Game Changers: Tyler Haney, Founder and CEO, Outdoor Voices

By: Caitlin Sullivan

This article originally appeared in the cover story of Total Retail’s Summer issue, Game Changers. (Total Retail is the sister publication of Women in Retail Leadership Circle.) In this excerpt from the cover story, Tyler Haney, founder and CEO of Outdoor Voices , a retailer of technical apparel for recreation, was interviewed. 

Total Retail: Where did you get the inspiration to launch your company?
Tyler Haney: I started Outdoor Voices (OV) because I wanted to build an activewear brand that approached recreation and activity differently. At the time, everything else in the activewear space was shiny black or neon and emphasized the mantra “harder, faster, stronger,” which didn’t at all align with how I was being active in my own life. Our mission is to celebrate daily activity, and create products that are as functional for a dog walk as they are for running a marathon.

TR: What was the “ah-ha moment” when you realized you might have a successful business?
TH: The response to our first collaboration with Leandra Medine of the Man Repeller was an early indicator we were on the right track. Leandra is someone who is active, but not defined by it and doesn’t take herself too seriously. I was really proud of the way that collaboration turned out, and it became a positive rallying moment for our customers. After Lena Dunham wore it on an episode of “Girls” in an empowering (and hilarious) running scene, I started seeing more and more people wearing OV around New York City.

TR: What was the pivotal marketing campaign or channel that really catapulted the business in its early days?
TH: We’re constantly looking to engage with our community in real life, and social media enables us to not only connect with people online, but offline as well. Instagram has proved an invaluable way to encourage friends of the brand to come together for activities like jogs and yoga at our stores.

TR: How are you planning to scale your business for future growth?
TH: We’re focused on building our business digitally, first and foremost, but are starting to amplify the awareness we have online with physical touchpoints in areas of recreation. We’re opening stores across the country, and using them as hubs to bring people together around activity.

TR: Can you tell us about a successful initiative for your company that was launched in the last year?
TH: We launched a digital tool to shop OV Kits, which are complete uniforms for recreation. The online Kit Shop had a positive response from both long-time customers and first-time shoppers. We’ve always developed our product in the form of outfits, and it’s how we saw many of our customers already shopping. OV Kits are a reflection of that, with a bundled price to make the checkout process as seamless as possible. We want people to spend less time shopping and more time doing things.

TR: What are your goals for the business?
TH: We’re building the next great activewear company. In the meantime, we’re moving west, expanding our retail presence to Aspen, Colo., Los Angeles and San Francisco. And we have a bunch of super exciting partnerships happening later this year.

TR: Tell us about your hiring strategy.
TH: Early on, we hired more for breadth of capability, then, as we grew, we started hiring for depth of capability. Now that we have a great foundation, we bring people onto the team with specific experience.

TR: Tell us about your leadership style.
TH: Be human, approachable and inclusive — in leadership and as a brand. It makes a difference and people do their best work when they feel comfortable around you. Spinning off of that, it’s important to invite people into your problems. When something goes wrong, bounce it back to the team with a question about how to fix it. Never waste a crisis; crisis = opportunity.

TR: What can traditional retailers learn from your business?
TH: People gravitate towards brands that they can relate to. We have a strong personality and work hard to constantly engage with our community. Until recently, I think that connection has been lacking in retail.

TR: What are some of the technology systems and service providers you use?
TH: We use Slack for most internal communication. It’s a great way to connect teams working remotely and share important information, while keeping things transparent and readily available to everyone.

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