Barriers to a sustained and broad-based U.S. manufacturing comeback are well documented, but what opportunities should local and regional businesses and planners be focusing on? What industries or market openings best fit the attributes of local economies?
There are also opportunities leading manufacturers across industry boundaries to partner with companies that have similar customers and values. Business leaders should take note.
One area of considerable promise is the intersection between outdoor industry and natural products -- calling cards of the economies of the American West. Think about it: Consumers of healthy food and beverages are often the same people leading active outdoor lifestyles.
Alissa Sears is co-founder of AdVenturesAcademy and VP growth & strategy at Christie & Co, a communications firm focused on companies across the natural products, outdoor, and sustainable agriculture industries. At Outdoor Retailer's Summer Market in Denver this July, she's organizing an event to showcase businesses operating at the intersection of these dynamic industries to like-minded investors.
"We have focused on the intersection of outdoor and natural products because of the inherent consumer alignments and shared values," says Sears, "but it's also about unrealized efficiencies. As retail continues to evolve, oscillating between e-commerce and brick and mortar, we've seen increased interest in natural products companies seeking to differentiate through being where their consumers live and play -- camping, on hikes, in climbing gyms, or wherever their lifestyle choices take them."
Sears sees retailers getting in the game as well, as does anyone who's walked past the wall of energy bars and natural good products at an REI checkout. "Outdoor retailers are also looking for ways to increase frequency of customer visits, provide education around 'clean fuel' for their customers, and find other ways to add to their shopping experience," says Sears. "Food, beverage, nutrition, and personal care have increasingly been seen as opportunities to achieve those goals."
In the vernacular of these newly connecting industries, retailers are new "experiential channels," according to Zach DeAngelo, partner at the brand management firm Rodeo CPG. For retailers, according to DeAngelo, Sears' "clean fuel" is "a natural extension and opportunity to deepen customer engagement and experiential education."
Heady stuff, and it's not only product manufacturers and their distribution channels that are evolving. Investors are taking note, according to Sears. "We've also seen investors who have traditionally focused on one sector or the other realize the alignments and crossover opportunities," she says. "They're already a critical part of the growth ecosystem, and here, they also have the ability to help shape these emerging opportunities, with funds to expedite growth, guidance around prioritizing growth strategies, and the experience and wisdom of knowing when to say no. They are key growth partners and it's essential to ensure alignment to best overcome the inherent challenges of growth together."
Sears accomplishes this by bringing together companies and investors in out-of-the-box environments. When I mention the investor conferences we've hosted in Denver the past few years, she smiles -- a "been there, done that" nod that was just less than disapproving. But why meet in a conventional venue when the mountains of Ecuador beckon?
"We harness the power of adventure to deepen engagement," she explains, "bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders at this intersection and get them outdoors together through our experiential programming -- Colorado backcountry hut trips, surf trips in California, climbing in Ecuador. We know that the best businesses are the ones that do it differently. Push the limits. Make the impossible possible."
She adds, "Companies are adapting to rapidly shifting terrain, realizing that 'business as usual' is no more. They are getting more creative in how they approach growth, exploring new distribution channels, developing collaborative product lines, engaging advisors and investors with cross-sector experience."
Denver's not Ecuador, but Sears has something special in mind for the pitch event at Outdoor Retailer. "The Entrepreneur + Investor [Tent]Pitch will go beyond the traditional pitch event to highlight the importance of aligned relationships between entrepreneurs and investors through connecting at a deeper level. We will showcase eight entrepreneur and investor teams at the intersection of outdoor and natural products, bringing together key decision makers from both industries to explore opportunities to align forces and unlock crossover growth opportunities."
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.