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5 Tips For Business Resilience During COVID-19

The Outdoor Industry's Playbook For Sustainable Recovery

BY Nathan Beers Writer Bank of the West

Oct 19th 2020

Remember business as usual? No matter what that meant to you in 2019, 2020 took your business operations and turned them on their head. So what now?

This summer, a dozen of the brightest brains in the environmental, outdoor, and sustainable finance communities dug into this question: How can businesses regain their vibrancy and build back stronger?

Part Two in our ongoing series explores opportunities to transform your operations as business rebound.

KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER’S COVID-19 HABITS

You closed, you opened, closed again, sort of reopened. That’s the unabridged Year in Review for 2020. Put another way, your customers vanished, they came back, they vanished again, they sort of came back.

COVID-19 snowplowed consumer behavior. But it didn’t bury the consumer. Retail sales rose during the summer and are above where they were in February before the pandemic took its toll. Businesses that relied on foot traffic have pivoted to drive web traffic—and that’s meant change like never before.

Your customer is still out there; they just want a safe, secure, convenient experience. Suddenly, for example, 60 percent of U.S. consumers feel more comfortable with contactless payments after having used them during the pandemic. Many may never go back.

Embracing and meeting these new customer expectations requires knowing your customer and being ready to adapt quickly. They may want curbside pickup from here on out, but they may not want all that old plastic wrap! Stay flexible, and be prepared to use the digital tools that are out there.

UPDATE YOUR DIGITAL TOOLKIT

Business recovery is not just about having the right mindset. It takes the right set of digital tools to navigate new consumer wants, needs, and behaviors.

Mital Patel, the head of digital revenue development at payments company Elavon, Inc., notes a dramatic rise in consumers who are using digital tools to conduct safe and healthy transactions: “84 percent of people adopting mobile payments now prefer it over cash.”

Yes, 2020 has been called the year of contactless payments. Just remember that’s not all you need in this new hyper-digital world. A seamless customer experience is one way to grow your client base. Things to consider are:

  • A robust online shopping platform to complement existing brick-and-mortar retail,
  • Real-time communications so customers know where their product is in the fulfillment journey and when it ships,
  • An inventory management system that helps you stay ahead of product ordering. You don’t want to have too much cash tied up in inventory, but pandemic-related supply chain disruptions taught us the value of having a little extra product on hand to weather the unexpected. A smart inventory system can help you strike the right balance.

REINVENT YOUR SALES STRATEGY

In the early months of the pandemic, many specialty retailers cleared inventory to generate cash. That’s understandable in a short-term crisis, but not necessarily sustainable when you realize your business is now operating in an indefinitely changed environment. Retailers should create a new, thoughtful long-term strategy around sales that supports long-term profitability.

Rebecca Heard, Head of Brand, Marketing & eCommerce at evo.com, says her company is looking to drive more targeted offers and underwater pricing strategies while using customer data to put the focus on increasing spend.

“We’re putting a greater focus on conversion optimization—so maximizing the conversion of every person who comes to the website,” she says. “Strategic investments can really bolster the performance of your digital business.”

BE TRANSPARENT ABOUT YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN

More and more sustainability-minded outdoor enthusiasts want to know how your product is made, by whom, and what materials were used in its production. If you’re focused on a sustainable supply chain and have a compelling story to tell, this is your opportunity.

“I expect sustainability to be increasingly important coming out of this crisis—not less important—and we’re seeing consumers continue to really care about and prioritize sustainability as they decide which products to buy,” says Greg Gausewitz, Product Sustainability Manager at REI.

Many consumers who want to buy from sustainable brands are eager for authentic, honest information. With so many businesses claiming to be committed to this cause and that cause, consumers need guidance overcoming barriers related to a lack of trust, a lack of information, and confusion about what’s truly sustainable. One effective strategy, according to The Conference Board, is communicating with localized messaging relevant to specific audiences and geographies. And do it as transparently as possible. For example, videos of behind-the-scenes sustainability practices help consumers trust your claim because they can see it for themselves.

KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS CLOSE: LESSONS FROM REI

Even as REI adapted quickly to doing business in the pandemic, it stayed close to its customers by soliciting feedback to ensure the business remained true to the values it shares with its customers.

“We’ve seen a fundamental shift in the way business gets done,” says REI’s Gausewitz. “We’re committed to fighting for life outdoors and really minimizing our footprint on the environment.”

Keeping that commitment, takes a concerted effort, particularly during times of dramatic change.

Shortly after launching curbside pickup, REI invited customer feedback on the experience.

“The first thing that they said was ‘easier returns,’ not surprisingly,” says Gausewitz. “The second thing they said was ‘packaging waste. How do you minimize packaging waste?'”

For REI, it was another chance to advance sustainability by doubling down on eliminating plastic polybags from their supply chain. Gausewitz says that REI has worked with brands to reduce plastic bags throughout the supply chain, so when customers pick up products ordered online, they don’t get a bunch of unnecessary packaging as well.

“That’s great for customer satisfaction,” Gausewitz says, “and it’s great for sustainability.”

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The Outdoor Industry Playbook for Sustainable Recovery sprang from a recorded conversation in the summer of 2020 titled Navigating Change: Sustainable Recovery for Small Businesses. Part three of the four-part video from the event, a collaboration among Bank of the West, Protect Our Winters, and Snowsports Industries America, is available here.

Author image

Nathan Beers Writer Bank of the West

Nathan joined Bank of the West in 2018 as a writer for technology, finance, and green businesses. On weekends he’s often out with his family exploring the California coastline.

Disclosures

Transcript for Video

Dan Osipow (00:00:00):

Hello everyone, and thank you for joining Navigating Change. The third of our four-part webinar series focused on sustainable recovery for small businesses brought to you by Bank of the West, Protect Our Winters, and Snowsports Industries America. My name is Dan Osipow from Bank of the West, and I’m proud of the series we put together as we look to highlight trends and present practical improvements for small businesses in the wake of a pandemic. COVID has redefined how we do business and new opportunities are emerging for how businesses can adapt to survive now and even flourish in the future. As mentioned, today’s event is the third of four webinars in this series, so we hope you join us at this time next week as we wrap up this series with another relevant conversation. That said, today’s topic is sustainable operations equals sustainable recovery.

Dan Osipow (00:00:51):

Before we jump in, I’ll cover some quick housekeeping items. All video and audio of the attendees will be muted throughout the webinar. A Q&A will be live throughout as the moderator will pull those questions in and utilize them in the Q&A for about 10 minutes or so at the end of the program. And now for a quick introductions for today’s event: Back as our moderator is good friend and skiing legend, Chris Davenport. And our panelists are Greg Gausewitz, product sustainability manager at REI; Mital Patel, senior director, digital revenue development at Elavon; and Rebecca Heard, head of brand marketing and eCommerce at EVO.com. So Chris, over to you. Thanks for everyone for joining, panelists, and have a great conversation.

Chris Davenport (00:01:39):

Well, thanks a lot Dan, and welcome everybody to the third part of our Navigating Change webinar series. It’s great to have those of you back that have been with us before and for those of you that are new: I think you’re going to find this panel really, really interesting. I’m your moderator, Chris Davenport, a professional skier, U.S. Ski Hall of fame member. And I love talking all things outdoor industry, especially small business stuff. So this webinar series has been really interesting. Three themes that we really want to get across today with our panelists are just practical suggestions that you all can use in your own business; supply chain issues, drilling down more specifically into sustainable supply chains; and how do we build back better? How do we come out of this crisis stronger than we were before, more nimble than we were before? So with that said, I’d like to have the panelists introduce themselves and talk a little bit about what sustainable recovery means to you. Rebecca, why don’t we start with you?

Rebecca Heard (00:02:40):

Great. Hi everyone, I’m Rebecca. A little bit of an introduction: So as Chris said, I’m head of retail, eCommerce, brand and marketing at EVO. Prior to that I was vice president of digital marketing and CRM at Lululemon. And then prior to that, five years at Apple in the retail and digital business. So yeah, as we think about this, we’re really thinking about how do we stabilize the business and continue to make educated bets that will allow us to grow in future when we come out of this time that we’re in, which we will. And when we think about stabilizing the business, we’re really thinking about three kind of key areas.

Rebecca Heard (00:03:24):

So first and foremost is our employees. So our employees, our people, our front-line staff are our most important investment. They’re obviously one of our highest costs, but over the long term, these are the people that really pay the highest return to us, and really to any kind of business. And so we’re really looking at how do we keep those employees engaged? How do we keep them safe? And how are we really working with them on a day to day basis so that we’re really in tune with what’s going out, what’s going on out there in the front line of retail. And sometimes that means that we’ll make tough decisions in order to keep the staff engaged. We’re constantly looking at pay, we’re looking at benefits, and we’re making tough decisions internally about where are we on the exec team? Where would we make cuts in order to make sure that we can maintain as many of our staff as possible.

Rebecca Heard (00:04:20):

And then we’re looking at our community. So our community as a retailer—it’s not just our customers, it’s our vendors, it’s our suppliers, it’s our brand partners. And really how we work with them at this time is really going to define our relationships in the future. And so we really want to make sure and kind of, we encourage you to make sure that you’re in win-win relationships with all of these suppliers, your community, whatever that looks like at this moment. And then finally, we are going back to the strat plan that we had at the beginning of the year pre-COVID. And we didn’t just throw that thing out the window. We’re constantly dusting that off and we’re looking at, okay, we said we would make these investments; actually, which ones still stand true at this time? And we’re reviewing this monthly and saying, okay, actually there are some bets on here that might help us weather another storm and set us up for growth as we come out of this time.

Chris Davenport (00:05:17):

Great. Thanks Rebecca. Mital, let’s go to you.

Mital Patel (00:05:21):

Yeah. First of all, I want to thank you for having me here to provide my perspective on what I’m seeing and then on today’s panel. So I work for Elavon as mentioned earlier, a payments processor and a merchant acquirer. So my role is very much focused on our digital priorities and ensuring that we provide great customer experience from a software perspective, from an image processing perspective, to all of our merchants and partners. So before I begin, just to begin, I just want to say that I think we all know that the coronavirus pandemic has transformed the way we do business, the way we shop, the way we eat out, the way we spend our leisure time, and the list goes on and on, right? The changes are reshaping consumer behavior and demand patterns and forcing businesses to where you imagine how we recover, how we organize, how we operate.

Mital Patel (00:06:14):

And I believe at the heart of that transformation is the digitalization of the customer experience and what that transformation looks like is going to differ and will differ by industry, right? So for most, it will include things like updating your point of sale checkout experience with touch-free and contactless experience and payment options. For retailers and restaurants, enabling customers to complete everything they do to do online or curbside, or from initial research, to purchase, to return—have become really critical. For the service industry, automating billing and invoicing, for instance, will be the new norm, as will the ability for customers to book services at point of sale and pay via links that go to your phone. So traditionally, small businesses specializing in restaurants and retail relied really heavily on foot traffic and the support from their communities. Now, due to COVID, many small businesses were not equipped with the online shopping channels to sell their products.

Mital Patel (00:07:18):

Restaurants that did not have online ordering, for instance, for curbside or delivery, were unable to stay open. So many went out of business, unfortunately, but several businesses had to adapt quickly and figure out different ways of reaching their customers and delivering their products, whether it’s via a digital channel, over the phone, curbside pickup, delivery; these are all the methodologies that businesses have to adapt. So when it comes to sustainable operations and recovery, it’s not just about having the right mindset—which is of course crucial in this day and age—but it’s also about having the right set of tools, especially digital tools at your disposal to combat any shift in consumer behavior in the future, whether they be enabling contactless payments, having an eCommerce presence, a digital marketing strategy, automating several business tasks. These are all crucial things to not only survive during these challenging times, but also come out on the other side much stronger and resilient, especially when the future is very uncertain.

Chris Davenport (00:08:26):

Thanks Mital, great comments there, and we’re going to talk about consumer behavior here in just a minute, but Greg: Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself and your thoughts on sustainable recovery?

Gregory Gausewitz (00:08:36):

Thanks Chris. Hey everybody, I’m Greg Gausewitz. I lead product sustainability at REI, and hopefully many of you are familiar with REI, but we are a retail cooperative focused on getting folks into the outdoors based in Seattle. In my capacity working on product sustainability, I get to work both with REI’s private label design and sourcing teams to really make sure that sustainability is at the heart of how we design and bring products into the world. And then I also get to work with the third-party brands that we carry as part of our retail business and maybe some of you on the lines there are actually brand partners of ours. So thanks for your partnership.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:09:17):

When we think about sustainability during this pandemic and during the recovery, we’re really focused on maintaining our commitment to fighting for life outdoors. As a retailer, we’re 100 percent focused on getting people out into the outdoors to live an enriched life, but as part of that, we’re committed on fighting for life outdoors and really minimizing our footprint on the environment. We’ve seen a fundamental shift in the way business gets done, as Mital alluded to. And as part of that, we’ve had to react to a lot of different kind of dynamic changes to the way consumers shop, to the way that brands are getting product through their supply chain. And as we react to these different shifts and twists and turns to the business world, we’re really focused on making sure that sustainability continues to be a priority and that we continue that fight for life outdoors. So looking forward to kind of chatting about how REI and others have navigated the last few months during the pandemic.

Chris Davenport (00:10:16):

Yeah, I’m really looking forward to your insights as well. The last few months, if we’ve seen anything in the outdoor industry, it’s been an incredible shift or change in consumer behaviors. We were talking sort of before the webinar began amongst ourselves about how some of the activities in the outdoors are just booming right now, whether it’s hiking or canoeing or cycling, things like these; people are really trying to get outside. And so Rebecca, I want to start with you, but then Greg, maybe you can comment as well. Let’s talk about consumer behaviors and how they’ve changed during the pandemic and what you’ve seen as it relates to your own business, both brick-and-mortar and online.

Rebecca Heard (00:11:00):

Yeah, for sure. We’ve seen the same trend, right? So there’s a global level over the past five years is that the global wellness trend has outpaced global economic growth, right? So that tells us that globally, like consumer mindset towards kind of physical and mental wellbeing has changed and is beginning to evolve. And I certainly experienced that with three years at Lululemon, where athleisure actually became the driving force behind overall apparel growth. Now, with sports and recreation in COVID specifically, we’ve definitely seen that trend accelerate outdoor categories and some outdoor categories that had previously been a little bit more stagnant. So an example is our skate business, right? As families—and maybe you all saw this while we’re all at home—that actually families are out on the street, they’re spending time with their family, they’re skating.

Rebecca Heard (00:11:59):

So we have seen that translate across even some more of our niche areas of business. And this trend is here to stay, perhaps not at the current growth rate, but as I said before, consumers are more aware of the benefits of outdoor recreation. Now on a more tactical level, we have seen some of the trends that NPD have been reporting. So we saw a rapid increase in our digital conversion, so our eCommerce conversion. We saw in the early months some degradation in our customer spends. So the amount that our customers were spending went down. Now, a lot of that is because the way that retailers responded; in the first month, two months, everybody’s trying to generate cash. So we’re clearing inventory and that actually was a really good strategy for most, but I would question if any business large or small continues with that go forward, right? That could be quite brand-damaging.

Rebecca Heard (00:13:00):

And actually what we really want to do now, as we are seeing that people are here to shop, is start bringing some of those prices back up—really looking at our inventory assortment and then really we’re using our customer data to say, okay, how do we drive more targeted offers, more underwater kind of pricing strategies, and how do we use our customer data to start putting a bigger focus on increasing that spend? That’s going to be really important as we go into winter when a lot of us don’t really know exactly how that’s going to shake out. And then furthermore, as we’re seeing the shift to online, so putting a greater focus on conversion optimization. So maximizing the conversion of every person that’s coming to the website. And we’re doing that by continuing to make investments very targeted in that area. So the right people investments, and then some strategic investments that really bolster the performance of your digital business.

Chris Davenport (00:14:01):

Great. Greg, I’m assuming at REI, there’s a lot of, sort of shared strategies that you might’ve just heard from Rebecca in terms of what you’ve seen with change in consumer behaviors. Can you add anything that you guys have seen? I mean, REI is a substantially larger brick-and-mortar presence in this country and talk a little bit about your digital presence as well and what you’ve seen changing there.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:14:29):

I can speak more to the sustainability-related behaviors that our consumers have really been zeroing in on during the pandemic. And one thing that we’ve noticed is that as consumer behavior shifts and folks are now ordering most of their product online—our stores have opened backups, so it’s not exclusively online, but we were closed for a while there. And so it was all online and curbside pickup. Sustainability continued to be a primary consideration and concern for customers. So we were getting initial feedback from customers shortly after launching curbside pickup, and we wanted to hear what was on folks’ minds—how could we improve the experience? The first thing that they said was easier returns, not surprisingly. The second thing they said was packaging waste: “How do you minimize packaging waste? Like I’m ordering all these products, they’re being shipped to my house in boxes and plastic. And as I come to pick it up at the store, I’m thinking about packaging sustainability and minimizing waste as well.”

Gregory Gausewitz (00:15:26):

So we’ve had to make some pivots to really make sure that even as we shift our business and thinking about how a product gets into the hands of customers, we’re continuing to honor and advance our sustainability values and really our emphasis on minimizing waste. So that’s something that we’ve had to make a few pivots on. And one body of work that we’ve doubled down on during that time is eliminating polybags, plastic polybags, from our supply chain. We’ve been focusing on that for a long time within our own brand of products and we don’t send apparel products for co-op brands through our supply chain with polybags, since we’ve been working with brand partners to get them on board with not sending product in polybags as well.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:16:08):

We’re not all the way there yet, but we found that most products actually can make it through the supply chain quite effectively and quite safely without a polybag, and so those little things like that—to make sure that when that customer picks up the product, they get the product, they don’t get a bunch of extra packaging. That’s great for customer satisfaction and it’s also great for sustainability, so we’re looking at how do we continue to optimize there.

Chris Davenport (00:16:29):

Oh, that’s great. I want to come back to the sustainable supply chain in a little bit, but just a quick anecdote: When I, in the fall, typically receive apparel from my clothing sponsor, I get really excited and I’m like all this new stuff. And then I open the box and there’s all this plastic polybags, and it’s this emotional roller coaster where I all of a sudden, I’m like really depressed by the whole thing. So I’m really glad to hear that you guys are working on that. And I want to hear more about that in just a minute, but Mital, now I want to go to you. As a lot of companies are shifting from traditional brick-and-mortar presence to online and digital, what are some of the pain points, if you will, or challenges that they’re facing, and perhaps some solutions for making that transformation a little bit easier?

Mital Patel (00:17:20):

Yeah. So I think the biggest challenge is how do I keep up with all these changes in consumer behavior, right? With lockdown, with consumers being able to go out now and additional lockdown coming in, and then what the future looks like, right? So how do I keep up with all these changes? So I think small businesses need to think digital strategy as a complement and not a replacement to brick-and-mortar. To ensure consumers have multiple avenues to connect with your business as a hedge against additional disruptions. So your existing customer base is looking to connect safely and securely, but you have to give them multiple ways to purchase your products and services. You have to know your customer base and understand that many will come to your physical store no matter the circumstance or what’s happening out there.

Mital Patel (00:18:09):

And there are others who will feel only comfortable coming to your store if they know that you have proven to have some kind of processes to take care of your health and safety really seriously. And then there’ll still be a group that will only come out maybe to your store after a vaccine is produced, let’s just say that. So in order to steady your sales, it’s really important too, that you’re thinking about all of the different types of consumers, the personas who buy your products and services. Keep omni-channel and omni-commerce as a mindset because seamless customer experience from a virtual single terminal, for instance, is crucial. Whether consumers shop via mobile, whether they shop on their computers, in store, over the phone; the customer should have a frictionless and very similar experience with whatever channel they use to buy and get connected with your business.

Mital Patel (00:19:04):

Another big pain point is how do I keep track of my inventory and payroll? Because the shift in the business model that they’re not used to. So when you use multiple shopping channels to get your products out to the consumers, it may get a bit daunting to stay ahead of your inventory management system. Ordering too many products for instance can have your cashflow tied up, ordering too little can have a horrible experience for the customers if they’re looking for a specific product and you don’t have them in store or on your eCommerce website. So many payment software companies are out there that will integrate with your financial management and accounting systems, making it very easy to manage inventory real time. So automating several of these tasks are crucial and it will keep your business ready for any shift in the consumer behavior in the future.

Mital Patel (00:19:56):

Also, many businesses had to pivot and change their processes for payroll processing, for instance, and delivery. I would suggest, for small businesses who are not used to doing automated solutions or using a software to do those kinds of tasks, use them, because it really helps you manage the tracking, process payroll, making sure that you switch your delivery methods to direct deposit to avoid paper checks. This also helps your employee safety. But I think in the end, many of the problems experienced can be solved by just having an open mind. Ask for assistance from your partners and evolve and adapt quickly to stay competitive in the market.

Chris Davenport (00:20:40):

Thanks Mital, those are great practical solutions. I want to just kind of continue with you along those lines: We’re talking a lot about the outdoor industry here. Of course, we’ve got EVO.com and REI. Are there some things that you might have seen in other industries that maybe the outdoor industry hasn’t been paying attention to or things that are unique that we could use in the outdoor industry?

Mital Patel (00:21:07):

Yeah. I think from an outdoor industry perspective, there are always, from a small business perspective, there are always software companies and tools out there that business can utilize. And again, it’s not just from a restaurant or retail where they need to set up online; it’s also services, right? If you’re providing a service, there are a lot of solutions out there, software companies, that will really help you get up to speed immediately online and figure out a really healthy and safe way for your customers to transact and conduct business with you.

Mital Patel (00:21:41):

And in the end, it’s all about, how do you reach out to your customers? Let them know that you are there no matter whichever channel they want to use, and then that you’re providing constant updates. I think another great tool is social media, right? The social media is a great tool for you to get real-time updates to your consumers, whether you’re shifting, whether you’re launching curbside, whether you’re launching on eCommerce websites. And again, this is not just for restaurants or retail, but I think it applies to a lot of different industries out there that can get the word out. Because I think from a local community perspective, a lot of customers are really wanting to support you, they just need a way to get to you.

Chris Davenport (00:22:20):

I really like the comment about social media and Greg, let’s go back to you talking about supply chains and sustainability: Does REI utilize social channels at all to talk about your supply chain? I mean, you mentioned trying to get rid of polybags and things like that. As a consumer myself, if I was to read that, that would be really attractive. It would attract me to a brand like REI. So what are you guys doing in terms of connecting sustainability and your sort of social messaging?

Gregory Gausewitz (00:22:52):

We have a lot of different ways that we interact with customers. And one that we launched relatively recently is called REI Conversations. And so it’s a place for our customers to actually come to our website and interact with us and they can ask questions. And it’s both interacting with other REI members, as well as interacting with REI staff. And we do find that a lot of times customers ask questions about how a product was made and what materials went into it, how sustainable are those materials, what type of packaging was used? Was it wasteful or not? How are the people who made the product treated, and things like animal welfare for products that contain animal-derived materials and things like that. So that actually is a really, really powerful way for us to engage with customers and for us to get our message out.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:23:37):

And we find that sustainability is a consistent theme among our customers. So I think especially in the outdoor industry, there’s a huge appetite for that type of engagement from a customer and a brand. So I think it’s important for all brands, even small brands, to think about how are you getting your message out. A customer wants to know how the product was made and how you’re getting it to them. And if you have a compelling story to tell, this opportunity to proactively tell that story. And so we look for opportunities to do that as well.

Chris Davenport (00:24:07):

That’s great. I want to just mention a couple of things here, for all of our attendees that are watching our webinar, you can post your questions in the Q&A at the bottom, and towards the end of the webinar we’d love to take some of your questions. So be thinking about that. If something comes up, you can post it there. Greg, just kind of stepping back a little bit: We’re throwing around the word “sustainable” and “sustainability” when it comes to supply chains and when it comes to products, but I want to drill down a little bit into what that really means. So what is a sustainable product to you, and what is a sustainable supply chain? Because it might mean something different to a consumer than it does from a brand or a retailer.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:24:48):

That’s a really good question. And that word tends to be used in a lot of different ways. And it can be quite ambiguous as you mentioned. So we, as an outdoor company, start with the fact that every outdoor adventure starts with a piece of gear, and you need to have the right gear for your adventure to be successful and for it to be safe, even. So we know that products are critical to enabling these outdoor adventures. We also know that every product has a footprint and some might even argue that there’s no such thing as a truly sustainable product because every product does have a footprint. So our focus is really minimizing the environmental impact of the products that we make and that we sell while also maximizing the social benefit, because there’s a person behind that product. You want to make sure that that person was impacted in a positive way.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:25:38):

When we think about minimizing the environmental impact of a product, we think a lot about the materials that went into making the product. For most products, the material manufacturing component of that product’s life represents the single biggest environmental impact. So we look at things like recycled materials, or we look at bluesign-certified materials, which is a third party that certifies materials and the inputs to those materials and thinks about things like resource efficiency in manufacturing. So minimizing materials impact is hugely important. And then once that product has been made, the single best thing you can do for it is to keep it in use for as long as possible and support your customers in getting the maximum amount of use out of that product. So for things like supporting customers in repairing the product, that’s a big focus.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:26:31):

Also, something that we’ve really focused on the last couple of years is getting that product into the hands of another customer. So if you buy a rain jacket or you buy a tent and you use it for a few years, and then you decide you’re not using it anymore, but it still has life left in it, we want to get that product back from you and we want to sell it to another customer. So we have a used gear platform that you can access on our website. We actually recently launched an opportunity for customers to sell products back to us. So that’s kind of how we think about sustainability, is minimizing the environmental impact and then keeping that product in use for as long as possible, and then maximizing the positive benefit on people in the supply chain. And there’s a variety of different organizations and pools that folks can get involved with to help them basically pursue those different outcomes.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:27:19):

I don’t need to go through and you’re not going to have a whole bunch of them, but there’s tools like the Higg index that you can use to assess your supply chain and identify how to improve. There are groups like Fair Trade USA that you can work with to certify your factories and your products to use fair labor standards. There’s a Social Labor Convergence Project and a handful of others. Happy to dive in more, in more detail if folks want to hear more, but that’s kind of how we think about product sustainability and supply chain sustainability.

Chris Davenport (00:27:48):

That was great. I’ve got all sorts of other questions and maybe our moderators can throw up a couple of those indexes that you just mentioned in the chat, so if people want to click on that. One more question for you, Greg: If I was to come into an REI store with you and you want it to hold up a product as a shining example of sustainability, is there one product that you can think of that’s just doing it right? I know I’m putting you on the spot to call out maybe an individual brand or whatever, but I’m just curious about if there’s one product that’s really done right.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:28:18):

It’s a tricky one and I have a hard time pointing out one product.

Chris Davenport (00:28:22):

It’s okay.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:28:23):

But when I think about product sustainability, you have to think about innovation, there’s new materials and new manufacturing practices that are being implemented all the time. So you could think about a new rain jacket that’s PFC-free, which is a chemical that is often used in water repellent finishes that also has some undesirable environmental impacts. So you can look at like The North Face Futurelight jacket that they just announced recently. And that’s a highly innovative product. On the other end of the spectrum, you could look at a product like the MSR WhisperLite stove, which is a stove that they’ve been offering in the U.S. and around the world for decades. And it’s just a classic product that is incredibly durable and repairable, and that people can keep in use for decades as well.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:29:12):

And so you might even argue that that’s the most sustainable product out there because you buy it once, you never have to buy a new one, you can even pass it onto your kids someday, probably. So those are kind of the two ways that I think about it, is both the classic product that really lasts, and then the newest, most innovative product that minimizes environmental impact.

Chris Davenport (00:29:30):

And I loved your comment too about recycling. As a professional athlete, professional skier, I get all the new gear every year and it feels uncomfortable. So I make a point of giving it when I’ve used it ever so slightly, or even quite a bit to friends, to other consumers, and passing it along in the chain. But let’s continue this line of question, Rebecca, with you at EVO regarding supply chains. What is EVO doing to have, I don’t know, an impact on your supply chain? I mean, you guys are a large online retailer with brick-and-mortar as is REI. And how can you leverage your, I guess, size and influence when it comes to dealing with brands and the supply chain?

Rebecca Heard (00:30:16):

Yeah. And firstly, I should say that we look to REI on the sustainable question. So thank you, Greg. I think it’s great that we all have somebody that we can look up to, in the retail space as best in class as sustainability. So on the supply chain, first and foremost, when it comes to partners, the first thing that really we focused on and would encourage everyone else is just really transparent and open communication with your vendors. So interestingly and anecdotally, what we heard from a lot of brands was actually, there are a lot of retailers that they didn’t really communicate at the beginning of COVID. They canceled orders by email, there was no dialogue and we really try to avoid that. And so we’re able to kind of have these one-on-one conversations and really that’s helped to stay abreast of opportunities and inventory opportunities as they have and as they will continue to kind of present themselves over the next couple of months.

Rebecca Heard (00:31:24):

And not to shy away from the fact that we did have to have some difficult and frank conversations at the beginning, right? So really looking at resizing our orders, looking at more of a skeleton fiscal plan for the year. But then also looking at kind of a middle case and a best case planning scenario. And again, sharing that with our brands, with our suppliers, so that we could start playing in a range and that our vendors and suppliers and brands, they could have in their mind that perhaps actually we’re only ordering X, but there is a potential for EVO as our partner to scale up to Y and Z. And that’s actually worked out really well for us. So we have been able to take more opportunistic buys.

Rebecca Heard (00:32:12):

As we look to winter, thinking about winter and we know we get this condensed amount of business in a short amount of time, which for any distribution center or logistics team is already a crunch. So we can get ahead of that, right? We’re bringing in some of the winter orders early and this is particularly important in the age of COVID where in your supply chain you’ve got your distribution center staff, essential workers that need to be safe, right? So a lot of productivity has dropped and slowed down across the supply chain. So work around that: How can you throttle and bring in your inventory so that you can keep your team safe, and then really not kind of overload the machine.

Rebecca Heard (00:32:58):

And then we’re working with our brand partners to say, okay, let’s bring inventory outside of North America and be open to that. That’s a great help for brands right now, as well. And we know in certain sectors that there is kind of a shortage of inventory—Biked is a great example of that right now. And then finally, be in discussion about what excess inventory is out there and are we willing to take some bets on that? Even if people don’t buy this year, could we then move some of that inventory to close out and have a good price differentiator next year? And then I guess the final thing is with all of the brand partners, it’s really easy to just be focused on this year, right? But our brands are buying a year, two years out, in some cases designing product three, four, five years out. So we’re still being in a conversation with them about what does the next two, three, and four years look like?

Chris Davenport (00:33:59):

That’s great advice. It reminded me of one of the interesting tips that came out last week. It was actually from Ben Stewart at Bank of the West, one of the things that worked really well for them early on was just calling their clients, calling their consumers, picking up the phone and just saying, “How are you doing? What can we do to support you, to help you?” Like EVO might do or REI might do, to a brand that you work with. So Rebecca, one more question around the supply chain, because I did put Greg on the spot: Is there a shiny example that you guys have seen at EVO where you’re like, “Wow, these guys are really doing it right,” or “This product is really done right”?

Rebecca Heard (00:34:42):

In terms of sustainability or just a response to kind of COVID at this time?

Chris Davenport (00:34:47):

Well, it could be either actually, those are both really good answers, so pick one.

Rebecca Heard (00:34:52):

My mind goes to Burton as a brand. I think that the work that they are doing to be really relevant at this time, which is sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and then their response to COVID—being able to leverage inventory that’s spread across different areas of the world. And of course not all brands are able to do that, but their ability to react while also really be on the pulse of sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion, I think is something to be admired.

Chris Davenport (00:35:28):

I agree. Big fan of Burton and actually next week in our webinar right here, one of the panelists will be Jenn Swain from Burton, so that’s going to be a fantastic conversation. They have definitely been at the forefront of all of those things that you just mentioned. All right, Mital, I haven’t forgotten about you. We’re having this great supply chain conversation here, but from your perspective—and you touched on this a little bit earlier—could you share some innovations that you might have seen in businesses in the outdoor industry or that you’ve seen personally that our attendees today might be able to use to stay operational? I mean, this could be things you’ve seen in retail or in restaurants or hotels, what have you. This is kind of like the tips and tricks, like what are some inside things that you’ve seen that might help our attendees today?

Mital Patel (00:36:15):

Yeah, absolutely. So I think at the core, it’s about restoring confidence to your customers, that as a business you’re here to facilitate a safe and healthy environment to conduct business, right? So this may not be sort of an innovation, but we’ve seen a huge jump in buy online and pick up in store or curbside, right? So we saw around I think 200% increase in May alone during the pandemic and shutdowns. Now, not to mention many businesses that have exceptional services to keep their customers safe during the transaction of curbside. There was a survey done by payments.com that showed 59 percent of customers said that they will continue to use curbside even after the pandemic. I’ll be honest—I’m one of those customers. I tried it for the first time when the pandemic happened and I was hooked. It was so easy. A lot of the stores make it very safe. It makes you feel like they really care about you, that they want to continue to serve you as a customer. So I think that curbside one is a really good one.

Mital Patel (00:37:18):

Now again, I don’t think curbside is a temporary solution and it should not be a temporary solution for businesses—it should be part of your ongoing strategy, right? To continue to serve customers, we have multiple different avenues. Another thing we’re seeing is rise in contactless payments, in touchless experience, including the use of digital wallets. So I’m sure you’ve heard of things like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, even PayPal that’s at the top of the digital wallet, right? So most card issuers have actually added the touchless and contactless technology to physical cards. So this gives, of course, the consumers without smartwatches or smart devices, without digital wallets, the ability to enjoy a touchless experience by just waving your card at a terminal, right? It’s the NFC terminal, the near field communication.

Mital Patel (00:38:06):

There are 175 million contactless payment cards in the hands of US consumers. So it’s safe to say that merchants will need to ensure that they are providing a safe and secure environment for their customers to make payments. There was also another research done by paymentsource.com, that showed 60 percent of U.S. consumers now feel more comfortable with using contactless payments after having it used during the pandemic. So there’s a general consensus that the adoption rates will continue to increase. Another bit of data point is that 84 percent of people adopting mobile payments now prefer it over cash. Again, consumers are continuing to use the digital tools around them to conduct a safe and healthy transaction. We’ve also seen numerous software companies coming out with things like QR codes to provide menus and paying for your meals when consumers feel safe enough to even go to a restaurant.

Mital Patel (00:39:07):

There was actually a restaurant here up in Knoxville that did it once and I was just blown away. That’s the first time I’ve seen somebody do a QR code. The QR code is right there on the table, you scan it. And then you were able to see menu and at the end of the transaction, there’s another QR code. You just take it and then you can pay via your mobile app again, without having to give your card to the employee. Now, that’s amazing because now it also reduces fraud, right? So the employees are never getting those card information and card numbers from you as a customer. For servicing businesses, I think what we’re seeing is uses of digital billing and invoicing capabilities. So this of course gives the customers a convenient and touch-free payment option. For many it’s a payment link sent to your email or text. I’m sure many of you have already seen this happen, whether you’re going to get your car serviced or what have you, right?

Mital Patel (00:40:02):

They will send you a link via your email or a text. All you do is click that link and it goes through this very secure hosted payment page where you put your information and pay. Again, you’re never handing that physical card to the employee. So I think these are the kinds of things and innovations that we’re seeing from businesses’ perspective that are using these tools to survive during the pandemic.

Chris Davenport (00:40:29):

That was a great answer. And I think it actually might’ve just answered one of our Q&A questions, which was for you Mital, which the question was: “I have a website, but that’s about it. If I’m just entering the digital space, what are the first three digital tools I should get?” I think you may have just covered it, but could you just bullet point three of the first things that a small business might do?

Mital Patel (00:40:54):

So are you talking about from a tools perspective? Or like what needs to …

Chris Davenport (00:40:57):

Yeah. So this person has a website and that’s it, but they want to move into that digital space more efficiently and effectively. What are three tools that they could use?

Mital Patel (00:41:07):

Oh, there are many tools. So I would say one of the softwares that I will push—and it’s our software. It’s Talech.

Chris Davenport (00:41:14):

Go ahead and push it.

Mital Patel (00:41:16):

So it’s a really good software that started out as a great … it’s also affordable and very easy to implement. It’s great for restaurants and retail services. So what they do is when you just have a simple website with “Contact us” page and things like that, they can create that inventory for you. And they also have a very user-friendly UI. They also really embed payments into it so you can transact payments. You as a business will never hold on to any card information. So you’re not, of course, obliged by PCI compliance and things like that to make sure that you’re keeping those data secure. It’s all done by a software company. So I would say Talech is a great software.

Mital Patel (00:42:02):

Another one is Wix, and that’s a little bit more popular out there. It really makes it easy for you to start your digital presence. So in terms of the step-by-step process of somebody who doesn’t have digital presence, I would say, choose an eCommerce platform. That’s your first thing, right? So make sure that you’re choosing one that actually shares your values and actually you can trust. And I would get with your trusted banking partner, your payments provider, to figure out what solutions will fit your business based on your inventories, based on the volume that you’re bringing—there are so many software solutions out there that it may get a bit daunting. But I think if you really need assistance, please ask your banking partners and things like that; they will really help you provide the best solution for your business.

Rebecca Heard (00:42:55):

Yeah, I’ll add a few on top of that. I would really recommend out of the gate, like looking at your analytics. It’s really easy to only focus on product and inventory, but if you can start to learn how people come to your website—like how they’re moving around, what’s working and what’s not working—this is really going to set you up a lot better in future, particularly with planning, right? The best financial planning is when you can put more, what would be called click stream data, how people are moving through your site together with product data. And you can just start out with a free version of Google Analytics, and then maybe once you get bigger, you can kind of upgrade, but the free would do for now. The second piece is have some kind of CDP—just a customer data platform.

Rebecca Heard (00:43:54):

Now, again, you don’t need to invest in this out of the gate. It could be as simple as a Excel spreadsheet, something with Microsoft Azure, but you really need to know who your customers are. And again, this will help you work for more robust planning in future. Now, a lot of retailers did not do this. So the traditional brick-and- mortar who are worth billions of dollars today now have to go back and invest a lot of money to put the right kind of processes in place. And remember that CDP, it used to just be a piece of paper with someone’s email address and name at the store. So if you can just shift that into a spreadsheet, even that alone will just set you way more up for success later on in knowing who your customers are.

Chris Davenport (00:44:44):

Those are all fantastic points. I think we definitely answered our friends question for digital tools. Thank you Mital and Rebecca for that. As we get close towards the end of our panel here of our webinar, Greg, one question for you that is I guess sort of general: The idea of coming out of this crisis stronger, more efficient, the idea of building back better—it’s been really thrown around, what words of advice … I’m almost getting blown over here, we’re getting to probably like 50 miles an hour, so I’m sorry [inaudible 00:45:16]. How can businesses take advantage of these unique times and come back stronger, build back better?

Gregory Gausewitz (00:45:24):

It’s a great question and something that we’ve been thinking a lot about these last few months, but really the first thing that I would say is just don’t lose sight of sustainability. As crazy as things have been and as busy as we’ve all been having to react to the impacts from the pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of sustainability. COVID is a significant crisis, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s going to be a short-term crisis. We know that climate change and the environmental crisis are long-term crises that aren’t going to go away. So make sure that you’re not losing sight of sustainability and you’re not sacrificing on the foundations of being a responsible business. I would also say, look for opportunities to integrate sustainability into changes in your business.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:46:13):

Myself as a sustainability professional, you might argue that my job is trying to change business, and it can actually be really hard, especially working for a larger organization because you have your company structure and you have your business models and those things don’t change quickly or easily. And so right now for better or worse, we’re seeing change. And as you react to these changes and you’re thinking about which business models you might want to grow coming out of this pandemic, or which you might want to shrink and how you want to resource different initiatives, think about sustainability. And then when you regrow the business and things start to get a little bit more steady and stable coming out of this, you’ll have sustainability built in.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:46:54):

And then the last thing I would say on that is I expect sustainability to be increasingly important coming out of this crisis, not less important. And we’re seeing consumers continue to really care about and prioritize sustainability as they decide which products to buy and which brands to shop with. We also see large companies like Amazon building out robust sustainability teams. So if you’re thinking about selling in to a retail customer, even the big players in the industry like Amazon, they increasingly care about this. Nike and Nordstrom are two examples of companies that just recently made additions to their website to highlight sustainability more prominently. So just make sure you’re setting yourself up for the future and not losing sight of sustainability.

Chris Davenport (00:47:39):

That’s a great answer, Greg. And actually it speaks to one of the questions from our attendees. I think that there’s an idea out there that to become sustainable is really expensive. Like you’re going to have to spend a lot of money to streamline sustainability in your business. Can you give some advice for a small business that can’t leverage the scale, like EVO or like an REI?

Gregory Gausewitz (00:48:04):

Absolutely. And there’s two main pieces of advice here. One is, don’t try to do it alone. And two is, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of really robust groups and organizations and tools that have been created to advance sustainability that you as a small organization can tap into. So within our own industry, the broader outdoor industry, there’s the Outdoor Industry Association and they have a really robust sustainability working group that REI is a member of and many, many brands are members of, and it’s an incredibly welcoming group. It’s a great way to learn. And it’s a great way to identify which tools you might use as you go out and tackle different priority outcomes related to sustainability, whether it’s climate change or chemicals management or fair labor.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:48:53):

One particular initiative that they’re working on right now is called the Climate Action Corps. And it’s really meant to enable brands of all different shapes and sizes—very much including small brands—to understand their contribution to climate change and their carbon footprint, and to empower them and enable them to go out and reduce that footprint. Climate is a great example of a topic that’s incredibly complex and incredibly daunting to a small organization. So again, in the spirit of not having to reinvent the wheel and try to go tackle climate change on your own, it’s much easier and more effective to join an initiative like this Climate Action Corps. And frankly, have a little bit of handholding as you go through trying to understand where your biggest contributors are across your business to climate change, and then figuring out how the heck you’re going to go out and reduce that contribution.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:49:46):

Another couple of groups that you might consider: There’s PeopleForBikes organization, it has a sustainability working group. There’s Textile Exchange, which has a bunch of sustainability standards that apply to materials. So I think one of the other questions in the chat was, “Sustainability can be more expensive, how can I do this more affordably?” And again, it’s sort of tapping into these standards that already exist. And these things that your suppliers might already be doin— like they might already be certified to a certain standard and you can just go choose that supplier or that material. Again, that tool, the Higg Index, is another one where if you’re looking for a supplier, start with a supplier that’s already assessed themselves using the Higg Index and maybe another brand already asked them to do it. So you don’t have to try to be the small brand strongarming your supplier and they may already be doing it.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:50:32):

So just look for those things. And as you get more momentum and as you get more knowhow on sustainability, you’ll find yourself leading the conversation. More about to start: I recommend just kind of joining these groups, using these tools and getting your feet wet. You’re on mute, Chris.

Chris Davenport (00:50:54):

Sorry. Thanks for that, Greg. I knew I was going to do that once. Our moderators have been putting up a number of these orgs that you just mentioned in the chat. So for all you attendees, definitely check out the chat. You can click on some of those and open those sites there. Rebecca, one more question that came on the Q&A was along the lines of eliminating printed catalogs and samples. Is that something that you at EVO—I mean, you deal with so many vendors. Are you seeing that as a trend in sustainability across the board, is this kind of new, or do you think it’s going to grow? Are people getting rid of full sample sets and getting rid of printed catalogs?

Rebecca Heard (00:51:37):

Yeah, it’s something that we do. And A, we don’t ask for on the printed catalog side from our brands. We ourselves really try to eliminate as much print as possible. We are majority digital, so that certainly helps. And then some of our largest partners and the brands that we continue to align ourselves with are really leading the pack here—the Patagonias and the Burtons. So we are certainly able to kind of leverage the work that they’re already doing in this space.

Chris Davenport (00:52:18):

Fantastic. Yeah, I’m definitely seeing that in the ski industry, sort of the industry that I work in more specifically, there’s a lot of companies moving to get rid of any kind of printed materials and working on their packaging. Greg, as you mentioned earlier. Mital, one question I had for you, and I really don’t know much about the whole world of cybersecurity, but are there things, or concerns, I guess I should say, for small businesses when they’re going more digital with their business about security? Can you speak to that?

Mital Patel (00:52:52):

Yeah. Besides, just the obvious answer about having a software solution that can do some of these, take it off of your hand in terms of responsibility. I think first of all, if you see an email out there that offers coronavirus cure, don’t click on it, right? It’s really about educating your employees on some of the common threads out there on some of the things like that. So there was actually a study recently done by Verizon that showed phishing is the biggest threat for small businesses out there—I believe over 30 percent of all breaches out there right now. So the best advice I can give you is to educate yourself and your employees on potential fraud schemes, common threats. You can always turn to anti-malware softwares and other software tools that are out there. But even then I think your employees should have the training and understand how to keep your business safe.

Mital Patel (00:53:48):

There are tons of materials out there, there’re tons of training tools online. Resources are plenty online where you will find lists of best practices. So I would really encourage for all small businesses to use them because they’re all free, just the resources in terms of best practice, how to keep your business safe. But the one thing that I would like to share with all the small businesses is just make sure that you are educating yourself and then you’re educating your employees as well.

Chris Davenport (00:54:18):

That’s great. Thanks. It’s something that I guess as a consumer I’m really concerned about, but I know nothing about, it seems kind of like a scary, dark corner of the internet or something. Let’s wrap this up: I’m curious if the three of you might be able to look into your crystal ball a little bit. I mean, March and April was tough on retailers. Now we see of course a number of segments are doing extremely well. Any comments or predictions on what the future might look like—timeline? You guys know what I mean. I know there’s optimism in the group here. What are we seeing? Rebecca, let’s start.

Rebecca Heard (00:54:55):

I think, well, I’ll talk for the outdoor industry, which isn’t just hard goods, right? It’s made up of soft goods and apparel. I think we’ll see apparel continue to struggle. I think we’ll see it be very price-driven, throughout now and the end of the year. And—

Chris Davenport (00:55:11):

When you say price-driven, sorry, do you mean lower price will come back stronger?

Rebecca Heard (00:55:16):

Potentially. Yeah, potentially. So I do think that will continue and apparel out of all the retail sectors was actually one of the hardest hit sectors. I think for ski and snowboard, participation has been stagnated for a while. I think what is going to be interesting though is will we continue to see this trend of people staycationing, right? And going to their local mountains, and I think we’re optimistic about that this year on the hard good side. And then finally, it’s not going to be winter everywhere. So the bike trend doesn’t really seem to be slowing down to where it was previously. So we think these like more counterseasonal categories may continue to have kind of some positive growth towards the end of the year and then into the new year.

Chris Davenport (00:56:15):

Thanks for that. Greg?

Gregory Gausewitz (00:56:18):

Yeah, I’ll just add onto that: I’m cautiously optimistic that as we start to react to the new normal and just sort of settle into our new routines, consumers are just behaving in a more consistent and predictable way. And it’s not as much of like this full blown crisis mentality. And I’ve been really encouraged from a sustainability standpoint to see these trends of people getting on their bikes more and maybe not always driving places and recreating locally instead of hopping on a plane. So from a reduced environmental footprint standpoint, I hope that some of those behaviors stick around. One of the things that I really hope to see continue is companies like REI continuing to offer people ways to get access to products besides always buying a new product. So that’s reused gear or through rentals.

Gregory Gausewitz (00:57:02):

And especially right now, as people are stuck closer to home and they want to go try a new activity like biking or kayaking or whatever it is, being able to offer them a used item or rent an item to them at a lower price point, really reduces that barrier for them to get outside. And it also has sustainability benefits because you don’t have to sell them a new product. So I’m cautiously optimistic, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there. So we’ll see.

Chris Davenport (00:57:26):

I love the used gear thing, it’s big. We’ve got a couple used gear stores in our valley here and they’re just gangbusters, they’re doing great. All right, Mital, what’s your crystal ball look like?

Mital Patel (00:57:38):

I wish I had a crystal ball, but I think we’re continuing to see increased acceleration in the digital eCommerce space and whether it be not just from buying and selling products, but also, digital marketing strategy, getting connected with the customers. I think it’s really important right now to adapt to the changing environment and ensure your business is ready to tackle on any additional disruptions out there that are coming your way in the future.

Mital Patel (00:58:07):

So I think it’s about having a digital strategy, an omni-channel experience for your customers and also getting connected digitally with your customers and letting them know that you are here to continue to help them provide a safe and healthy environment to conduct business. And also show them what you really stand for in those messages so that your customers feel safe. And it’s not only going to help you survive these times, but also when this is all over and done, is going to make you stronger and more resilient to any additional changes that are coming your way.

Chris Davenport (00:58:43):

Thank you, Mital, for that. One more question here before we wrap this up—question for Rebecca and Greg was putting your retailer hat on rather than white label product. How do you conduct purchasing practices responsibly to mitigate negative impacts on factory worker well-being? For example, flexibility with delivery timelines, not changing orders substantially. So sort of a technical question, but definitely relevant to this panel. Rebecca, do you want to start?

Rebecca Heard (00:59:14):

Yeah. I think this is a really good question because often as a retailer it’s very easy to stop at the brand, but actually, you’re placing an order and the brand is placing an order with a factory in likely a place that is not as economically strong. So it is a really serious consideration that we have to make. And I think the key word that you put in here is “flexibility,” for sure, particularly on the delivery timeline. So certainly we know that there are certain sectors—apparel, another great example—where certain factories or certain big brands, there’s definitely been a lot of pressure in the supply chain there. And so we’re aware of that, and so we are not hard-pressing specific timelines.

Rebecca Heard (01:00:07):

Now, there is also a realistic element to that, especially as we approach kind of holiday and we know that there is a window for peak transactions. And so in some case that may be yeah, we can be more flexible on a delivery date, but that may also mean that that order may not be as big as it was before. I think the second piece is about not changing orders substantially. And that goes back to be in this open dialogue with your vendors and brands. Have a plan A and have a plan B. And I think we’ve been very fortunate that we are able to go back and say, “Hey, who has canceled your orders?” And then we are actually taking on canceled orders from brands. So with that, I think this is a great question. Thank you for raising it.

Gregory Gausewitz (01:00:58):

I think the first step here is really just understanding what the impact of your decisions are as a business. And if you work in the supply chain, you know the impact of trying to chase in the product and being really intense about when the product needs to be delivered. You know the ripple effect like that has in the supply chain. But a lot of times the people who are actually doing the buying don’t necessarily have that visibility into the supply chain, so I recommend starting by just helping to make sure that your colleagues are aware of that, or if you’re the one doing the buying, then do a little research and you can start by talking to your partners, talk to the brands that you work with, talk to your suppliers, and understand how you can be a better partner.

Gregory Gausewitz (01:01:40):

So I’d say it’s part art, part science. It’s having a culture of collaboration and understanding the pressures that your business partners are facing and being sensitive to those. But then there also are more formal better buying guidelines that you can review and see how you stack up against them. And in certain supply chain certifications like the First RED USA program, there are provisions related to forecasting and how you’re setting your business partners up for success to make sure that they plan the business accordingly and don’t have to scramble to get more labor and potentially cut corners on working hours or things like that. So I think it’s really a culture that can be instilled within an organization, but the first step is just understanding how your decisions and your behaviors as a brand or a retailer can drive either a positive effect or a negative effect throughout the supply chain.

Chris Davenport (01:02:34):

Thanks Greg. Mital, any final thoughts from you before we wrap up?

Mital Patel (01:02:39):

I think everybody really said it really well. And I think I’ll continue to mention the fact that it’s really increasingly looking like we need to make sure that we have a great digital presence as well as a great experience for customers in-store. And they don’t have to be one or the other—it has to be a very similar experience for the customers. But no, besides that, I think it was a really, really well responses from everybody.

Chris Davenport (01:03:09):

Yes. Thank you to all of you, Rebecca, Greg, Mital—that was fantastic. Some really wonderful practical solutions for small businesses here. Sustainable operations equals sustainable recovery, that was the theme and I think we drilled down pretty deep in there. So thank you for all of your insights. Thanks for the questions that we had from our attendees. For more information, you can go to sustainablerecovery.us. That is the website for this Navigating Change series.

Chris Davenport (01:03:37):

And our fourth and final webinar is coming up next week and it’ll feature Kate Williams from 1% For the Planet, Jenn Swain from Burton Snowboards, and Brady Robinson from The Conservation Alliance. I’ll be hosting that. I look forward to chatting with those individuals as well. So once again, thanks to all of you for joining me today and there’s a lot more information on the site. This has been a great conversation. I hope you all have a wonderful end of the week and a great weekend. See you outside.

 

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