Oboz Looks Ahead
Oboz president Amy Beck didn’t end her first year on the job the way she expected. Elevated to the top post at Oboz and as president of North America at parent company Kathmandu in April of 2019, Beck, like most company heads, was thrown into a new reality after the global COVID-19 pandemic and resultant shutdowns completely altered the retail landscape. And that, she said, has meant reassessing everything.
“We’re just weeks into people opening back up, and we still don’t know if the decisions we made are good or not,” she said. “We have to reset what success looks like.”
As the crisis began to unfold stateside in March, Beck said Oboz initially froze shipments, then started reaching out to figure out what shops needed. And there was no one-size-fits-all response, she said. “Some stores have cash, and they need support with inventory; some stores had no resources. We had to do some soul searching there to make sure we’re supporting the retailers and partnerships we’ve built.” Also critical was reaching out to Oboz’ manufacturing partners to figure out what materials had been bought, what was in production and what changes needed to be made.
“And at the end of the day, everyone had to manage cash flow, and there’s no one that was untouched by that,” she said.
Being owned by New Zealand-based retailer Kathmandu gave the firm an advantage, she said. Not only did it give the team the knowledge that they had an outlet for product that no longer could go to retail partners, Beck said the parent company gave them unique insights into the way the challenges were affecting their retail accounts, and helped bolster the brand’s decision to hold to MAP policies to “protect the brand,” she said.
As part of her first year at Oboz, Beck had continued a brand identity reset that had begun under former head and founder John Connolly, and that new positioning — True to the Trail — has made a world of difference in helping the team stay focused on the future, she said.
“We landed on ‘True to the Trail’ as our brand foundation, and those values have been really great guiding lights for us,” Beck said. “It means true to our people, true to our community, true to your experiences and true to your fit.”
As a result, she said, Oboz felt confident in the spring and fall lines — “We knew it’s the right product for the right time” — and rather than trim the line back significantly, focused on retailer-friendly dating and programs to make it “easy to say yes” she said. But with industry-wide forecasts for retail sales down between 25 and 40 percent, the brand dropped some extra colorways and is making cancellations on product that can be more easily brought back into the line if things change.
The ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in June that sparked a global reckoning over racism has started conversations at the brand as well. Beck says right now the brand is listening and learning before announcing any major actions, but that she signed the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge created by In Solidarity Project that calls for building a more racially inclusive industry and that plans are in the works for concrete actions. “We’re still building what our social platform will look like for social justice and environmental elements,” she said. “It’s not optional any longer. And we still have some work to do there.”
But with as many challenge as she sees ahead, Beck said she’s optimistic that the outdoor industry has something to offer people now more than ever.
“People are using the outdoor as a respite, which any of us who have done that know how healing it is,” she said. “And this is an opportunity for more people to recognize how special that is.”