Sunday, January 25, 2009

Times a Changing

I’m in the Salt Lake airport getting ready to head home from the Outdoor Retailer show. I’ve gone to this show twice a year since 1997 and watched it grow and evolve. It used to apply most to the lifestyle side of the FZ but anymore several of our major running brands are there and it’s always a good place to see what’s interesting (vs. only marketing hype) in the world of trail running. As good as the running industry is, I think it occasionally categorizes runners as boring, slow to change, and lacking any sense of style. So I like to see what else is out there that applies to runners. My experience shows runners to be pretty sophisticated and expecting the absolute best in product performance and aesthetics. Plus, Bend is an outdoor lifestyle hub so what folks are looking for in Texas or Florida (oddly, both strong influences in the running industry) might not apply to us.

Anyway, that’s why I was there, but on to the Changes. I found out in the first hours of the show that Chaco was purchased by Wolverine (aka Merrell, Patagonia footwear). I had the opportunity to talk with my friend and the (former) owner of Chaco, Mark Paigan and he was relieved. It turned out that he had to seek out a buyer as the cash flow was in a bad way and no lenders on the horizon. My emotions are as mixed as can be. I’m happy for Mark and Chaco that things will continue and of the possible suitors, Merrell constantly executes product well. I’d hope they will do their best to maintain the uniqueness of Chaco while giving it the new life that it needs. That said, I was profoundly sad at the news Mark was delivering. I feel like I grew up in retail with Chaco. I’ve always loved and admired the company and become friends with many of its employees. There is tremendous consolidation happening in the outdoor industry as small vendors struggle and get swallowed up by bigger brands. But there is hope, even during these tough times some new brands were showing for the first time. All in all, it motivates me to keep the FootZone strong and independent. We’re certainly modest by comparison but being a small business is getting more unique by the hour. Cheers-Teague

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