Selling adventure: How Backcountry.com's CEO leads through outdoor example

Published: Monday, May 28 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

It's a manager's job to hire the right people and not to tell them when to be in the office, Layfield said.

Layfield now likes hiring athletes because she is looking for workers who want to win. She also is trying to develop ways to gauge a person's competitiveness during an interview.

The business is a "cooperative competition" with other specialty retailers. They compete against offline specialty retailers for customers, but work together to not be overwhelmed by the "everything to everyone" retailers, like Amazon.

Unlike other outdoor retailers, like REI, who appeal to more of a recreational customer base, Backcountry aims more for the extreme outdoor enthusiast, Layfield said. The company isn't trying to be condescending. Rather, they are positioning their brand differently than other outdoor retail chains.

"We respect REI immensely," Layfield said. "I shop REI. I think we all do."

One of the founders, Jim Holland, was a two-time Olympic Nordic ski jumper, and that athletic spirit led to the success of the company, Layfield said.

The company uses a gold points recognition system to award employees for hard work.

But points aren't simply dolled out by management. Rather, they are given from one employee to another. Employees can redeem the points for things like ski passes, chair massages and gift certificates.

Backcountry works to connect with its customers in a similar way it does with its employees.

Around 2008, the company invested in a website where customers are able to read reviews, comment and look at photos. With it, they are able build a community of like-minded outdoor enthusiast online.

"What we provide is authority, expertise and guidance," Layfield said. "The community helps us cement that in the consumers mind as to who we are and why we are different than our competitors."

A major overhaul of the Backcountry.com is scheduled to begin this year and will help improve the retail experience, enhance branding and emotional connections of products and expand the community conversation.

The company's focus on specializing in premium outdoor gear rather than "all things for all people" retailer will put Backcountry ahead of its competitors, she said.

"It's what we believe in as a company, and it's what we're passionate about," Layfield said. "We believe that premium gear makes people better, happier and it will allow our customers to continue to pursue the outdoors. Premium gear raises the participation of the market we're in."

Layfield says she expects growth to come organically and through international expansion over the next six years, but is starting to consider possible mergers and acquisitions.

"We are very opportunistic with our M&A strategy," Layfield said. "Eighteen months ago, I wasn't thinking as much about M&A as I am now. We definitely allow companies to come to us, but we prefer to find people."

Liberty, Backcountry's parent company, isn't interested in getting into bidding wars, Layfield said. They would rather find companies that fit the profile of Backcountry's characteristics.

email: jferguson@desnews.com; jburke@desnews.com

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