Power Players' Lounge: Reaching young consumers

What is youth? We talk about younger people like they're from another planet. It's clear that they pay attention to very different things than we do. So why is teen participation in the outdoors declining? According to a 2009 Outdoor Foundation recreation report, a "lack of interest" is the main reason for declining participation. But, why are teens disinterested? We must inspire teens to be more engaged in the outdoors and become customers at our stores.

In January 2009, SNEWS® named the industry’s first class of outdoor industry Power Players (click here to read).

“Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in these economic times,” SNEWS reported when it announced the Power Players. “Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. And that is the driving force behind the launch of the SNEWS Power Players — an honor that will acknowledge outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors.” To acknowledge the honor of being chosen as the first class of Power Players, the group wanted to collectively give back to the outdoor industry. Today, the 2009 SNEWS Power Players’ Lounge opens in SNEWS. Each week, through the end of October 2009, a new column will be posted to the Power Players’ Lounge. It’s intended to be a place where our industry friends can gather to read and hopefully discuss ideas for improving business — especially important during these challenging economic times. We encourage you to interact with others while hanging out in the Power Players’ Lounge and it’s our hope their columns will inspire imagination and debate. Use the comments button at the top and bottom of each article to post your own remarks and observations, and to engage in discussion.

Power Players’ Lounge columnists include: Bill Gamber, Joe Hyer, Jennifer Mull, Brad Werntz, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, John Sterling, Josh Guyot, Mike Wallenfels, Beaver Theodosakis and Sally Grimes.

This column was written by Beaver Theodosakis, founder of Prana. (

What is youth? We talk about younger people like they’re from another planet. It’s clear that they pay attention to very different things than we do. For the purposes of this article and to get to the point, let’s define youth as 24 years and under, and “we” as 40-, 50- and 60-year-old outdoor specialty retailers. Fair?

In my opinion, within the overall “youth” category, there are three different groups with distinctly different behavioral patterns. Each group must be talked to in their own way.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the last two, older groups.

Both groups are bombarded by choices, but are quite savvy in the face of marketing messages. The reluctance to accept mass marketing messages may stem from often-cited stories of big business talking the talk, but not walking the walk. They need to connect with their own kind in their own way.

They are wired 24/7 and utilize multiple forms of media including social networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter as well as email, texting and IM (instant messaging). They are not traditional media consumers (other than TV) and we have to communicate with them using a hybrid approach comprised of online and face-to-face communication.

So why is teen participation in the outdoors declining?

According to a 2009 Outdoor Foundation recreation report — click here to read — a “lack of interest” is the main reason for declining participation. But, why are teens disinterested?

Some say competition from other activities, Internet, video games, etc. It’s a long list that goes on and on and we won’t figure that out immediately, but let’s work on what we can control — a teen’s experience in our community. We must inspire teens to be more engaged in the outdoors and become customers at our stores.

Here’s a comprehensive list of suggested tactics for outdoor retailers on how to invite and inspire:

1. Consider your physical space; look at your store with their eyes. Hire or consult with young people in focus groups, creating a feedback loop. How’s the music, general appearance, even the paint color? Are the displays and windows fresh and exciting? Do you have inspiring images that are playful and FUN? This is critical, as these enable younger customers to visualize themselves hanging with their friends.

2. Hire young, healthy and outgoing floor staff with real experience and train them with product knowledge. Do they look and act the part? Can they create rapport with young consumers?

3. Consider events: How are you tying into other local events that attract a young audience? How about a 30-second commercial (or even a few slides and a logo) featuring your store at the local theater?

4. Put on promos, contests and drawings that will attract a younger audience; a chance to win a camping/adventure packed weekend. This could be a video contest of their outdoor experience or a big annual event or award. Get them to sign up and segment your database to connect with these kids about pertinent events and news on a regular basis.

5. Become a hub for the community. Invite youth groups to meet at your store; host a teen yoga class, a drum circle, a slack line clinic, an art show, party, movie screening, slide show, climbing clinic, fashion show. Connect with other local businesses to collaborate on these opportunities.

6. Hook up the cool, influential kids in the local high school/college — offer a pro deal, promo product or free rental equipment to the local football star or cute girl who works at the corner candy shop. Get them to wear your store-branded T-shirt or other merchandise in visible places.

7. Test the waters by trying a product category geared toward the younger set, such as headsets, tech gadgets and music.

8. Distribute your store brochure to areas where the kids frequent, such as schools, youth centers, movie theaters, sports venues, etc.

9. Send your young staff to do clinics on camping, kayaking or climbing to the schools, community centers, etc. This will position your store as the expert resource.

10. Work to have articles written by your young staff for the school newspaper, blogs, etc. Tell stories about local influential kids (hopefully, your own staff) enjoying the outdoors and become the authority on outdoor recreation in town.

11. Adopt a project or donate to a cause that has to do with helping kids to create goodwill. These kids are tuned into the environmental issues as well, so a local clean up that effects their own community would be a natural.

12. Beg, borrow, steal or trade mailing lists with other firms that already speak to young kids and hit them with meaningful communications.

13. Utilize social media to build dialogue and relationships amongst valuable youth customers. Vivid imagery, action-packed videos and interactive elements are essential components in building excitement and growing your consumer audience. Your young staff is the best resource you have to improve your online presence. Reward your staff for being ambassadors on the social media they use most often.

14. Launch a community board (physical and virtual) where local groups can share information and connect customer experiences.

Most of these ideas don’t require a lot of money to execute. Start by empowering your young staff; let them be creative and bring their own ideas to the project. This will give them ownership and incentive to accomplish the goals you set as a team. Be sure to reward them — financially or otherwise — per project or long term. Have fun with it and don’t get discouraged — you’ll have some failures — but that’s where we usually learn the most.

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