Discover more from Future Commerce
Episode 333
December 15, 2023

Taking High-Level to the Rooftops

A lot of brands say they want to make their customers’ lives better with their products, but how do they go about actually achieving that? The storied brand, James Baroud, is creatively connecting with their audience and finding new ways to not only help them want to purchase their products but also to enjoy their products even more, and therefore enjoy life even more. It’s a big task, but Bobby Huang is all about it. Listen to this episode to hear from him on the heart behind that and what the future holds for James Baroud.

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A lot of brands say they want to make their customers’ lives better with their products, but how do they go about actually achieving that? The storied brand, James Baroud, is creatively connecting with their audience and finding new ways to not only help them want to purchase their products but also to enjoy their products even more, and therefore enjoy life even more. It’s a big task, but Bobby Huang is all about it. Listen to this episode to hear from him on the heart behind that and what the future holds for James Baroud.

History and Innovation

  • {00:06:58} - “When you evaluate yourself against your competition, the first thing you do is you identify the things that it's said that your competitors can't copy. And then you ask yourself if you can lean into it and do that really well.” - Bobby
  • {00:21:31} - “There are lots of steps along the way for when you see this thing today on top of a car to be what it is. And so when you open up that tent and you crawl inside and you look around, all that history, innovation, and iteration in that process surrounds you. And so that is kind of the message that I wanna tell to a broader audience.” - Bobby
  • {00:26:19} - “I would like this product to serve as a muse for families and their ability to just enjoy life more.” - Bobby
  • {00:32:19} - “I can't help but think there's already a multiplayer story involved here. Because when you have a high-value resale market, that means that people are really committed to the product, and believe in its value. And when something goes up for sale, it doesn't sit on the market long. It's gonna get snapped up because people know and trust the quality.” - Brian
  • {00:45:27} - “In terms of building trust and getting folks unified around a strategy, I wouldn't say it's a strategy, it's our strategy. It's something that we learn into together as a team.” - Bobby
  • {00:47:41} - “Today, our website does not do DTC sales, for a couple of reasons. One of the side reasons that everybody can understand is these things are really big and heavy and shipping can be really expensive. But in an effort to build trust and do cool interesting things in 2024, we are going to put some hidden gems on our website and do some limited edition artistic colored tents for folks who can find it on the site. And there'll be some hidden portals to be able to buy some really cool artist designed tents next year.” - Bobby

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Bobby: [00:00:00] If you're taking a long road trip and you wanna just pull out the side of the road and just hang out with your kid for, you know, 20, 30 minutes because she's been sitting in the car seat for 2 hours, is getting antsy, you can just do that and it'd be really, really comfortable. And so I would like this product to serve as a muse for families and their ability to just enjoy life more.

Phillip: [00:01:41] Hello, and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast exploring the intersection of culture and commerce. I'm Phillip.

Brian: [00:01:47] And I'm Brian. And today, we have Bobby Huang, the Chief Commercial Officer at James Baroud. I'm very excited to have you on the podcast. Bobby, I cannot wait to get into this conversation.

Bobby: [00:01:59] Likewise.

Phillip: [00:02:00] Now you two are fast friends. Bobby, we only just met moments ago, but it sounds like the two of you have a penchant for dining of the finer sort at Future Commerce Salons. But, Bobby, for those, including me who don't know you, give us a little bit of the CV. Catch us up on who you are and what you do in the world of commerce?

Bobby: [00:02:21] Yeah. So I currently work for a Portuguese-based rooftop tent company called James Baroud. For folks who don't know what rooftop tent refers to, they're the tents that you see mounted on top of vehicles when you're driving around. So a lot of them in the US look like a big black box or a big square bag covering some object on top of a car. And that's essentially most time those are rooftop tents. So, I work for this company. They're based out of Portugal. They've been making tents since 1958. And I recently transitioned from my role as leading retail strategy at REI to this rooftop tent company. I was at REI for two and a half years, working primarily in strategic roles. And prior to REI, I did a short stint at a locally based, Seattle-based, technology startup, working on data integration software, data virtualization for those who nerd out on that kind of stuff. And then prior to that, I was at T Mobile for almost 15 years.

Phillip: [00:03:44] Oh wow.

Bobby: [00:03:44] So I often say the bulk of my professional career has been at T Mobile. So, yeah, that's kind of my CV history.

Brian: [00:03:54] Nice. Well, we're super excited to chat with you about this transition. Talk to us a little bit about the job change. You joined James Baroud recently and you're coming from sort of a storied retailer, REI. What's the opportunity for you at at a brand like James Baroud, and the opportunity for rooftop tents in the coming year?

Bobby: [00:04:15] Yeah. It's a really good question. And I ask myself that question almost on a daily basis. So I would say, without diving deep and going down the rabbit hole of rooftop tent history, James Baroud was one of the first rooftop tentmakers. And it's a fairly interesting story about how they got into it and why is this rooftop tent business even a thing. And I didn't learn anything about rooftop tents until I was contacted by them and then began my research into this industry and it's very interesting and very fascinating. And I think there's a lot of parallels to how to manage and run that business from what I learned in my two and a half years at REI. So some of the experience is very transferable. And also James Baroud's a much smaller company. And I have, how do I say this, I guess, more leeway and control over and being able to move a little faster on decisions. So, I think all of those things made it very interesting. And then also just to see all of the strategic framework that one learns in corporate America. Does any of this knowledge experience have value when it comes to the frameworks that get applied to new businesses starting from scratch? And so, strategy is oftentimes theoretical, can be subjective sometimes, and often not strictly tied with execution, as many folks in the corporate world would know. And I've spent the bulk of my career in strategic roles, whether they're at corporate strategy at T Mobile or at REI. And so this is an opportunity to take all that learning and say, can we do something with this in an execution smaller company project? And, all those things combined made it very interesting.

Phillip: [00:06:17] In a different way, you might even say that's like, sometimes we see folks from capital allocation take the leap into the execution of building a brand of their own or building a technology or a solution of their own. It sounds like it's sort of the same impetus as taking this knowledge and this experience you have and guiding bigger ships and sort of saying, let's get tactical and do it on our own. Is that a fair characterization?

Bobby: [00:06:44] Absolutely. Absolutely. And I can give a very simple example of a super high level framework and strategy that we tried to deploy at REI, which is when you evaluate yourself against your competition, the first thing you do is you identify the things that it's said that your competitors can't copy. And then you ask yourself if you can lean into it and do that really well. So an example at REI would be things like membership, the history of that company, super loyal customers, a physical large physical store, fleet presence, experiential retail. Right? Those are things that would be hard for certain companies to just copy immediately overnight. And then you have to prioritize and say, alright, if we want to really widen the moat at REI, what's their plan for leaning into those things that competitors can't copy? Same thing with James Baroud. So identifying what is unique about this company that all of these new entrants who have popped up mid-pandemic as people try to get out making rooftop tents... The product, in concept, is easy to copy. Anybody can make a box, throw a mattress in it and mount it on top of a car. What is unique about this brand, this brand's history, the type of materials, the product it produces that you can lean into whether it's through marketing or messaging that helps you widen your moat against your competitors? So framework-wise, a lot of parallels. That's just one example.

Brian: [00:08:17] That's interesting. Yeah. Are you looking at some of the challenges you faced at REI as similar challenges of even much, much smaller, more specific brands like James Baroud?

Bobby: [00:08:28] They have different challenges. REI's challenges, I mean, both I think long term, REI's challenges are minimal. Short term, REI, like a lot of other retailers, has been impacted by the bullwhip effect coming out of the pandemic, which is a lot of retailers saw really high demand, carried a lot of inventory, and then in a span of about a year and a half, demand was not as aggressive as it was in the past. So, all these retailers, not just REI, deployed a variety of strategies to try to offload some of their inventory. And those strategies have consequences because they're nontraditional. So, James Baroud does not have that same problem. James Baroud's revenue today comes primarily from Western Europe. I would say probably 70 to 75% of sales, come from a handful of countries: Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain in Western Europe. And then the rest a split between Australia, Japan, and the United States. So there is a really large potential both from just the number of population and disposable income and outdoor participation score in places like the US and Australia and even Latin America, to make folks more aware of the brand, the difference, and the value that this product can bring into their lives. So my job is to help share that message and story.

Brian: [00:10:10] Speaking of story, at one of the last salons we did together, we had a discussion about the multiplayer brand, which is a concept we sort of pioneered here at Future Commerce and this idea of participatory brands, co-building brand, and building brand in in concert with specific communities. You talked a little bit about this at the salon, but the idea of the multiplayer brand is highly compelling to a big retailer like REI. How would you see REI evolving into the future if they were to sort of lean into the idea of a participatory brand, a multiplayer brand? And what would that look like in your mind?

Bobby: [00:10:47] Yeah. I was thinking about this prior to getting on the call. And thinking through some of the examples in the dork mode article that was shared with Future Commerce folks a few months back. And the conclusion that I arrived at is REI has actually been doing multiplayer brand in the physical space for a really long time. And we can probably have a full podcast on all of the benefits that REI members get but don't know about. Experience and things like REI runs a travel business and members get preferential treatment and pricing. REI does an adventure camping business. REI rents boats and kayaks and paddle boards. REI is in the process of building out a fleet of re-commerce stores that only members can shop at. These are all microcosm examples of completely different yet somewhat adjacent experiences in different physical spaces for their best customers. So REI has been running with this framework and concept for a really long time in the physical world. And I often joke with my friends and say, there was a period of time where experiential retail was a really hot, phrase. And REI has been doing experiential retail before it was even known as a thing. It's just by nature of the industry that they have it belong to. So I think for multiplayer brand for REI in the physical space, they're in it. Now in the digital world, the ideas are endless. But the interesting piece about riffing on REI in the digital space is that REI's ethos is to get people outside. Their whole brand is about getting people to enjoy fresh air and have the sun or rain hit their face. That's what the business is all about. And so spending to deepen digital experiences at REI and create a better digital multiplayer brand experience, I think strategically, it might be a hard sell because it's not fully aligned with the core mission of its current, best member base. But as you all know, the younger generations, are a little different. And so it may evolve as time goes on.

Brian: [00:14:14] As you were talking, my brain started turning. If that is the core mission, I actually think leaning into dork mode into a multiplayer, more participatory experience online actually makes even more sense to me because, oftentimes, when we're shopping online, we're just shopping. The whole point is just to shop. But I think there's opportunity to capture and engage different audiences in different ways in a way that actually gets them more excited about being outside than just a a shopping experience. So in my mind, I'm thinking, man, actually, I think what you said is even more reason to lean in. But, Phillip, I feel like you're about to ask a question, so I'll turn it over to you.

Phillip: [00:14:55] No. I'm just gonna play audience surrogate because some of these concepts just haven't been defined here. And, if there are folks that are new to the audience, I just wanna make sure they're on the same page. Dork Mode, which has been referenced a couple times already here is this idea that we put out in 2021 that's come up a few times in different contexts of folks being able to personalize their digital experience in a way that feels like the brand has delivered something unique to them. So Dark Mode might be one way of opting into a visual aesthetic that is easier on your eyes. Maybe Dork Mode is a more offbeat aesthetic that we've theorized, that brands could be building for the future to say, this is the same, it's a similar experience, but one that you could opt into that's a little bit off-kilter or potentially one that speaks more directly to a specific audience. And, of course, we put that in context of why would Gucci build a Roblox experience. What does that mean for that particular, to being native to a channel? I guess, Bobby, bringing that back as to what that means, are there layers of that type of experience that a modern brand might be thinking about as ways to stand out? How do you lean in more to, say, the history of the brand or the way that James Baroud, for instance, might be telling a story, that looks a little more maybe it's a little more editorial than it is selling, or a direct shoppable experience these days, but maybe that lends itself to have more immersive experience. What are those things that you see as opportunities? I guess, that is the question I'm asking.

Bobby: [00:16:42] Yeah. And for James Baroud, I mean, this I can share, and I really appreciate this relationship with Future Commerce and you guys sharing these concepts with me because my brain immediately says, okay, how can this be relevant to what I'm currently working on? So let me just share that because I think it's very relevant to your question. And through doing that, I had to give just a little bit of history on the rooftop tent business so folks understand why it's material because history is a differentiator. So this came to my mind when I was researching why is rooftop tent even a thing. How did this come to be? And when you dig back in the archives of the rooftop tent library, what you'll find is that originally there were two companies based out of Europe that decided to put tents on top of vehicles and camp this way. The reason for that was because both these companies at one point, James Baroud being one of them, Autohome is the other one based out of Italy, used to make tents, just regular ground tents like REI makes. And in the early to mid-nineties, there were a lot of new tent makers from Asia that entered primary markets like the US and Europe and drastically undercut prices. And it made their margins compress and they had to pivot their business to doing something different. The founders of some of these companies used to love going on caravans and camping in many different parts of the world. Some of those places are North Africa and Australia. In those places to a certain degree, it's not safe to sleep on the ground because of bugs, snakes, weather, temperature, and a whole host of different reasons. It's actually better to be sleeping on an elevated platform like maybe some plywood or some crates or on top of a car for that matter and not directly on on the ground. And so that is kind of where putting a tent on top of a car was born. And the cool thing about putting a tent on top of a car is that when you're doing these caravan trips, you don't need to hire a bunch of guides to help set up camp for you, which is expensive, it's time consuming. And if you can just throw a tent on top of a card and opens easily, it allows you to get out a lot more often, and not have as much of a hurdle in going on like a major expedition type of a trip. And so that's originally how this concept was born. A couple of these companies that pivoted from making ground traditional tents, putting the tents on top of a car, selling it to a very unique audience who'd be willing to pay a little bit more for it. And so tying that back to telling the story of this company, that is one component of the story, is how this idea came to be and how long they've been doing this thing for and all the different evolutionary stages of how the original hand crank tent evolved to what it is today with gas struts and pistons self-opening and all that. That is one side of the story. The other part of the story for this particular company that I'm working for has to do with the Founder's father who made his name in fabrics. So he was a guy who was in the Portuguese military, assisting with making ground civilian refugee camp shelters, identifying the right canvases, and building the right structures for a civilian shelter building. And one of the things that he told me when I first flew over to Portugal and interviewed with the company, is he said, "Anybody can make two shells and throw some fabric around it and call it a car top tent. But the companies that really differentiate in terms of quality, experience, and comfort, are the ones that put a lot of heart and soul into the fabrics." Because at the end of the day, you're up high, you're gonna get more wind, more rain, more sun hitting against you. Your fabrics are everything. So if your fabrics aren't good, your comfort is not good. And so they, through a lot of experimentation and different partnerships, have partnered with a company based out in the Netherlands that makes the space suits for NASA. And, it's a custom proprietary 3-layer material that's super breathable, very weather resistant, sound dampening, light reducing, to use as their fabrics. And if you ever touch one of these rip-off tents, this becomes very apparent when you touch just ripstop nylon, which is what a lot of these companies use for all these new tents are coming out, to one of James Baroud tents. And so, I share that story because that is the type of historical narrative. How did we arrive at this fabric? How did this thing come to be? It didn't just get conjured up overnight. There are lots of steps along the way for when you see this thing today on top of a car to be what it is. And so when you open up that tent and you crawl inside and you look around, all that history, innovation, and iteration in that process surrounds you. And so that is kind of the message that I wanna tell to a broader audience if you will.

Brian: [00:21:57] To me, this plays so well into the narrative that we just came out of this past week. We just launched our Muses journal, where we explored how inspiration is really the motivation behind creation and purchasing cycles and really how brands have become sort of these modern muses or champions of muses for many people and are inspiring them to live their lives in a different way. And the story you just told just takes me straight to this concept of Muses. Do you see James Baroud as a muse for your customers, that fabric process, that story of how the company was started... And the focus on being outside and off the ground is so needed in the state of Florida, where Phillip lives.

Phillip: [00:22:54] I could have used this on my last through hike of the ocean to lake trail where 90% of it is underwater. But yes.

Brian: [00:23:02] Yeah. The concept of being a muse, have you explored that idea much, as a brand?

Bobby: [00:23:09] Yeah. I think a lot of our competitors do a really good job of creating content that is very inspirational for the traditional core US overland industry. That's a mouthful. But as you may or may not know, there is a growing community of people in the US who all have some type of vehicle-mounted camping system, not like an RV or, like a trailer, but something that's light, that's fast and easy for them to get out. And they group up and they do these campouts where they go to remote places and they kinda circle their vehicles, light a big fire in the middle and just go hang out in the woods for few days. And I think James Baroud, in conjunction with our competitors in this industry, do a really good job of creating lifestyle content and putting that in front of folks to inspire them to get outside more. Because until you do it, it's truly an incredible experience. To be out in the wilderness with like-minded folks who just want to be outside by a fire, you know, cooking your food outdoors and having a good time. It's pretty cool. That, I think, we take very seriously. And, we're constantly talking to our marketing agency about how to show up well in this community. What do we need to do both from a content, from an expo fair, giveaway, everything from marketing effort to show up well in this community and continue to aspire more people to get outside this way? That is one thing. The other thing that I have recognized, after having this product, and especially living in the Pacific Northwest where the weather is very temperamental, is it actually helps with getting families and kids outside more. If you're someone who enjoys getting outside, having a really quick rapid pop up shelter that you can drive around with you allows you to get out from under the weather and do fun and cool things with your family a lot easier and a lot faster. So for example, our family, we throw a couple of sleeping bags up there. We keep a Jetboil in the tent, and a couple packs of Mountain House in the tent. My daughter has a whole bunch I mean, I've got a 2 year old kid. She has a whole bunch of her toys and dolls up in there. And when we go to friends' soccer games, when we go to different events, we wanna go do a drive-in movie. And you just, you're always ready to go. If you're taking a long road trip and you wanna just pull out the side of the road and just hang out with your kid for 20, 30 minutes because she's been sitting in the car seat for 2 hours, is getting antsy, you can just do that and it'd be really, really comfortable. And so I would like this product to serve as a muse for families and their ability to just enjoy life more.

Phillip: [00:27:27] The question really that comes to mind is sort of the role. So we talked about sort of the provenance of the brand. We talked about competitors. Talked about this idea that your customers can find a better life and more adventure outside. What is the modern role of the Chief Commercial Officer, and how do you bring some element of change and growth to the business and finding new commercial opportunities for a storied brand? I think one obviously seems you sort of hinted at it already is there are markets that are pretty much untapped already. How does your knowledge of those markets allow you to help the brand scale and grow? But what would you do differently? I mean, it seems like if you're creating content and you have this great, quality product, it seems like it's a factor of time more than it is a whole bunch of brand new strategies and investment, but maybe correct me if I'm wrong.

Bobby: [00:28:17] Well, before I get into answering the question, I always caveat what I'm about to say by telling folks, I have no idea what I'm doing. So we'll just get that out there. I've never been a Chief Commercial Officer in my past.

Phillip: [00:28:33] {laughter} Sure.

Bobby: [00:28:33] And so this entire process has been a test and learn for me. And copying, borrowing, and stealing concepts from other businesses that I think have done it really, really well and then testing it within our own brand and ecosystem to see how it works. And I can say that, from everything between strategic framework to our website, to marketing agencies and content and everything else. So kind of scrapping all this stuff together. But to answer the question, I think one thing I want to do, again, this goes back to the framework, which is that there are a whole bunch of new entrants into this business. So if we go head to head with the iKampers of the world, to tell a hardcore Overland story, then I think that's gonna be a lot of, money, time, and effort burned for, I wouldn't say minimal gain, but not the best return. And so what we have done on our team is to look at the things that this company does really well that a lot of the other new entrants cannot copy. So that's all the history, all the going and trying to speak to families, highlighting things that this product can bring to people who may not be receiving the message that a lot of the new entrants have done. The other part is like you said, there's just basic, market strategies. The US is really under-tapped and underserved. And so how do we do the US really well? And the US is vastly different from Europe. And so what are the things that we need, the foundational things that we need in this country to enable this brand and this product to grow in the US? That is a whole bunch of different components that we're slowly starting to put into place right now. Everything from dealer relationships, marketing, various distribution strategies, supply chain, and so on and so forth. And then lastly is just the general story of the brand. How do we want anybody in the world to know when they see James Baroud on a car or anywhere? What do we want them to feel? What do we want them to know about this brand? Beyond just the history. But how do we want them to feel? You look at the iconic brands out there. When you see these things for different people, that logo, that brand, those colors, they send a message. And I want to be very intentional and distinct about what James Baroud stands for and what it means to own one of our products. So that is something that we are slowly working on as well, to both formulate and execute in 2024.

Brian: [00:31:28] One of the things about what you're saying is super, super exciting to me, and this kinda comes from looking at the James Baroud product in the market is you have an incredibly powerful resale market. Buying a James Baroud tent is hard to get a hold of. Because of the quality of the product, they last forever, and they're really well-loved by the people who own them. And so as you've been kind of talking about your strategy in the US and the feeling and the story that's there, that's already there for those that do own the tent, and what you wanna inspire them towards and what type of muse you wanna be, I can't help but think there's already a multiplayer story involved here. Because when you have a high-value resale market, that means that people are really committed to the product, and believe in its value. And when something goes up for sale, it doesn't sit on the market long. It's gonna get snapped up because people know and trust the quality. It feels to me like there's opportunity to sort of engage your existing customers that are here in the US in part of that strategy. Is that something that is on your map for, the next couple of years?

Bobby: [00:33:00] It absolutely is. It's a primary thing we're gonna talk about in 2024. How we're gonna make existing James Baroud tent owners' lives better. And the commercial aspect of that strategy is through a whole new line of accessories that we're gonna launch. So one of the things that we've done in the last couple of years is collected a lot of feedback from our customers, primarily US customers. Americans are exceptional at being critical of expensive things that they buy. So we've gathered a lot of their recommendations and we're prioritizing them based off some research and feedback and we're gonna start producing things that they're asking for. So everything from a wider ladder to make it easier to get up and down. Doggy steps on the ladder. So make it so their dog can climb up on top of their car and get in their rooftop tent. A platform above your feet that you can go put like a toddler or a baby, so they don't have to sleep in between parents.

Phillip: [00:34:11] Right. Yeah.

Bobby: [00:34:12] Right. A whole host of different things to allow people to enjoy life outside better. And so we look to launch something unique and different primarily to our existing customers via an eCommerce strategy about every couple of months in 2024. That's the plan. So I'm not gonna spill the beans on everything that we're going to launch, but that's kind of a flavor, from a commercial strategy wise on how we're gonna speak to our best customers.

Phillip: [00:34:46] This is where I plug Future Commerce Plus and say, well, if you spill the beans, but to us, maybe we'll spill the beans on our private feed. No. I think what's really interesting and sort of incumbent on any end of this nature where you have a large, core product that is, I would say a highly considered product, very durable, you have to create the lifestyle that exists around the product, and there's plenty of opportunity to capture more of the share of wallet, if you will, from the halo effect of other products. I mean, just one look at the website is I could have everything from, you know, a campfire stove to an awning. There are so many things that I could have, that I could look to your brand to help provide to me. I think it's the way that you make the appeal to the customer in this particular kind of customer, I think has a lot to do with the social circle. At least in the United States and at least in my algorithm. I need social proof. And social proof is the thing that creates the illusion of the scale of the brand for me and makes me want to flex that I own this thing to my friends. It's not that I have a smokeless stove. It's that I have a solo stove. Right? I need to have... The brand super matters to me. So that's a really interesting challenge to sort of overcome because there's a mix. There's a mix of brand marketing. There's a mix of, I would say, channel marketing as far as creators and affiliates, and there's just so much to do. And this is I think this classic place of a brand, where you are is that you have this level of and now to get to the next level requires a strategy of choosing where to start. So give me a little bit around frameworks because you said you've borrowed frameworks. Give me a little bit about frameworks in the ways that you sort of get the team rallied around things that you have an intuition might be the opportunity and how you would get the team on the same page to say, "This is where we're gonna make investments, and these are the checkpoints that we're going to use to qualify whether they're working for us or not and whether we pivot."

Bobby: [00:37:01] Yeah. So we try really hard to be transparent in our decision-making. So it's not me saying we're gonna do these things. It is our team laying out the challenges for our business. So we know where revenue is coming from. We know together opportunity that markets that are under-tapped. We know what customers are asking for. And we make bets as a group. And I know that sounds very cliche, but this is not a super big company. There are only 20 some odd folks that are the primary decision makers or at least influence the direction of the business at HQ, back in Portugal. And so my job in terms of deciding what investments get budgeted for in the following year is to be as transparent as I can about the realities of our current business and then long-term strategic growth. So where do we wanna be in two or three years from now? And how are we gonna get there? So we want to get x number of tents sold, which equates to helping so many more people get outdoors. And so where is our best opportunity for that new growth? And how do we decide what to prioritize? Because there's only so many people and so much time. So that's on the growth aspect. And the other piece is, like I mentioned just a second ago, which is how do we make our existing fans' and core customers' lives better and easier? How do we take all that feedback and actually execute and turn it into something tangible for them? So we recently, in addition to collecting feedback that we get in our contact box online, where everybody in the core team reads every single message from our customers that comes through. And in addition to that, recently I took a couple of the leaders from our Portugal office and I took him on a drive up the West Coast. So there was recently a show in Vegas called SEMA. It's the biggest, I think, aftermarket automotive parts show in the world. We participate in it. We generally participate in it every year. And so after SEMA, we drove from Vegas to San Diego, and we drove all the way up the West Coast to Seattle and then the Portugal team flew out of Seattle back home. But they got to see the West Coast of the United States.

Phillip: [00:39:28] Wow.

Bobby: [00:39:29] Right? So, we stopped at a lot of our dealers' shops. They brought some parts with them to do post-production enhancements. Like small things. They brought some comfort fabric to help cover up certain metal or aluminum parts inside of a tent. And we wrote an email blast to all the customers that bought at those dealers and said, "Hey, we'll be at the shop on this date from this time to this time. It takes about 20 minutes to do this post-production modification. If you want to, our Portuguese team is there. We're gonna allocate 6 hours and we'll do as many tents as we can." And so these customers...

Brian: [00:40:06] That's so cool.

Phillip: [00:40:07] Yeah.

Bobby: [00:40:07] They got their tents upgraded for free and our head of operations and I got a chance to interview them about what they like, what they don't like, you know, what are the things they struggle with. And so jotted down all these notes for West Coast US customers. And since that trip, it's been like what, a couple months or something like that, we'll go back and start noodling on like, alright, these are some key themes that have jumped out. How do we fix these problems? How do we make life easier? And they're transferable to say, customers in Australia from New South Wales. They go to the beach a lot. How do we make these things better on the beach? So that's an example of strategically how we make decisions together. We try our best to be transparent about the drivers of those decisions together.

Brian: [00:41:01] I love this. This is the participatory brand at its finest. Being able to go be with customers where they are and get real feedback as you work with them on the product and incorporating that back in, that's to me, that's like a combination of a participatory economy, alongside understanding the archetypes of your customers what are the things that matter to the different types of customers? Pulling that together and doing that as a roadshow in person speaks volumes to me because it's very difficult. And you see a lot of brands just gather feedback through very rudimentary means. This is very feminological, in its approach, which is to say that you're actually collecting first person narrative in the moment that is actually happening and taking part in that narrative by being on the road, by using the tents as you go, by hearing what other people are doing. This is community building at its finest. Phillip, I'm nerding out so hard right now because this ties together all the things that we believe in.

Phillip: [00:42:21] It does. I also have to ask because it's so top of mind for you because you've made this move in just the last few months. But, Bobby, you also obviously, you started this role here. It sounds like I don't know if you said it on the show or if it was in our pre-show, but you sort of were recruited, I think. And when you're thinking about this idea of moving into a new role, you're establishing trust with your team. Your team is learning how you work, your work style vice versa. Sounds like you have a move on the horizon too to kinda get closer to some of those folks too. What are some of those, what is that move like right now, and how does that sort of contrast with your prior moves? So maybe pre and post-COVID. In the way that business is done, and maybe the change in the scale of the team. How does your tactic and sort of this establishment of trust go as a leader because you're coming into a leadership role in a brand that has a bit of a history and I think you have to make some, I would say, key decisions that require trust to be extended. We also have to win it too.

Bobby: [00:43:45] You do. And I'm only a couple months into this. So, I would say, doing business in Europe, especially in this industry, is very different than in the United States. And that's something I'm still learning into. So because I haven't moved there yet. And I've only met a couple of the European importers face to face. But strategically speaking, this is going back to my point of reiterating the fact that I don't know what I'm doing. I think I tried to be transparent with the team that I will ground myself in trying to do as much research, learning, and understanding of core challenges of the business and industry as I can. And my job as a leader is to take that synthesized aggregated information and share it with all the key decision makers in the business. So I may not know how certain parts of the history of this business worked. I may not know about distribution challenges that have happened in the past, and I'll learn that along the way. But what I can bring is a framework for learning about where this industry at right now. What is what is the market share? What are customers saying about it? How do you go about gathering that information? What are some of the parallels that you can take from, say, the US or other markets and replicate them back in Europe? And how do we work together to carve a path to growing the business? Aligning everybody on our goals. So we wanna get from A to B. This is where our business is at in all these different places around the world. And so in terms of building trust and getting folks unified around a strategy, I wouldn't say it's a strategy, it's our strategy. It's something that we learn into together as a team. And, again, I know it sounds cliche, but I think it's easier to do in a smaller business than it is in a huge corporation. So not using family thinking as an example, but when you have a smaller group of stakeholders, it's easier for us to share information, to explain things, and get folks wrapped around different learnings. And so I spend the bulk of my time trying to surface information, get folks aligned, and saying, hey, here are the challenges in this market. This is what we believe the opportunity can be. How do we march together to make this happen? So in the US, I can speak to a higher level of detail in terms of the partnerships we need to strike, the things that our marketing agencies need to do, the type of content that needs to be produced, the customers that we need to speak to, the information that we need to gather to inform product changes and marketing direction, and sharing that with our HQ crew and making sure everybody understands why we're doing what we're doing.

Brian: [00:47:03] So cool. Well, I'm very excited for your future here, in the US, and what you're leading the charge on here. And I'm looking forward to seeing some James Barouds on the road. Looking at 2024/25, what are the things that you're most concerned or most excited about, and how do you believe that commerce is gonna evolve for you?

Bobby: [00:47:33] The things that I'm most excited about... I'll give a teaser into something that we wanna kick off and do. Today, our website does not do DTC sales, for a couple of reasons. One of the side reasons that everybody can understand is these things are really big and heavy and shipping can be really expensive. So some of the components of affordability is you go through a dealer network where you ship them like 10, via ground freight, and then you can kinda spread the lower cost of shipping the individual tens and keep the price of tents more affordable for everyone. So it makes it hard to do a DTC business, at least because they're big and they're heavy. But in an effort to build trust and do cool interesting things in 2024, we are going to put some hidden gems on our website and do some limited edition artistic colored tents for folks who can find it on the site. And there'll be some hidden portals to be able to buy some really cool artist designed tents next year.

Phillip: [00:48:40] Love that.

Brian: [00:48:40] So that is in the works, and I am super excited about that one tiny little thing. It's not gonna be a major revenue driver or anything, but we just want to share our internal artistic thoughts of what these tents stand for, what they mean, and an artist that we wanna support. And so we're in the process of finalizing some collaborations where we're gonna drop some hidden things on the site and hope that people can find them. They're gonna be done in really small batches. I'm thinking no more than like maybe 4 to 6 per collection. And we'll do DTC and try to absorb as much as the freight cost so the end consumer doesn't feel it as we can. That's one thing.

Phillip: [00:49:25] Brian, that Bronco of mine is waiting for a little hat. Gotta put a hat on my Bronco.

Brian: [00:49:29] I think you're gonna be happy. You're gonna do a little bit of website digging.

Phillip: [00:49:33] Yeah. Artist collaboration. You had me artist collaboration. I'm all too happy to do it.

Bobby: [00:49:38] Yeah. You can't cheat by clicking the HTML button and looking at where the script is. Alright? You're just gonna have to move that mouse around until something happens.

Brian: [00:49:45] Phillip would though. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:49:49] I made a living doing some pin testing a little at one part of my career so challenge accepted. No. I'll leave some for some other folks too. Well, I love to hear from leaders like you about the present and future of commerce and brand. Love the way you're thinking. I think it's sorely needed in this industry, and it's been such a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much, Bobby.

Brian: [00:50:11] Yeah. Thank you very much.

Bobby: [00:50:12] Thank you all. Appreciate it. Good to be here.

Phillip: [00:50:14] And thank you to everybody for listening to Future Commerce. You can find more episodes of this podcast on YouTube, believe it or not, we have a video stream. You could watch us. You could watch me in my denim jacket, but you could second screen with us in the background. We'd love to have you, and you can get ad-free episodes of this podcast and more, including exclusive after-dark bonus content where we may or may not leak all of the future plans of James Baroud and other brands, but no. Just kidding. You can get that at futurecommerce.com/plus. Join the monthly membership and get discounts on merch and access to those Future Commerce salons that we just told you about. All of that's available for your membership. Join the membership at futurecommerce.com/plus. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Future Commerce.

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