28 Oct Conditions may vary
I went skiing last winter, and it was just too damn cold. My cheeks burned and I grew a snotsicle the size of a carrot. With boilerplate conditions, a grey sky, and high winds, it was really unpleasant. So I complained to the resort manager. A few minutes later, the sun came out and the slopes had two feet of fresh powder. It was awesome.
This summer, my family went body-surfing. When we got to the beach, the waves crested 14’ and a large shark cruised just inside the break. This disappointed the kids, naturally. So I complained to the head lifeguard, and within minutes they shot the shark and turned the waves down for us. We had a great day.
My wife and I went trail running last weekend. It was brisk as we set out under golden leaves falling in the dawn’s light. The weather forecast was perfect, but as we ran dark clouds rolled in and spit sleet. Almost hypothermic, we met a ranger on the trail and complained. She used her remote to make the weather match the forecast. We live in an amazing time.
We all know the real world doesn’t work like this. Conditions often don’t meet expectations, and cannot be adjusted. In the outdoor industry we live, work, and play in wild places where the consequences for bad judgement or bad luck can be severe. Most of us have survived tough circumstances and lived to tell about them. We all know someone who left this world too soon, doing things that we have done.
In specialty retail, people talk about current conditions. We hear that the market is too soft, or too hard. Someone else has a huge advantage. Brands aren’t exclusive. People can buy anything, anywhere. Business isn’t fair. It wasn’t like this in 1985.
Still, the conditions are the conditions. In the wild, most variables are beyond our control. Crevasses are where they are, not where they are expected. Weather changes abruptly. Sometimes avalanches happen. When bears enter the tent, they are there to eat. We are on the menu, and – no – it’s not fair.
At this year’s OIA Rendezvous, we heard from Zumiez founder Tom Campion. Zumiez sells brands that are available everywhere, they don’t do private label, and they are anchored in malls of all places. And Zumiez kills it. How? Credit their culture of sales, conversion, and great service. Rachel Shechtman told us about opening Story in New York City at the height of the recession. Her new model is at once a store, a magazine, a website, and a museum. Story collaborates with large retailers such as Target that could be seen as competitors, and has been highlighted on Oprah. Maybe Campion and Shechtman accept something that others haven’t.
We don’t get to decide where or when we are lost or buried; we’re not always at the top of the food chain. Choosing to play means accepting all conditions and risks. There are no refunds, no modifications, and probably no rescue if we get into trouble. Self-rescue may be our only option, and absent this we fail. The only safe option is to stay home.
Clearly, some play to win. Others complain about conditions. While they’re complaining, competitors are gaining. The only question is whether or not people choose to play, whatever the conditions.
The terms are – as always – unconditional: Conditions may vary. It’s a harsh reality, but one we’ve come to expect and accept in the New Normal.
Many thanks to Nikki Hodgson for the one-time use of her copyrighted image. Learn more about the photographers who graciously provide us with images to use on this website by going to Meet Our Photographers.