Grow A Bigger Pie

By Lee Cunningham, The Mann Group

February 13, 2017

Here at the Mann Group, it’s easy for us to espouse idealistic platitudes like “community over competition” and “we’re stronger together.” We offer statistics about the advantages of working together as a specialty retail community rather than singular businesses, and we follow those statistics with applicable suggestions. But for those of you out in the field, we understand that our suggestions may often be met with chin scratching and pondering of how to implement these big ideas in your small business.

All it takes is one man (or woman) with a concept, a passion for community, and a lot of perseverance. Just look to PPORA’s David Leinweber for proof.
Leinweber, owner and president of family-run Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs, was faced with a problem common among our small businesses. “Five years ago, with sales flat for three years or so, Angler’s Covey took on a deep dive to redefine its business,” Leinweber begins. “One of the realities was that we controlled over 60% of the fly fishing market in town. So in terms of market share growth, it is challenging to acquire more sales from a pie that we already dominate.” The numbers lend themselves easily to analysis. “Going from 60% to 65% market share is moderate growth at 8% at best, and ultimately not sustainable long term.” It’s here that Leinweber comes to the crux of our idea. “But if fly fishing grows as a local industry by 8% in our community and we maintain 60% market share, we realize similar growth.”
It’s a simple concept and, again, one we like to talk about a lot: if you grow the outdoor enthusiast population, you grow the outdoor business. Leinweber took that concept and turned it into an unprecedented example of community collaboration, Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance.
After years of working on promoting outdoor recreation as a board member of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Leinweber took those acquired acumen and shifted his gaze locally. He joined a weekly business breakfast, where he developed a strong local network and learned the science behind his city, especially through the Chamber of Commerce. Leinweber discovered that the Chamber, which focuses on business growth and development, was so preoccupied with a few sectors like defense, aerospace and Olympic sports that they were missing the most potentially profitable and easily developed business of all—Leinweber’s business, and ours.
“What surprised me is although tourism and outdoor recreation is the #2 contributor to the Colorado Springs economy, the Chamber did not consider it a key sector and had no focus at all towards these businesses,” Leinweber says. “For Colorado Springs, Outdoor Recreation has become something you do on vacation, or the playground equipment in the local park, or a great way to stay healthy. The idea of growing, developing, strategic planning and competing for outdoor recreation as a key economic sector and for the jobs it provides was, and still is to some extent, not a priority for the business community.” That’s when Leinweber’s idea began attracting the threads of realization.
This then became my challenge: how do I open the eyes of the business community to the economic values of Outdoor Recreation? Armed with the OIA 2012 Outdoor Recreation Economic Study, I began to hold meetings, I spoke at business breakfasts, I began networking with business leaders and I share a simple statement. With Outdoor Recreation contributig $646 billion dollars to our national economy and the auto industry only at $323 billion, why is the Colorado Springs business community more focused on getting more of those dollars?
But I don’t stop there, I also introduce the Outdoor Recreation wildcard, Quality of Life. More than ever, high-paying companies and highly skilled workforce are looking for more than a job; they want a higher quality of life and often will take a lesser-paying job because the local area offers opportunities for them to play in the Outdoors.
As Leinweber’s fish began to bite, the next step was to organize and unite his fellow specialty retailers, as well as nonprofits and conservationists. “Every group is fighting for their cause. often competing for funds,” he explains. “What we needed was a big tent where everyone could find a home to discuss the values of Outdoor Recreation as a whole. This lead to the formation of Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance.”
PPORA was an instant success—in theory. The local outdoor folks were excited to band together to grow their community and businesses, but in an industry where everyone’s always busy, finding the hands to fulfill these new tasks was far from easy. “The biggest challenge has been how busy this group is, particularly during the summer months. So we organized with those that immediately saw the value and are currently working to bring the larger tribe together.”
After filing as a nonprofit and beginning the process of registration as a 501c3, Leinweber and his team began enacting and implementing realistic goals. “First item was to define our mission and come up with some quicks wins for the organization,” he notes (and we can’t help but note ourselves how this is always the first action item we preach at the Mann Group. See last month’s article, ____). “We partnered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and threw together a Get Outdoors Day event on the first Saturday of June. 3,000 people attended to experience different outdoor pursuits including kayaking, fly fishing, archery, rock climbing, fishing, conservation, and more. Our goals for 2017 is to double that number.”
PPORA was instantly effective not just because of their strategic plan, but because they implemented an action item that represented the goals of the organization and its members in a way that was highly visible and highly approachable for the public. PPORA guaranteed its position in the consciousness of the outdoor community, from the newest hiker to the oldest store owner, in an event that brought everyone together in actionable ways.
PPORA is, at its simplest levels, a collaboration. But when such different organizations come together—big, clunking entities like the Chamber or Visitors Bureau, alongside small specialized businesses—how do they work together? It’s these kinds of partnerships, Leinweber points out, to which PPORA owes its success. “Large entities tend to move slow on items and it is hard to sustain passion for an industry that competes for funding and awareness within a community with more priorities than money,” he says. “Smaller organizations bring the passions that can ignite action. They are often more nimble and can prioritize time and resources more quickly, but there are limits, and larger entities have to be players for long term sustainability.”
It’s those two syllables, “passion,” that truly turn PPORA—and, in truth, the entire specialty retail industry—into a collaborative community. “The thing that keeps us going is our eternal love for the outdoors and in particular the ecosystem around water,” Leinweber says of his own business, Angler’s Covey. It’s the outdoors that inspires and drives us all.