Out of Context

Picking Teams


Remember in high school gym class going through the ritual of choosing sides to play some semi-violent sport? We all lined up and the teams were picked by captains who usually called out the biggest, fastest and most athletically gifted kids first, leaving the rest of us to essentially act as human shields. However, captains sometimes picked teams based on social strengths like friendships or popularity. It wasn’t always about winning the game, sometimes it was about having a good time.

Sales managers at outdoor industry brands across the board are now experiencing a similar scenario. Two spreadsheets are open in front of them. The first is from the production folks down the hall. Always the buzzkill realists within the company, the production spreadsheet shows what the brand’s partner factories are expected to deliver, given the ongoing supply chain disruption. The second spreadsheet is from the sales team and it holds great news. A surge of orders is pouring in as retailers react to the same ongoing supply chain disruption.

Outdoor brands are caught in the middle with worries about both the production and the sales efforts. The supply chain chaos has left them chasing production capacity and wondering about what products they can get, and when they can get them. While the production department struggles to see through the global fog of supply conundrums, the sales manager has to solve the problem of not having enough numbers on spreadsheet number one to cover what everybody wants on spreadsheet number two.

It’s time to pick teams.

This leaves outdoor specialty retailers lined up like those kids in high school. Some are much bigger and stronger than others, while others are decidedly more brain than brawn. However, each retailer brings a unique personality and contribution to the community. Those sales managers with the spreadsheet numbers will have to decide who gets picked first. Will they go with the big successful jocks? Or will they stick with the funky little retailers that have street cred?

The outdoor industry’s diversity of materials and stability of distribution has made it a wonderful laboratory for textiles. Outdoor sports are all based on specialty fabrics and the outdoor industry has long been a bellwether for textile innovation. Outdoor products are successfully distributed through a wide variety of channels, both on the street and through the web. Big retailers, little retailers, big companies, little companies; the outdoor industry has been an excellent reflection of societal trends and the textile industry’s role in successful product.

That reflection might be changing. Textiles follow brands, and with outdoor brands shuffling their distribution, the decisions those brands make will affect the way the market interacts with the fabrics they use. l

Disclaimer: Mr. Gray’s high school gym class used to play “murderball,” although the only thing that died was our pride. The Publisher may not share in his opinions or gym locker.

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Nov 22, 2021


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