Friday, May 1, 2009

My Employer

My company, The North Face, is commonly thought of as the laughing stock of the outdoor industry. For people "in the know", TNF is the evil empire. The ones who sold out. The company who no longer celebrates its heritage and craftsmanship, but who relies on that logo to sell sub-par products to teenagers at Nordstroms who have never stepped foot outdoors other than to walk to their car in order to drive to the mall.

It worked. They (we) are huge. TNF is everywhere, even more so than their not-quite-as-trendy competition Columbia. Bass Pro Shops, Dick's, Nordstrom's, Macy's, REI, Cabela's...the list goes on. Ridiculously saturated if you ask me.

As a product, I honestly don't have too much of a problem with them. Apart from their colors sucking from time to time, their shoes being awful, and their t-shirts choking the life out of you, I can deal with the product. As a brand, that's where the problem lies.

I have sold TNF for a few years now, and have gotten negative impressions about the brand just by word of mouth, dolt representatives half-assing it, and some poor quality in product here and there. But not until I went to work for them have I found out where my problem truly is.

Keep in mind that I've only worked for the Evil Empire for 7 months. But in this time I've come to realize that the people that work for The North Face do not go outside. I'm talking about upper management and our marketing company. The people, such as myself, that toil in the trenches everyday to keep these boutique stores up and running are not at fault in the least. Hell, if you want to get technical, I suppose I'm a bit of a bullshitter since I live in Colorado and do not ski. But that's not the point. The point is, that when you have a company with the brand awareness, the history, and the technology as The North Face, you have to change the way your customer base perceives you. Or in this case, change back to the way you were.

In my store, I have a large fly fishing customer base. We have an Orvis store and a Filson store in the neighborhood, so it makes sense. Naturally, me being a fly fisherman, I have tried to cater to that particular type of customer. For one effort, I set up a fly fishing display in our front window. I get the word from corporate that fly fishing is not "hard core" enough and to take it down. Now, I'm not mad that someone doesn't think my sport is "hard core". That's just an ignorant statement by someone who does not venture outdoors in the least. The point of my gripe is that my employer one: Is not embracing their heritage (Doug Tomlinson, founder of The North Face, started the company while venturing outdoors with Yvonn Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Royal Robbins, founder of Royal Robbins on mountaineering trips, kayaking trips, fly fishing trips, ski trips, and climbing trips in California), two: Not supporting a like-minded sport and potential new customer, three: Not catering to this particular store's particular region, and four: A fresh, new display surly can't hurt, all it can do is help.

I could go on with my stewing. Here's one...we (they) decide it's ok to cater to the rich housewife and the pseudo-gansta, but branching out to fly fishing is right out! And another...why waste a piece of your relationship with GORE by not developing waders? And yet another...all it takes to start out is some inexpensive marketing. A couple photos of fly fishermen in the store and on the website and boom, you have a new customer buying existing products.

But no, it's not hard core enough. Makes fucking sense to me (he writes sarcastically).

Yes, I have had a bad day at work.

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