From 'doing things' to doing things profitably: Outdoor Voices' plans for growth

2020/07/03 Innoverview Read

Just five months ago, Outdoor Voices made news for the resignation of founder Tyler Haney in what appeared to not be a mutual decision. In an Instagram post at the time, Haney called out a "one-sided narrative" that she was unable to rectify "because of documents I was required to sign." She was replaced as CEO in the interim by Cliff Moskowitz.

Now, the once-DTC darling that, like many others, has had its profitability questioned, is making news again on the departure of Moskowitz, and the naming of a new chairwoman: Ashley Merrill, founder of DTC sleepwear brand Lunya. Outdoor Voices simultaneously announced a funding round from Merrill's investment management platform, NaHCO3.

In a company statement, Outdoor Voices thanked Moskowitz for his time at the brand, and for leading it through the first parts of the pandemic. The details on his departure, however, are scant.

"With the Company on stable financial and operational footing, Cliff has determined that this is the right time for him to pursue other interests," a company spokesperson said in a statement.

Merrill's predecessor, Mickey Drexler, the former J. Crew CEO who was named Outdoor Voices' Chairman in 2017, also left the company in the spring.

While Haney remained a member of the board after her resignation, the circumstances around her departure, and media reports just after it, hinted at a rift between Haney and the rest of the company's board. Haney herself pointed to "gender and generational differences" in her Instagram post shortly after stepping down.

There was also the fact that, in stepping down as CEO, she would no longer be as involved in the company's day-to-day decisions, despite being the face of the company's "doing things" ethos for years. Merrill's arrival, though, and the departure of Drexler, may point to a different future — both for Haney and for Outdoor Voices.

"I read some of the news like everybody else and I heard things weren't going well," Merrill told Retail Dive. "I had no personal relationship with Ty but had certainly admired what she built from afar, [so] that when I heard that she was having some challenges, I wanted to reach out and see if there was anything I could do."

The timing worked, and Merrill is now on the board, helping to run the business in the interim as the company looks for a new CEO. But she's not coming in to overhaul the way Outdoor Voices does things. Rather, the most important thing Merrill wants to give to Outdoor Voices is foundational. 

"Systems, processes, very unsexy things," Merrill said, adding that she wants to help the company be more intentional in its decision making. "How are we thinking about how we work together? How can we create smoother operational systems, more touchpoints between departments?"

Those foundational elements are easier to build, in Merrill's mind, than having to create a powerful brand.

"So many of the things that are hard to get are there," Merrill said. "People are incredibly passionate, both inside the company and the customers outside the company, about what Outdoor Voices' mission is all about."

The new CEO will also ideally be focused on those foundational steps and knowledgeable about building organizations and managing people. Omnichannel experience is a definite for that hire, Merrill said, with retail and apparel experience also being a big win for the company. And, as always, it comes back to doing things. At the end of the day, she wants someone in that role who believes in the company's mission and values.

"They're not just going through the motions, they are also able to connect on that deeper brand level," Merrill said.

While there's no need to change Outdoor Voices' core values or brand mission, like many DTC brands with popular followings, the brand could use some help in terms of scaling profitably. Merrill pointed to the amount of capital Outdoor Voices has raised, and the expectations for growth that come with that, noting that the company was focusing on "growing at all costs."

The company's new leadership, starting with Merrill, is turning the focus from doing things to doing things profitably.

"Everybody there is ready to start making the changes that we know need to be made to head towards profitability, and as we're charting out the path, I think it's very, very doable," Merrill said, adding again that much of the work is foundational. "What I'm really excited about for OV is the more innovative, offensive work we get to do, which is develop incredible products. We haven't really focused on product innovation as much as we could in the past year or so, and I think we're all really excited about taking a deep dive into the product and go: 'What else can we do?'"

(Source: Retail Dive )