroding the price point.
But he also recognizes that there’s not much appetite for new inventory. Chamberlain believes brands need to be patient and pump the brakes on new product initiatives, and “work with what we have in the mix.”
Founded in 1981 in Sheffield, England, Rab has expanded into the U.S. market in the last 10-15 years, Chamberlain said.
While some other outdoor brands have matured over the years and moved into other spaces such as lifestyle, Rab has stayed focused on the most avid outdoor users, according to Chamberlain.
“The brand’s in a great spot with momentum right now,” he said.
“We just need to maintain that momentum by continuing to invest in retail relationships, find the great grassroots events to be a part of, and keep bringing this great, functional product to the marketplace.”
Restarting Lowe Alpine
Chamberlain sees backpack brand Lowe Alpine as a heritage brand that could be better distributed in the U.S.
Lowe Alpine began in 1967, when Greg Lowe developed a pack with internal aluminum staves built to carry heavy loads.
The ground-breaking Expedition pack also had compression straps and other innovative features.
“There was a time when the brand was really well known, and in a lot of doors,” he said.
But Lowe Alpine was sold to Scottish textiles firm William Baird in 1993, and that led to a larger focus on European distribution.
The brand lost market share in the U.S. to other pack brands such as Osprey, Gregory, and Deuter.
“Others came into this market and really took control,” Chamberlain said.
Today he views Lowe Alpine as a restart project.
For the near future, Chamberlain is focused on supporting retailers as much as possible, meaning staying on top of communication, and offering service and support.
“Picking up the phone and being as accommodating as possible to continue the momentum that we’ve achieved in partnership with the retailers and the strong wholesale focus,” he said.
The company also launched a new apparel line specifically designed for gravel biking.
That type of cycling “has a lot of energy behind it right now,” Chamberlain said. “It’s one of the few bright spots in the cycling space.”
From a consumer perspective, product mix and brand diversity are at an all-time high, Chamberlain said.
“It’s never been a better time to be a consumer of outdoor products or outdoor adventure,” he said. “There are a lot of good choices. A lot of great competition out there.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.