In this episode of Inside the Outdoors, I interview Stephen Barnes, Vice-President of Product and Innovation, Kelty. Consumer behaviors, omnichannel marketing, and declining retail channels all pose significant outdoor industry marketing challenges to long-time brands like Kelty. The company is working hard on its digital strategy. Stephen talks about these challenges, being in charge of Innovation, how he approaches innovation and those highly classified trips looking for innovation inspiration?
Kelty was founded by Dick Kelty in 1952. He made backpacks out of his garage. Just 11 years later, Kelty packs were used exclusively for the first U.S. ascent of the West Ridge on Everest. The company grew, was originally sold in 1979 and has changed ownership since. It produced the first exclusive women’s equipment catalog in 1987, moved into family camping and has been pioneering new materials for use in equipment through today.
Like many in the outdoor industry, Stephen has held a number of different positions, leading him to his current position. His journey has included:
- Catching the Product Development / Innovation bug during his time connected to One Sport/Montrail in early to mid 90’s. He worked on development/creation of the very first dedicated trail running shoe (the Vitesse);
- Coaching a high school mountain bike team;
- Being a sponsored skier and professional mountain guide/river guide/ski patroller providing extensive time outdoors ‘testing/trashing’ gear over the years where he learned a lot about how gear needed to function in differing conditions;
- Starting his own sales agency in 1999, until moving in-house at Osprey in 2005;
- Being Product Manager for Osprey from 2005-2011 during which time he oversaw key launches into new categories of travel, hydration and child carriers;
- Moving to North Face in 2011 as Senior Product Manager for technical equipment, leading the pack, tent and sleeping categories;
- Creating The Mountain Lab with longtime buddy Scott McGuire where they focused on helping smaller companies with brand strategies and product ideation; and
- Going back in-house with Sierra Designs.