Outdoor brands go to bat for independent retailers

As the economy slides and small retailers eat major losses, brands across the industry are implementing revenue-sharing programs and other stopgap measures.

The specter of layoffs and permanent closure hovers over small, independent outdoor retailers even in the best economic times. With the coronavirus dampening consumer spending and forcing temporary shutdowns, disaster scenarios are closing in for local shops whose every sale, every customer, and every hour with the doors open is suddenly an existential imperative.

In a show of support, brands across the country are stepping up to help these struggling businesses in ways unseen for years in the outdoor space. Following the lead of Toad&Co, which launched a two-part revenue-sharing initiative over the last few weeks, companies like EcoVessel, RAB, and Jetty have followed suit with programs of their own, all aimed at easing the economic burden shops suddenly face as bills, rent payments, and payroll obligations pile up. 

“I saw the story on Toad&Co and showed it to my team. I asked them what they thought about doing something similar,” said Cory Higgins, founder and CMO at the apparel company Jetty in New Jersey. “If this scenario means more people will be shopping online and buying our products that way, I wouldn’t feel right not sharing that revenue with our retailers.”

The programs initiated at EcoVessel, RAB, Jetty, and others share an important feature with Toad&Co’s effort: They focus on revenue sharing and offsetting costs, arguably the most important considerations for small retailers in a period of drastically reduced cash flow. 

“If we get back to normal in a few weeks and barely see an uptick in online sales, that’s fantastic. That’s the best case. In the hypothetical scenario where people start buying our products online for the foreseeable future, though, we need to help our retailers through that,” Higgins said.

EcoVessel’s program is similar to Toad&Co’s in that it functions via retailer-specific tracking for sales made through the main EcoVessel website. Retailers get 30 percent of revenue collected through online purchases that come through tailored links, which shops can share with their customers on social media and other channels.

Jetty has taken a slightly different approach. Announced this week, the company’s initiative tracks online purchases by zip code and kicks back 10 percent of all revenue to retailers in those zip codes. The brand has about 250 retailers across the U.S.

Rab, for its part, will “evolve its program over time,” according to U.S. country manager Jon Frederick, but for now the effort focuses on delaying retailer payments on current orders. No remaining spring or summer orders will be shipped to retailers unless those retailers agree to receive them. Additionally, retailers can return up to 50 percent by value of delivered spring and summer orders to be credited against winter 2020 purchases.

“We don’t want our retailers to worry that a box might show up tomorrow when they have no ability to pay for it,” Frederick said. “This effort is built around trying to prevent stress for our partners. Right now, this industry needs some predictably. After all, what are we without our specialty shops? What are we without Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder and others like it? This is a long-term game. We all need each other.”