Colorado outdoor manufacturers are increasingly partnering with the state's tourism sector for marketing, testing, and retailing synergies.
Outdoor recreation is big business in Colorado. It represents $28 billion to the state's economy annually, and is actually a bigger industry than agriculture and on par with oil and gas. And it encompasses two key sectors in the state with similar target markets that are finding ways to work together: tourism and gear manufacturing.
Take Meier Skis in Denver. CEO Ted Eynon has established the "world's first craft skiery" after relocating from Glenwood Springs in 2016. The factory has emerged as a hotspot for tourists on ski trips.
"Last year, we had a very significant number of people that came straight here after getting off their plane," says Eynon. "They had never seen how skis are made."
About 100 people visited the Meier factory on their way up or down the mountain in 2017 "from all over the world," he says. Some of them came to pick up their skis or otherwise "get the full immersive experience they can't get anywhere else."
Meier has also partnered with the new Ikon Pass on co-branded skis for the new Epic Pass rival that includes access to Aspen/Snowmass, Steamboat, Jackson Hole, and Deer Valley. "We plan on working with them wherever their passholders are," says Eynon. "They plan on inviting Ikon passholders here for events as well."
Denver-based OneSeed Expeditions offers a different take. The company takes customers on tours in the Himalayas, South America, and Africa, and donates 10 percent of revenues to a revolving fund that stakes entrepreneurs around the world with micro-loans. "We as an operator see a lot of opportunity [to work with local manufacturers]," says OneSeed founder Chris Baker.
In 2017, OneSeed partnered with Denver's MHM Gear on a co-marketing campaign. A contest winner got a bundle of gear, complete with an MHM backpack, to take on a OneSeed trip to Peru. NoKero and Revel Gear are other Colorado gear brands that OneSeed has partnered with in the past. Baker is also looking at giveaways as incentives for early bookings. "It's cross-pollination within our respective networks," he says.
Baker calls the Outdoor Retailer show a "nexus" that offers similar opportunities. "With OR coming to Denver, we've seen that side of our business is taking off," says Baker. "We're there to look for partners."
Baker says he's looking to work with local outdoor brands to take their customers on "white-label adventures" with OneSeed. "For them, it's an opportunity to get exposure in front of their clients and provide something exclusive."
Testing is another opportunity for manufacturers and tourism companies to work together. OneSeed is taking prototypes of Empire-based Cold Case Gear's insulated camera bags to Africa in October 2018. "We can get 100 days on Kilimanjaro really quickly," says Baker. "Our guides are really good validators of different products."
That kind of exposure can create not only feedback, but content, he adds. Case in point: OneSeed's guides have been passing around one of MHM Gear's Divide backpacks for the last two years. It's traveled from the Himalayas to Patagonia. "The original goal was to get it some trail miles and see where that goes," says Baker. But the pack has gotten seen by countless passing hikers. "That'll stoke some conservations on the trail" -- and gives MHM Gear great images to post on social media.
While OneSeed is taking gear worldwide, local manufacturers can easily port the practice to tour operators, guides, and outfitters in Colorado.
Jay Getzel, president of Golden-based backpack maker Mountainsmith, sees another vehicle for local manufacturers to connect with tourists. "There has been phenomenal growth in people coming in from outside the state looking for rental gear," he says.
Mountainsmith packs and tents are available through Mountain Side Gear Rental (MSGR) in Golden as part of camping and backpacking rental packages.
MSGR founder John Hildebrandt "has got a great Venn diagram of brands, nonprofit organizations, and his rental business that pulls from the same pool of people," says Getzel. "It is a really great marketing opportunity for us. They get home and think about purchasing some gear: 'Mountainsmith -- I'm going to look them up.'"
Hildebrandt started MSGR in 2010. "We focus on Colorado brands as much as we can," he says. "I grew up here. It's important to me to support local businesses."
MSGR rents not only Mountainsmith products, but also Otter Products coolers, Big Agnes sleeping bags and pads, Altitude Teardrop Co. trailers, Odin Designs roof top tents, and Crescent Moon Snowshoes; the company also sells Backpacker's Pantry, Honey Stinger, and Spinster Sisters products in its store.
Hildebrandt says he is receptive to local food and consumer products manufacturers that align with his clientele. "It introduces their products to a new customer base," he says. "We've had customers from 53 companies in eight years."
MSGR's comprehensive camping and backpacking kits have been big hits. "That's a category we created," says Hildebrandt. "Those are more than 50 percent of our rental business."
Hildebrandt would like to take his synergy with local manufacturers to the next level. "I've talked to Big Agnes and Mountainsmith if we could do field-testing for prototypes," he says.
When Crescent Moon launched its EVA All-Foam Snowshoes, MSGR provided them to a Colorado Parks & Wildlife program that targeted city kids. "It was 32 people who had never been on snowshoes," says Hildebrandt. Crescent Moon co-founder Jake Thamm "wanted to know what they thought. That was their target market."
Hildebrandt also synergizes with local craft breweries like Cannonball Creek and Mountain Toad. "We do guided hikes in the Golden area and we finish at a brewery," he says. "We introduce people to liquid gold as well."
Eric Peterson is editor of CompanyWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.