We recently were able to sit down for a talk with Matt DeWitte and Wes Allen, the co-founders of argot agency. Matt and Wes have years of personal experience with the outdoor industry and specialty retail. All that experience has given them piles of wisdom on how brands and retailers can best work together, the role of specialty retail in the industry, and the do’s and don’ts of how to be a succesfull brand. They’ve been kind enough to take some time out of their day to share those insights with us.
Matt DeWitte is an experienced executive, having led marketing teams for a variety of consumer brands, including Merrell, Dansko, LifeStraw, the Ford Motor Company, Boxed Water is Better, L.L.Bean, and Timberland. He has previously executed brand integrations into many retailers, including REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods and a plethora of highly regarded independents.
Wes Allen is the co-owner of Sunlight Sports in Cody, WY - the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance 2018 Retailer of the Year. He has previously worked as the National Sales Manager for Chaco Sandals, the president of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, and a store leader for almost a decade for REI.
Together, along with Megan Baumeister, they created argot with a vision to help brands find connections with consumers specifically by working with specialty retail.
Q: What are your thoughts on the current role of Specialty Retail? Specifically, specialty retail in the outdoor space functionally operating like the “Influencers” of today?
Matt: In past roles, I’ve worked for a number of brands and have had pretty good budgets allocated to support efforts around social media influencer marketing. They create some great content and when done right, they can create tangible metrics through shares, likes and views.
However, some of those influencers had never heard of the brand before, they hadn’t used the products and when a contract is over they move on to a competitor who is willing to pay them. Some of them were not real believers in the brand or the products that they were supporting and it made us feel like there was a massive disconnect.
I’ve also had a chance to work with great outdoor specialty retailers and talk to their staff, many of whom choose to work in those stores because they are passionate about being outside. They are high-intensity users of the products and they have first-hand knowledge of not only the best brands and products on the market but the best places to go out and use them right in their backyards. When we look at the numbers and we see that nearly 90% of all sales in the US are still happening at retail, we realized that many brands are missing an opportunity to make an even more tangible impact on both sales and brand affinity.
Those specialty retailers still are, in our opinion, the original influencers. They can talk to a customer about the brand, what it stands for, how its’ products should be used and where. They can often show pictures of themselves using the products that they are selling on the floor in use on their last adventure. This creates much different levels of engagement than what can be curated and fabricated on social media. And at the end of an exchange with a sales associate, they can literally help the customer purchase your product.
In our mind, that’s what influencers are meant to do, to help narrate the brand story in an authentic way that also provides knowledge and insight from a real user. It’s like social media and customer reviews, in a more believable format. Outdoor specialty retailers can retake the influencer space. It’s been their’s to own and brands need to work with them to help facilitate these extremely valuable interactions that happen face to face.
Q: With this in mind what are some ways a brand can empower and support their specialty retail channel in mass while remaining meaningful and local?
Matt: First, brands need to ensure that specialty retail continues to be a priority and to support it with assets, budget, and resources. Brands that have a clear brand story and value proposition and who can clearly disseminate that information to their specialty retailers will continue to find success in this channel.
That may be through an in-house or external rep force, but the sales team will be responsible for communicating this vision on a seasonal basis. Those reps need to be working with the staff and not just the store owners and buyers, to help them become true advocates and users of the products. Get products in their hands to use, talk to them about their experiences with the product, invite feedback and encourage them to talk to customers about their positive experiences with your brand.
Also, brands that empower their sales team to work with retailers to execute marketing support locally will be big winners in this channel. Specialty retailers want support from brands, they are often willing to find ways to work with brands who are willing to invest time and money in their store.
At the same time, this needs to be an opportunity to work together to make the store and their support of the brand unique, to make it special. Specialty retailers need to differentiate from mass marketing campaigns. Brands should work with retailers to make any exposure provided at specialty to be more about experiences, to help customers envision how to use the products, to make your brand approachable, and to ensure that the store staff are advocates for the brand. Ensuring that any local marketing efforts combine the brand vision with the nuance and positioning of the local retailer will be key to success for all involved.
Q: What kind of outcomes could a brand expect from putting these strategies to work next season?
Matt: Of course, the first thing that most brands want to see is an increase in sales. We absolutely believe that this focus will lead to increased sales and we have seen it happen over and over again. Yet at the same time, we encourage brands to see beyond this.
There is a much larger opportunity for brands and it has to do with the potential that we talked about for them to be the influencers. We encourage brands to look at working with their best specialty retailers as an opportunity to increases brand awareness and, more importantly, brand affinity.
Brand awareness simply measures whether an individual knows of your brand. Brand affinity is an individual’s brand preference given a product category. It is at its strongest level when a customer believes that an organization champions the values they admire, and have had positive experiences with the brands’ products. Customers who demonstrate affinity for a brand buy more, buy more often, and complain less.
Specialty retailers have the ability to make a big impact on brand affinity. If retailers know your brand story and if they can help direct customers on how and where to use your products, they are an extremely effective tool in building that metric quickly. We’ve also seen that customers who are educated on a brand and empowered to have an awesome experience with it also share those experiences with others, whether through word of mouth or through social channels. This transitions your retailers, your best influencers, to facilitating additional influencers, your actual end consumers.
Q: Tell us more about argot and your services. What does it take to get started for the coming season? When is the best time to engage?
Matt: We started argot after we saw the reality of this relationship between brands and specialty retail play out over a number of seasons and with a number of different brands. Brands that were interested in making an impact with their best specialty doors worked with them to create unique and local marketing campaigns that drove sales, awareness and affinity
The problem that argot solves is that we provide the additional focus, manpower and creative talent that many brands and retailers don’t have the luxury of tapping in to on a larger scale. We facilitate the conversations with the brand and their retailers, we act as an extension of both teams. We work to develop the creative concept, to produce localized content, to execute the local marketing and in-store support, and to track the success of each campaign.
Our founding partners are all industry veterans who have vast knowledge and experience in brand building, retail, and creative. We can work on some tighter timelines, but ideally, we’d like to engage with brands as they are developing their seasonal launch plans. Being a part of their go to market strategy and assisting them with the selection of retail partners during the sales cycle is the most effective way to partner. It allows them to capitalize on the support that they are providing to their stores by ensuring proper inventory levels throughout the campaign and it allows for an optimized timeline that provides ample time for ideation, content creation, and setting up the logistics for campaign launch and execution.
Want to know more about what argot does? Check them out and get in touch over on their website.