Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Swix Sport USA, on Oct. 21, named 12-year company veteran Steve Poulin as president and CEO, following the sudden resignation of David Lampert.
In a statement from the company’s news release, the Norwegian-based parent company Swix Sport AS CEO Ulf Bjerknes said, “Increasing challenges in the snow business, like changing climates and lack of profits among the suppliers to this industry, demands a quite different approach to the ski business in the future.”
When contacted by SNEWS®, Lampert confirmed his resignation by email: “Yes, I am leaving Swix. It’s time. I have had some great years there and am very proud of what we have accomplished, but I really am ready to do something different. Steven Poulin, who has been VP of sales, is replacing me. He has a strong Nordic background and I’m sure the company is in good hands.”
Poulin told SNEWS, “It is emotional for me. I am saddened by the quick departure for David, but very excited by the opportunity. I have always wanted to lead the company in a slightly different direction.”
While acknowledging that some of the internal changes that will be implemented might be tough, Poulin told us that Swix’s customers will be insulated from that and experience nothing but improvements on the front end.
“The things that will take place over the next six to nine months will be challenging, but it will be insular and not really evident from outside Swix. Our customers will see an increase in efficiency on delivery and fulfillment and a tighter selection of product,” said Poulin. “And, we have to do a much better job of communication — both to our retailers and to our customers.”
Behind the scenes, Poulin told us he will be implementing steps that will improve the way Swix ships, from picking and packing to actually delivering. He noted that Swix is an old company, but that doesn’t mean it has to be old in its methods. To that end, he expects Swix to improve its own turns and lower its levels of old-style inventory in the warehouse. At the same time, the company needs to increase levels of in-line inventory to ensure it can deliver to retailers the products they need when they want them.
As for improving communication, Poulin said the solutions are really not that hard to see.
“We do so much at Swix, and yet we tell so little. It is the grand old story of a traditional company, and we have to change that,” said Poulin. “We will be maximizing the dollars we spend, whether it is consumer advertising or business-to-business, and we need to maximize our resources in sales and branding.”
Noting that Lampert grew Swix from $2.5 million in sales to more than $15 million in sales this year, Poulin told SNEWS what he’ll be doing is fine-tuning a very good company.
“I have a motto that goes, ‘good leaders put out fires, but great leaders prevent fires.’ I hope to put out fires we have and prevent future fires. We can spend our energy, time and money simply doing a better job of what we do and not spending money on mistakes we make or where we are less efficient,” Poulin told us. “We want to be in a position to give back to the market through effective advertising, specialty clinics, education and training.”
One thing Swix will not be doing is diversifying the line of products it offers through acquisitions or entering new product categories. On the heels of selling the Pedros bike care and accessory brand in May 2008, Poulin said, “There will be no expansion into new categories for now. What you will see is us doing a better job of selling and marketing the current products we are carrying now.”
Poulin said where Swix currently has product offerings, but clear room to grow in terms of market share, such as in Alpine ski poles, the company would be making strong moves to expand. Additionally, in existing programs where the market share is strong, Poulin told us the company will be explaining to consumers how to use the company’s products more effectively…and in some cases, showing them how to use them for the first time.
“If you went to the bottom of Vail on a Sunday, you would have 9,000 skiers — up to 90 percent of whom have never touched their skis in terms of waxing or tuning,” said Poulin. “We need to do a better job of educating. We need to do better with our current customer base and that is the easiest place to do it — they already ski.
“Consider, too, that in the Nordic market, waxless skis account for 92 percent of the sales every year, and yet those customers still need to care for their skis,” added Poulin. “If we become focused on how to make better products for this customer base, our sales will increase. Those are the opportunities we need to focus on in the near term.”
SNEWS® View: Insiders familiar with the company told us that given the economic climate globally, Swix was seeking a president who was more in the trenches and very hands on with the operations, sales and logistical aspects of the company. Poulin certainly delivers that. In fact, when we called him for an interview, we found him in the warehouse, chipping in with the crew to fill some orders that needed to go out. Talk about hands on. Poulin has his work cut out for him, but he has a leading brand that — with some of the fine-tuning he is talking about — should be running smoothly and with extra horsepower by this time next year.
And, if there is one area where improvement could be found, we might suggest the Nordic apparel side. Swix does a great job with waxes, tools and poles, but it hasn’t exactly created much sales or fashion excitement around apparel. There is a set of recreational skiers out there that, we suspect, would enjoy nicely tailored apparel for skiing as well as après ski. The challenge will be to ensure it is not so Euro in look that North Americans won’t go near it. Of course, pricing too will be an issue — especially in this market. If it is European-manufactured, finding a price point that a golf-course skier finds attractive might be more than the market can bear, at least for now.