My name is Martin Riebel. Outdoor sports have always been my passion - both privately and professionally. Especially with the mountains I associate freedom and a unique attitude towards life: Whether it's mountaineering, mountain biking or my greatest passion - skiing. Since 2012 I have been managing the business of the Schwan-Stabilo Outdoor Group (SSO) with the brands Deuter, Ortovox, Maier Sport and Gonso.
As a guest author of ISPO.com, I tell you what tasks the megatrend Corona has confronted us with since the outbreak until today, what creative changes and positive learnings this has brought with it, and what our most important goals and initiatives are.
As CEO, I see myself like a coach in sports: I am responsible for the overall result to our shareholders, but like the coach, I no longer score the goals myself. That's why the team is most important to me. The right players in the right positions - focused on a common goal.
And we prefer to win - which we're doing quite well so far. I'm proud to be part of this strong team.
As an Outdoor subgroup (Deuter, Ortovox, Maier Sports and Gonso) within Stabilo, but also overall as part of the outdoor and bike industry, we have been lucky so far. First of all, I'm glad that no one really got seriously ill, and we've all come through this period well so far.
Secondly, the pandemic has ensured that, in short and as we all know, everyone just wanted to get out - whether it was for mountaineering, biking, hiking or ski touring. The only thing that worried us at Maier Sports in 2021 was the complete cancellation of the alpine ski winter in many countries.
This means that the market as a whole has grown nicely so far. The main challenge was to find the right solutions within the various sales channels. We have tried to support the stationary trade as well as possible. But we also positioned ourselves digitally - especially during the lockdowns and accelerated by them - in such a way that we were able to meet the needs of end consumers.
Fortunately, we decided to open brand-owned online stores for Deuter and Ortovox even before Corona. This helped us especially in the lockdown, although we resisted it for a long time - because the specialized trade is and remains one of our most important pillars: In our online store, the customer* therefore also has the option of displaying Deuter or Ortovox dealers; which allows the end consumer* to shop both with us or with the specialist retailer - and there also locally.
In addition, we have extended the payment terms of the specialist retailers and have been flexible with regard to deliveries. In the summer, the bike and outdoor retail trade got back on track quickly, benefited from the increased demand and stabilized well again.
Another challenge was the upcoming sales meetings in the spring. Suddenly, they were no longer allowed to take place physically. The only option was to organize digital meetings.
But how do you organize a completely virtual, international sales meeting? And in the shortest possible time? Films were shot, presentations recorded, a portal selected for transporting the information, and the technical requirements ensured. The sales meeting included virtual live presentations, live streams, and question and answer sessions.
The pandemic brought many creative solutions and numerous positive lessons learned, which we do not want to do without after Corona, nor can we. Our sales meetings will remain a hybrid model in the future. In this way, we can convey our messages to the managing directors, key account managers and sales managers who are physically present, and virtually also directly - and repeatedly retrievable - to the entire field sales team and the office sales force.
Two years ago, we began to completely reorganize ourselves digitally. This included a central IT structure for all three companies in the outdoor group.
Maier Sports with the brands Maier Sports and Gonso, Deuter and Ortovox - all had their own systems. Outside of Product, Marketing and Sales, which remain independent, there is to be a central structure: Firstly, to bundle the IT system, and secondly, we are working on a common ERP (enterprise resource planning) system - from an IT perspective, the heart of a company. The advantages: greater transparency, efficiency and speed, as well as lower costs.
We also have one system for our entire B2C business. This means that the systems are the same in the background, while the brands retain their independence in the marketplace.
For all our digital efficiency, we are and remain human beings. And we need to meet again. This is true in both our private and business lives. And that's another reason why trade shows must exist. Thinking ahead: In the future, they will be used to present the most important brand messages - whether new products, innovation or campaigns. For me, gigantic trade show booths are more of a thing of the past.So all in all, there are not only negatives - but also a lot of positives.
The most positive thing from a company perspective and for our industry was the acceleration of the markets. We would never have seen so many active people, especially newcomers, without Corona. And the pandemic has also accelerated internal processes. For example, organizing large meetings digitally - no agency or coach in the world could have done that so efficiently before.
Of course, it is easier to solve challenges in an environment where the market remains intact. That makes it easier for all of us in our industry. We do have to make decisions, but with a perspective and a chance of success. To put this in concrete terms: We ended June 2021 for the outdoor group of Schwan-Stabilo (SSO) closed with the best sales result we have ever had (key date sales year 2020/2021 06/30/21) - in all three companies.
The increased demand also means: Being active is more important than ever for people's well-being. That's why it's clear to me that the entire sports industry is part of the healthcare system, something that is still addressed far too little by politicians. Vaccinations are a very important measure against Corona, yet politics should promote sports in general much more, because a healthy, physically and mentally fit society is fundamentally more resilient.
Until July 2021, we as an industry got through the supply chain issue quite well. Because production in China, Eastern Europe and Vietnam was almost 100 percent through. For Deuter, there was a strict lockdown in Vietnam in July, which meant that our production came to a complete standstill until the end of September. Of course, there are buffers, because especially due to the new Deuter logo and the new products, our distribution partners did pipeline filling - but even we could not foresee whether these were sufficient.
But it wasn't just Deuter that was affected. The supply problems on the semiconductor market hit Ortovox in the production of avalanche beacons as well as avalanche shovels due to aluminum bottlenecks. At Maier Sports, there were and are energy shutdowns in China, which also disrupts the flow of production.In short - it's not sales that are the problem, but ensuring availability.
The topic of sustainability is one of our main strategic thrusts. And a lot has already happened in this area. With Deuter and Ortovox, we have been leaders in social sustainability for several years within the Fair Wear Foundation so we can also prove that we behave cleanly and fairly in the production area.
We are part of the outdoor industry, which has already addressed many sustainability issues: from PFC-free coatings to a very high proportion of recycling within the collection. But I believe that recycling is still a partial solution, because at some point all the plastic bottles in the world will be used up, or the beverage companies will use them themselves. Then, in principle, we won't have any raw materials at our disposal again, except for the known one, which is called crude oil.And that would put us right back in the old cycle - and we could report less on recycling.
That's why I believe that the entire industry must set out to tackle the issue of the circular economy in an integrated model. The sustainability goal of the coming years can only be achieved with a joint effort.
This is how Maier Sport (SSO) wants to close the loop:
Our overriding goal for the core segments in which we operate with our brands: to maintain or acquire a clear number 1 position. Whether that is avalanche transceivers with Ortovox, functional clothing, the carrying comfort of Deuter backpacks, or the topic of pants specialist with Maier Sports or Gonso. We believe that attractive brands with high recognition are valued by the end consumer. And with this market position, we want to grow sustainably - to manage growth healthily, also in the economic sense as a family-run company.