Disrupt or be disrupted: The future of brand marketing
Brand loyalty today is not about what you sell; it’s about the authentic connection you create. Today, Slate Olson, Chief Marketing Officer at LOGE Camps, discusses the future of brand marketing. Slate explains how the definition of brand loyalty is changing and how innovative strategies can disrupt the status quo. He breaks down the essential elements of a successful brand, emphasizing the role of authenticity, community, and creating a genuine connection with the audience. Intrigued by the challenges faced by global giants and disruptive newcomers, Slate also explores the secrets behind brands like Hoka and LOGE Camps that have redefined industry standards. He discusses the power of creativity, innovation, and the athlete’s voice in shaping successful marketing campaigns. Tune in now to discover what it takes to disrupt or be disrupted in the world of marketing!
About Slate Olson
A Graduate of the University of Oregon, Slate has 25+ years of experience in the outdoor and sport space. The former Chief Marketing Officer at Rapha and Specialized Bikes, and Sr. Director at Nike, Slate has helped lead a consumer-centric approach for these iconic brands. He’s focused on building unbreakable, long-term relationships through unmatched experiences, inspiring storytelling and data-driven consumer engagement. Slate joined the mission at the upstart hospitality brand LOGE Camps, the hotel that gets you outdoors, in November 2022.
In this episode, I’m excited to be with Slate Olson, who’s the Chief Marketing Officer of LOGE, which is an outdoors brand, which is disrupting the category. We are going to be talking a lot about his interesting past as well. He spent ten years at Nike in a couple of different stints. For anyone who is at all interested in cycling, this is a must-read episode because he was also the CMO of one of the most loved bike brands in the world Specialized if you hadn’t already guessed. Welcome to the show, Slate.
Thank you very much. It’s fantastic to be here and great to see you.
People always talk about it a lot of times when we are on camera so much. For people who are reading this show, maybe you have to go and check out the YouTube video but you have an amazing background behind you. There are a couple of things behind them that we should know about and that have a great story behind them.
I sit in my basement here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m based in Northeast Portland but I have a few of my favorite things. I have got Tao Geoghegan Hart who’s a lovely and incredible professional cyclist. He won the Giro d’Italia a few years ago. He was very kind that he gave that to me. Lauren Fleshman is one of my favorite athletes and human beings I have ever had the pleasure of working with. She came back after we presented a concept to her and said, “That’s terrible. What if we did something better?” It ended up being an infamous or famous piece of work called Objectify Me about women’s running.
My hero since I was a kid is Steve Prefontaine with regards to not only how he ran but what he stood for. The last thing is the suffer license plate, which when I was at Rapha, became the license plate that we had in one of our North American vehicles. We ended up making t-shirts around it and all of that. Rapha’s strapline was, “Glory through suffering.” If anybody here has ridden a bike, then you know that the beauty is not just in cycling but in a lot of things. There’s a lot of suffering that ends in whatever version of glory you discern or you can determine. A few of my favorite things, probably a bit more.
It is been interesting for the US cycling with an American winning the Vuelta in Spain. It’s probably the first time in a long time.
It’s been a while. There have been some other Americans who have done well at the Vuelta. The Colorado kid, Sepp Kuss. If anybody watches a Tour de France, you will see him doing all of the work for his team leader. For him to get the chance to go out and get that result for himself is incredible. He’s a superhuman being.
I have a lot of love for cyclists and road cyclists, especially at the pro. It is as brutal of an existence as it can be with regards to what they have to do train and how they watch calories, and then go out and perform. I had a quote once. It’s out there from a cyclist. He was like, “You got to eat like a burden, dump like an elephant.” I always thought that was a pretty perfect way of summarizing it. It was an epitomized suffering.
This conversation is going to be about disruption. We are going to go on a tour of Slate’s career. Hopefully, it won’t be as brutal as painful as a climb up.
I have had a lot of fun so far in the grand scheme of things. It’s not that work is always fun. Whenever I hear the term, “Living the dream,” I always wonder what kind of dreaming people are doing but I started in the Francisco Bay Area in advertising and then brand consulting. I made my way up to Nike for the first time where I came in through retail marketing and eventually worked in the advertising group, which had a few different iterations and names. I’m working across several parts of the business.
I left after seven years to take a little flyer for this upstart company called Rapha that at the time was hardly in existence in North America but was very special with regard to what they were doing. I spent seven years at Rapha, which included leading North America, growing, and building that. I took my family to London where I had a chance to work closely with Simon Mottram, the CEO of Rapha. There’s a deeper story to it but I felt this urge to get back to the States and West Coast.
I did that with Specialized working with Mike Sinyard. It was an iconic and deservedly brand. That was an exciting time. I love Mike Sinyard and the brand but ultimately, I pulled my wife off of her track. She’s a physician. Pining for the Pacific Northwest and for her to be able to get back onto her train required that we needed to get back into the Portland area.
I spent a couple of quick years with Chrome Industries, running that as the president and a great little turnaround conversation that we could have. I realized that what I wanted to do and what the owner wanted to do might not always be in alignment with where the brand and the business could go. I had a conversation with an old friend that took me back to Nike for a few years. I left in early ‘22. I took some time. That’s where I found myself in November of ‘22 at LOGE Camps where I’m running brand and marketing. That’s the quick version, as quickly as I can do of how I got here and what I’m doing.
Let’s talk about Nike because it was interesting that there was about a twelve-year difference between your first tour of duty and the second tour of duty. It’d be interesting to talk about the Nike that you were in those early days and how much things had changed in the second one. Everyone has seen the movie Air so people are curious. There’s a lot of curiosity about the story. What state were things in when you were there in the early 2000s?
There are a couple of different ways you could classify but it was a company that when I came in, the stock was at a lower level. I was hired during a hiring freeze but the potential was there. It was an interesting time because some of the categories had historically delivered well. Basketball, back to Air, was under attack from brands like AND1, which was coming in. Under Armour was starting to be a reality from a base layer standpoint. There were a lot of old-timers who were lamenting a little bit about the change in the company.
At the time, the Beaverton headquarters had 3,000 people but it still felt that there were some stalwarts there from the heyday of Nike advertising, for example, who were incredible leaders. You fast forward that gap and then suddenly, you have 14,000 or 16,000 people on the headquarters campus. The things that I saw as I was departing in early ‘08 started to be created with regard to organization and where strategic management met. Brand management is starting to challenge, at least the process.
When I came back in eleven years, I came into a different group working with the NFL, Major League Baseball, high school, and team sports. There were a lot of things that felt very similar and comfortable. There were several things that had evolved and become this machine in and of itself. It felt like it was certainly new. For a company of that size, it was going from $16 billion, give or take, in 2008, and my numbers may be off, to $40 plus billion 11 years later.
That doesn’t happen with a bit of luck and ingenuity. That happens with a lot of things like process, planning, and all of that, which is critical. Sometimes, it could feel a little bit at odds with the creative genius that Nike has always had from a marketing standpoint. At the end of the day, I grew up around the brand. I still love and will argue for the brand in a lot of different ways. When you have a relationship like that, there are good and bad that come with that. It’s in the spirit of change.
On that topic of process, one of the things I have always admired a lot about Nike is you have this singular brand that has a very clear purpose and story around it, yet the execution in different sports. If you compare women’s running to tennis, golf, and other sports like basketball, everything still feels like it’s connected to a core story, yet the execution is very different. Take us under the hood. How are they able to achieve that mix of decentralization while still laddering up in such a big organization?
It’s incredible strength and it’s, for sure, not always perfect, especially if you think about what’s happening at World Headquarters and then as it starts to branch out, and you think about what’s going on. If you are Asia Pacific or otherwise, they do and should be of and for the communities and cultures that they are a part of. You have got that layer. You start to layer on the different sports or activities.
If it sounds like there are thousands of people, it’s because there are thousands of people that go from the beginning of an origin working upstream with the product teams from an insight or an innovation and shepherding that through a pretty lengthy cycle. It’s 2 to 3 years or more in a lot of cases when you start with a concept on a product to when it will hit the market. Along the way, the process is pretty phenomenal. It’s been built to continue to socialize and share.
I’m going to talk a little more about it from a product standpoint. There are a lot of other things that Nike does well that also need to connect. It’s genius in some ways and painful at times but that process and the passthrough, handover, and pass-down allow people to inject either new ideas or see things differently. It allows you to take what is in constant through the origin and then start to add different layers or tuck into certain areas in its own right.
What makes it tricky sometimes is you think everybody’s working against the same proper goal, which is this notion of unlocking human potential and serving the athlete. You know that the athlete has an asterisk at Nike like if you have a body and you are an athlete. It’s not just about the pinnacle of performance. It’s everyone.
When you start to go into categories of running, basketball, or tennis, there are clear specific insights that are those audiences and communities but it still has to feel like Nike. There are some incredible thinkers, designers, and creators who have constant vigilance in the process every quarter or every year. As you start to roadmap that, you can do your best to see where you are going to keep your category voice and what those insights and specifics are. They were those moments that needed to ladder up like those global moments. Women’s World Cup is a great example.
How is every category going to have some connection? That’s what Nike stands for football or soccer. For women, what’s the way that’s going to connect? We look for ways that you can, in essence, contribute and participate and other ways where you need to keep your voice 365. That’s probably the biggest and easiest way that people can complain about Nike. It’s ubiquitous. It’s not a running specialty company. That’s where I go to Brooks. As you guys make X, X, and X, you are not serious for me. That’s always been a challenge and remains a challenge for a brand like Nike who’s that large and everywhere.
You take running as an example. You mentioned this when we were talking that real runners don’t run in Nike.
That’s often the complaint. It’s funny because, on the world stage, the best runners and athletes in the world are Nike. We saw other sponsored athletes who would wear Nike spikes. There’s this notion, “If you are a real runner, you might start in Nike because you go to your local sporting goods shop.” Once you get more serious and this is more fed back to us, it’s like, “That’s when you go to Altra, Brooks, or an only running footwear company.” That’s something that Nike had to battle for a long time.
It’s a classic brand challenge in any category. You think about the pure play in the niche or the ankle buy to who comes in compared to the brand that tries to serve a lot of different categories.
That’s the spectrum that’s challenging. Nike does a good job of being for all people. Sometimes that dilution allows certain parts of that to feel like, “You are not serious enough for me.” I have run in other products in my lifetime and once was through a shop in San Francisco sponsored by ASICS. I would challenge people.
I would call myself a historically serious runner and I love what Nike’s made. Not everything. Part of it too is how you get grace for the missteps you make that might not be quite there but that also in Specialized ties into it. When you are pushing innovation, you are bound to make some things that don’t quite hit the mark. I do think that’s the part that’s also interesting. We used to talk about this a lot.
I was overseeing running for my last little bit. If my job was to bring runners and have Nike be connected to and serious, I always thought about it as a house party. My job with multiple doors was to bring the runners into the Nike house party while one of my colleagues was bringing in the basketball folks but we were all bringing them to the house of Nike.
There were so many different ways from lifestyle to sport, cross-training, and whatever the case may be so it was our collective job to make sure they stayed. They stayed at that party for the majority of their life or sports interactions. That’s always been my view of a company of that size. That’s why my running door would look different than your basketball door or your tennis door but they should all come together and feel like, “This is where I belong. Let me go explore X, X, and X because as much as people say, there’s one thing. People have multiple dimensions.”
That’s a super interesting analogy to bring people in through the different doors and ensure that they stay because then you might decide to go and explore a new sport, and then you already have that base awareness and you will go. I have a Nike tennis shirt and a golf shirt. I had Nike cleats when I was still young enough to play soccer.
It gets back to your main question, which is if the brand and the promise of the brand through product, reverence, or irreverence are at least connected enough. You can see the thread and then you allow yourself the chance to put a little bit of distinction across. A runner is not a basketball player. Even though they may play basketball, there’s a different mindset that people approach their activity or sport.
Internally, especially when you were there the last couple of years, was the structure done in a way in the processes in a way where if you are working on running and you went over to basketball to another area, it’d be a smooth transition. It is very much in the same way that a P&G does it, where if you are trained as a brand manager, you are expected to go and shift between brands every few years. I don’t know if there’s the same expectation to be able to move up but at least at P&G, you work on different brands because they all have a very similar brand management approach regardless of the difference in the category.
It’s very similar. You are encouraged and allowed opportunities to work across and continue to grow, whether it’s in different categories. There’s also the gender conversation, which in the last few years, Nike has gone from the category to gender. As I understand, I don’t know if they have announced it necessarily or will ever announce it but they realize you have to start with the sport or category.
Certain people bring experience, insights, and passion. They want to stay in a certain group like Running Forever. That’s something that does happen but more often than not. People get a chance to grow new skills in different areas. The path to that is made easier by the fact that it is working off the same strategy and approach.
Schedules change and what’s important and how many athletes you have is very different if you are in basketball than if you are in running and how you use them. The social spillover is different. I don’t know a lot of people. Kipchoge is one of the world’s greatest athletes. He won in Berlin again but doesn’t have the same general cachet that Kevin Durant does. That gives you a chance to use and build plans in a much different way but off the same foundation.
Someone who’s been at Nike for a while as a marketer, what are some of the unique skillsets that they carry forward with them for the rest of their lives? I always found that there are some commonalities in reference to P&G. You learn to talk about the first and second moments of truth. Regardless of where you go, you take that. I’m oversimplifying. Are there certain characteristics of a Nike marketer?
It’s probably changing a little bit. Slate in 2008 would have told you a different answer. Even though sometimes it might feel like it’s been a bit diminished, there still is this idea of absolute ingenuity and creativity that is prevalent across. That’s something that still sought a genuine deep passion for that never-been-done moment or doing things in a new way. That’s something that I still hold in value like what I learned at Nike.
The other thing that is probably a little bit more like P&G is the structure and the process. They are the operational way of thinking. There are a number of groups, whether it be digital or creative. The list goes on and on. That ability from a leadership standpoint, strong in strategy and approach, and then being able to manage a chorus of voices to get to something that ultimately has the intended effect is super important. It all starts with that smart and clear point of view on what the objective was or what the approach was going to be, and then navigating that.
If I were being critical, which I can be sometimes, even if I were still there, sometimes the machine has gotten into become more important than the actual marketing. That’s one of the things that is positive because it allowed the company and brand to continue to drive and grow but maybe a little bit of what Nike originally was, which was rebellious, irreverent, and all of that cannot be as inspired or asked for in the same way. That’s bound to happen.
You were talking about ingenuity and doing things that have never been done before. Is that something that you learned? Is that a process? What is that?
Historically, it was something that when you went in to brief a season or a new launch, it would be something that would be a KPI. Can we do something that we would call an NBD, Never Been Done? It’s very hard to do something that’s truly never been done but if you can do something obvious but done in a different way, that’s great. We would set that out as a challenge as you started. A lot of times, those are easy to take if you have the right insight back from the space, the athlete, or the consumer. That’s one that I learned early days and I still hold on to. How can we do this differently?
What do you think are some of the secrets behind some of the brands that have come into this space as disruptors in what is a highly competitive category? Whether we are talking about Hoka, which is a brand that you love, the one for me that I have been amazed about but I don’t know much about the story, all of a sudden, I’m starting to see them expanding into other sports like tennis.
You think that there can’t be anymore. I don’t know if it’s the advent of the internet but it’s crazy to watch brands come out with something new. In this case, they have had a very good year as I understand following along. The growth has been pretty incredible. It’s funny because we used to joke back in the old days of AND1 and Under Armour that any company can get to $100 million but it’s that gap to $1 billion, which is the difference.
It comes from design in a large part. They created something different. As I understand it, their midsole was created as they were looking like cutting a garden hose. They are like, “The cushioning idea from that was initially based on a garden hose.” They came out and had a little bit of a slow roll at first. We come off Hoka to some degree where Hoka had these huge chunky midsoles. They are still doing well and make great products.
The freshness, design, and innovation from on were something that captured people’s imagination. They had to see it and then made good design choices and still do with regard to color palettes and the upper design. You started to see this brand come from where most things come from an interesting product with a unique story.
It’s European storylines and heritage. They are building out good decisions with athletes and partnering with Roger Federer. We will, maybe someday, get said the same thing that Nike gets told like, “You make all of these things. How are you still a serious running brand?” It would be a good problem I would imagine that they would have as they transcend it into lifestyle and all of that. There’s still room. It’s funny. There are still new ideas.
How important is that athlete’s voice in product development and maintaining authenticity? It’s almost the original category when you think about co-creation.
It’s essential. Starting with the voice of the consumer is another adage that I have taken from my time along the way. Whether it’s working with the world’s greatest athletes and world record holders in the hundreds, not everything translates into everyday use but there’s something in that that will. It might be a little idea on fit or ideas on accessibility. It’s critical.
I often think about our job and it is to start at the consumer, take it back to the product, and then manage like an ocean rising and falling. If we start with something true, that’s a need, a want, or an opportunity, navigate it through the system or the company, and then find a way to bring that back in a fresh new way. That tends to be where we see more success.
Sometimes it starts purely with we have this new X, new phone, or new technology. You go and almost start the process from there and go there back-to-back with those insights. That’s a group of people from designers and product managers who are out speaking to people, from everydayers to the world’s best, and doing the best they can to serve the needs.
Let’s move over to Specialized as a brand. You go from these behemoths across all these other categories to using Brooks as an example. Would it be fair to say that it’s almost more of a Brooks star brand known for a single thing? Talk a bit about what you went in to do at Specialized and even a bit of background on the Specialized brand. How did it become this iconic brand in the category? Why is it so loved?
I went from Nike, which at the time was 3,000. My closest friends were in Rapha for seven years. When I started, I was employee 11 and there were 3 of us in North America. Coming to Specialized was an abrupt decision because I went from a brand and storytelling to Specialized, which had always been known for innovation. The innovator has died. It’s one of their main mantras within the company.
Mike Sinyard started that back in ’71. He started by bringing over European products and accessories. He realized that he could add something to it and create it better. That innovative spirit has existed forever. As they started to build and scale, they looked at competitors like Trek and Giant. They’re great brands, massive, or humongous. If you look at their total umbrella, Specialized continued to show force by looking after retail partners and expanding through that as brands like Canyon came direct to consumers.
Specialized strength in a lot of ways, which could also sometimes be seen as a weakness. They were so embedded with your local bike shop and the right ones. That was it. What Specialized was working through was beyond the product. How do we make this a brand that people truly love? They are almost an insurance policy for when there’s a comparable bike at a lesser price that has all the same components. Do you love the S or not?
What were the different things that we could add to, “Yes, we make great products but we also make X or we do this and we are involved here?” Our voice is growing as consumer trends were at the time. Adventure or gravel cycling was continuing and is still rising. How could we play a role in an adventure? We are still winning the Tour de France with Peter Sagan. How do we dimensionalize Peter Sagan in a way that is exciting and fresh versus otherwise? That was probably in large part to what I was trying to do.
Within the industry, I brought enough of an outside point of view, even though I’d worked on Nike cycling and had been at Rapha. It’s this idea like, “If you want to be a beloved larger company and bigger brand, then there are some different ways both internally and externally that we needed to show up.” That’s what I came to do and set out to do while I was there.
When you are in a category like that, you start to look at expansion. Do you start to dig into maybe different use cases? How do you begin to look at segmenting and stratifying the market to drive growth?
In some ways, it’s similar to even Nike. You have mountain bikers, triathletes, and road cyclists. You have got everyday cyclists who are commuting to and from. In those categories, you would look at them similar to the conversation we had around Nike. What are those areas of opportunity where somebody can be in love with how they first came in? I came in as a road cyclist but then I started racing cyclocross. I dabbled in mountain biking. I may still first choose the road but expanding the garage was a similar approach.
Specialized is probably best known for bikes for sure. From a helmet standpoint, even shoes and garments, there was so much that was for the offer in a similar way. Sometimes the big red S was getting picked apart by the little guys who were only doing this or didn’t have the weight behind it. A constant conversation with retail partners and our sales team was, “How do we make big for good?” Big can be for good, especially when that means you can put bigger money into innovation. Building a private wind tunnel on your campus allowed you to get that much quicker to deliver results for athletes of all types and cyclists of all measures. That was the approach that we took.
I was never sure whether it was a good strategy. For example, I took my kids to a bike shop when they were six to buy their first bike, a Specialized bike especially. I thought it was interesting because, on one hand, it’s a growth and extension strategy. It also could be a great way to introduce kids to the brand at a young age like the Disney strategy. Also, playing off the fact that there’s so much brand love from parents or people who love cycling that they want to get their kids but is that a risk of potentially diluting the brand as well?
Potentially but I don’t think we ever saw it. With the kids’ bikes, the offering is relatively small in the grand scheme but they are in the right spots in particular around strider bikes and mountain bikes. That’s the area where it’s still most like planes or bikes to get to school. You are exactly right. We want to deliver incredible stuff that answers their needs and their first bike should be Specialized.
The opportunity there or the concerns for dilution was an interesting time. When I walked in, we had a single @IAmSpecialized Instagram account for example. We then made the decision or strategic call to have a mountain bike versus a tribe versus a road because it still keeps the parent. We realized, “If you only love mountain biking, all of the noise that we were talking about roads or otherwise wasn’t going to connect with you. If it was too much, it could be off-putting.”
That was the area where we started to see not every category needed its access or point of communication but there are 3 or 4 clear ones where you are like, “I might dabble and see what’s going on the tour once in a while but I only want to see Matt Hunter riding with his kid.” That was the big area of how we do not dilute the brand by pollinating and polluting people with stuff that is not how Specialized speaks to them.
Everything you did in your talk about disruption and everything that you have done has led you to the place where you are at LOGE, which is a fascinating story. Give a little bit of the background of the company and the brand and how you ended up there.
The gentleman who started it was a guy named Cale Genenbacher. In 2017, he had his MBA. Before that, he went to West Point and spent five years in the military and active duty. He had fallen in love with the outdoors. As a kid from the Midwest, he didn’t have a ton of experience with mountain biking or climbing. He realized the outdoors and outdoor community isn’t always the most welcoming. There’s always this sniff test. If you don’t know what you are talking about, maybe you are not welcome.
He often jokes that he camped for a living in the Army. He didn’t want to camp but he didn’t want to be 45 minutes or 1 hour away from the trailhead that he was going to. That’s where LOGE Camp started with the very first Washington Coast in a cold water surf destination. 2017, fast forward a few years, there was the global pandemic, which was difficult for an upstart small network. I give him full credit for making it out the other side of that as a small hospitality brand.
What we are doing is expanding relatively quickly with this idea that our job and our purpose is to make it easy for people to connect, get out, explore, and open the outdoors for the most serious of outdoors people, with some of the comforts of community, a warm bed, and a hot shower, for what I often call the outdoor curious. It’s the people who need the right invitation or a handout to get out and give it a try. The outdoors we all believe is life-changing. It’s time well spent, whether it’s by yourself or your family or community.
That’s what we are looking to do and we happen to do it through hotels. As we often say, “Change people’s lives through the outdoors.” We have 17 properties of which 6 are open. We will be announcing more very soon. It’s a funny conversation because I have never worked in hospitality in terms of waiting tables and growing up in bars and restaurants that my dad owned as a kid.
That’s a huge learning curve for me, which is super fun but at the same time, my boss’s words are, “We are an outdoor brand that happens to be in the hospitality industry.” In that sense, it gave me a ton of comfort in how can we be agnostic to all things outdoors, make more people welcome, and build a passionate service-based community that can continue to build and grow.
Is the core of it to drive people to those properties that you mentioned or are there other aspects of the experience?
There are other aspects. First off, we typically go into great mountain towns, whether it’s Bend or Leavenworth, Washington. It’s a 2 to 4-hour drive time. We know that not everybody is going to get to spend $10,000 and go to Europe in the summer for weeks. They are going to look for little mini vacations. A lot of those towns are great activity towns, whether it’s surf, ride, ski, paddle, or whatever the case may be. We start there. Instead of having lobbies, we have bars and cafes.
How do we create spaces for people, whether they are on holiday or going to work remotely and go skiing for half a day and take care of work with great Wi-Fi, coffee, and beer? It’s a great unifier. We also have expanded and created this gear offering. Not everybody has a bike. We announced that we are partnering with Specialized at every one of our locations. Kids bikes, town bikes, and certainly, you can get a Stumpjumper in Bend, which is great. It gives you a chance to try things.
We talk a lot about how can we be purveyors of outdoor stoke and allow people to come and be at home if they are doing something that they love or try something different. They might float the river, go for a mountain bike, take some trekking poles, and try 3 or 4 different things in a single stay. We’re giving that unlock to people. The power of the outdoors is central to what we are doing.
Where could you see this being in several years?
The opportunity seems pretty big. The outdoor hospitality space showed itself through the pandemic and we are seeing a ton of energy as we go. We are seeing that through growth and a number of competitors coming out. We will be on both coasts by early ‘24. We have some properties on the East Coast that we have already acquired and are in development.
The business has a chance to be meaningful at a number of property levels across North America. Several years ago, I would suspect that we have already heard there’s a lot of resonance, whether it’s throughout Asia and Japan, South America, or otherwise. I’m hopeful. We are excited. It’s funny because we are talking about a hotel brand.
A lot of times, we travel. I’m sure you travel a lot and are like, “That’s fine,” but it doesn’t connect with you. That’s what that notion of connection and creating that with our hosts but more importantly with other people who are there for the same reason you are. It’s going to be something. We are banking on providing dividends as you go through. Community is something we all seek.
You are building, owning, and operating. It’s different in some ways from the hotel brands essentially owning the brand. They have operators or licensees. Essentially, you take on all the real estate risk.
We are evolving that a little bit. We are wholly owned but then we are working with partners 100% on the brand and the guest experience. That’s where we are. I saw something. There was a hotel chain and we are the furthest thing from a hotel chain. We are not a stamp. If you go to Mount Shasta, California, it’s going to be very different than Missoula, Montana. It needs to take the form and the shape of not only the town that we are in but the activities. We are working with local outfitters. We are not going to be everything to all people. That’s why we have got our focus.
What’s great food, coffee, or beer? How do we push people out? We are not club met. If you come and stay with us and don’t get out and enjoy the community, then we think you are missing out on the experience. We take that down to how we work with local nonprofits who are based in those communities that can give back and maintain or update the land or trails. A few of the other ten polls that are important to us is the giveback notion. We want to be contributing to the communities that we are a part of and that includes the locals as well as the people who travel in. It helps shape our focus and strategy.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge of ‘23 has been the state of the financial markets if I’m honest. Funding at a real estate level and those partnerships have been dry. There’s an announcement going out that we landed a pretty healthy round of investment, which is great. That’s going to unlock a lot of things. The other is that people’s lives are busy.
Competing and encouraging people to go outdoors and put a little work in versus a relaxing holiday where everything’s set for you will always be a bit of a challenge. Know your audience. We know that there are people who are super passionate from young children and families to retired for the activities they love to do. It’s going to be how we take this brand, which has been Pacific Northwest, predominantly. We’re finding a way to connect in a legitimate and meaningful way with expansion.
How do we keep true to ourselves? That’s always the thing. How can you continue to grow but not lose? If the word chain ever finds its way into our vernacular, we are lost. We are this connected network. It goes back to our conversation. You know it is going to feel like LOGE but is distinct in the place in which it sits. Vermont is going to be different than Bend, Oregon because it should be.
Let’s finish with a few questions about some of your leadership background. What are some of the leadership principles that you say are core to how you build and manage teams?
It’s important. I created this notion of five Ts. Trust, how do you empower and encourage people, give trust, and build it? Time. It takes a lot of work. I have often joked with people who say they want to start managing people and interviews that I have done. A part of me goes, “Do you know what that means?” How do you give time to help grow people? How do you be present? It isn’t always easy as you are trying to work through it.
Where are your opportunities to teach? There are ways that you can challenge. How do you create the right tension? Transparency. That’s difficult to do a lot of times but how can you be clear, consistent, inclusive, and direct? I have always been probably more direct than not. I often think about it like, “How can you be tough as the fifth T?” Your job is to be a barrier for a lot of the crap and nonsense that’s real in this space. How does that allow you to open space for people to grow and show you what maybe you didn’t think of?
That’s been one of my philosophies on leadership that I have built. It starts with the idea that you need to care for what you are doing and who you surround yourself with. One of the things that’s been important to me is the people who still call me from companies that I’m no longer with to get an opinion or a point of view. I see that as one of my greatest achievements.
I admired Coach Prime Deion Sanders and his openness to say that they got their butt kicked when playing against your alma mater. I want to move past that very quickly. In that spirit, can you remember a time when you got your butt kicked in a work setting? What did you learn from that? How did you come out stronger?
There are so many moments. We fall more than we rise oftentimes. I’m reading a great book by Angela Duckworth called GRIT, which is helpful in so many ways as a person or a father in business. We talked a little bit about that photo of Lauren Fleshman. That was one of those great moments where we went to Lauren with this concept and said, “We want you to do this.”
She wrote about this in her book called Good for a Girl. She’s like, “That is not an idea. That’s not a good one.” I give her full marks and a ton of respect because she said, “Why don’t we talk about it and find a different way?” I was an ad manager at the time. My bosses found out like, “Why didn’t you sell the idea, Slate?” I was like, “She’s not wrong.”
It is reinforced when you have somebody who brings the same amount of passion. Whether they be an athlete or an every day, listen and then go and fight for what’s right. I still meet women who were like, “I have that on my wall as a kid.” That was a pretty good one. I have learned many more lessons because I’m a slow learner sometimes but that was one that stood out in my life.
The hour that we have had has flown by. I appreciate you being on. It’s been a great conversation.
Thank you very much. It’s been awesome talking to you. I appreciate the invitation. I don’t know what I don’t know sometimes so it’s always great learning from people like you.