One of the defining points of outdoor specialty retail is that it is where customers can go to discover what’s truly new. Local shop owners are the ones who often take the risk to bring in a small, start-up brand, differentiating themselves from the big boys. In this reoccurring series, SNEWS will identify and highlight the new kids on the outdoor block vying for a place on those shelves.
With tenures such as the vice president of sales for Marmot and Patagonia, the president of Ibex, and a vice president at Prana, Rich Hill has been around the outdoor industry for a long time.
Over the years, he’s seen brands lose relevancy when they became too focused on the product and technology over the consumer. So when he had the chance to start his own brand, Ticla, he wanted to speak to a demographic that most specialty retailers have yet to capture — car campers and women.
“Most of us are car campers,” he told SNEWS. “That’s what we do most of the time. Think about what most climbers do — and when the weather gets bad they go home. Even most hardcore athletes are primarily car camping. We want to bring camping back to specialty retail. That’s what we have been focused on.”
The Ticla line currently includes tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, tarps and rain shelters built with a focus on being away, but close to your vehicle. And Hill promises kitchen equipment, including a new take on the two-burner camp stove, is coming down the pipe. The brand exhibited at Outdoor Retailer Summer and Winter markets and launches this week in retail stores, including major players REI, Adventure16, and Urban Outfitters’ new Without Walls concept store. The brand will also slowly roll out a direct-to-consumer business, but the big focus will be on helping retailers realize that they can speak to a customer they don’t yet have much to offer and carving out new business in the process.
“We are opening up the aperture of who the specialty retailer can help. We call these consumers ‘reluctant campers’,” he said. “What do you sell to someone who just wants a tent for a music festival? Partiers? Or someone who just wants a tent to camp and climb in Joshua Tree? Or your sister who doesn’t go camping? The outdoor industry is not a very friendly place to that customer.”
According to Hill, specialty retailers can’t offer these people much beyond technical backpacking tents. And he feels that even the car camping tents built by most outdoor brands focus too much on a technical feature mentality. Once sales people start to talk along these lines, the partiers drift off because they don’t want to overthink their gear. Along those lines the big focus on Ticla’s product is making it simple to put up and take down (the brand calls this its G.O.O.D. system) as well as comfortable (expressed in terms of truly human tent ratings or Tsubo Sizing).
“The salespeople currently have no clue how to talk to that customer. They’ll talk about denier or other tech specs. But we can give them car camping equipment they are passionate about, that they can sell because it is built with that same core, elite background. But instead of focusing on the tech story, we focus on the end user.”
Hill points to other brands that are finding success at retail because they speak to these reluctant campers—Snow Peak, Alite, Eagle’s Nest Outfitters. It’s this new crop of end-user focused brands, that he says bringing new business and life into the industry. “Look at the tech-focused brands in the outdoor industry. Every year they make advancements that cost 40 percent more for a 5 percent improvement in performance. Do we really notice that difference?”
Hill doesn’t want to exclude hardcore outdoors customers from the Ticla diaspora, however. He points to his own experience as evidence of that. “After your 20th day of car camping in a backpacking tent, you start to think about getting something more comfortable,” he said.
That sentiment is ingrained in the genesis of the brand. The idea for Ticla came to Hill after he had left Patagonia and embarked on a trip from California through Mexico to Guatemala in a camp van. “We were spending some time in La Ticla, this little dirtbag surf break and I wrote the concept,” he said. “I looked around and we had all this high-end equipment with us on the trip. We just didn’t need it.
Soon, though, he was working at Prana and the Ticla concept went to the back burner. But at Prana, Hill found a synergy with his brewing ideas and the business philosophy of the California-based climbing/yoga/lifestyle brand. Prana applied a new way of thinking about new customers — the Prana customer was not a tech geek, but a young active person who saw the outdoors in as more of a lifestyle than an aspiration. Four years later, he founded Ticla along with Meghan Kearns, the brand’s director of marketing and operations. The pair served up margaritas and showed off product the in the Pavillion at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013. The way Hill sees it, Ticla’s mission is entwined with the future of the outdoor industry.
“We have heard even the large brands’ needs to keep reinventing themselves. You need to stand for something beyond denier,” he said. “We have heard the industry talk about millennials forever, but its a foreign culture to the outdoor industry. We need to change that.”
With Ticla popping hop this week in two stores as different as Adventure 16 and Urban Outfitters, Hill will have the perfect sounding board to take this message to the industry at large.
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