From skiing to biking to climbing, Central Oregon attracts outdoor enthusiasts worldwide. Many people work hard during the week to get out and about on the weekends—but a small cadre of committed enthusiasts make their lives and careers out of the industries that support the lifestyle. Being a product rep for a ski, surf, bike or climbing brand might look fun and glamorous—but being successful takes an enormous amount of work and insight. From extended road trips covering three to five states, to sales meetings and countless hours on the computer and phone, being an outdoor industry sales rep is a challenging, yet rewarding career path. We chatted with some locally based reps about why they do what they do.
"I was the son of a ski shop manager, and always lived within close proximity of a ski hill,"' says Barry Galvin, a 26-year veteran for brands including Volkl, Dalbello and POC. "I skied all day, every day. I was THAT kid. I absolutely hated being inside the lodge." His love of skiing took him to racing, eventually earning a coveted spot on the U.S. Ski Team from '84 to '90. The hard-working Galvin has learned a thing or two about being successful in the business.
"My mentor has only given me a few solid rules. One: Do whatever you can to help solve a retailer's problem. Two: Don't lie," he says. "I probably lost some sales over the years for that one," he muses. "I want to give my retailers the best possible advantage at being successful for the brands they have invested in."
Knowing the product and believing in it are also key. "The most productive method of selling a brand or product is by delivering the customer a game-changing experience. The first time I rode a 29-inch mountain bike, for example, I was hooked. I could never go back (to the 26-inch wheel size)."
Pursue your passions
Abby Seymour feels fortunate to have grown with brands that parallel her passions. "When I first decided that I wanted a career in the outdoor industry, I was skiing, biking, climbing and was dedicated to my yoga practice," she says. "The brands I partnered with reflected those passions. I was relatable, I could help buyers really zero in on product specific to their customer base," she says. Seymour and her husband, Thomas, currently represent Prana, Dynafit, RAB and Picky Bars. "With a growing passion for water sports, I started to grow our surf/swim brands and focus on the everyday lifestyle consumer as well," says Seymour. "In turning my passions into my day job while living in Bend, I feel enormously lucky," she says. Now a veteran in the business, Seymour is able to help change the direction of the industry.
"As a female and a mother to a daughter, I find it important to bring awareness around the gender gap that exists in our industry, other representatives and product availability," she says. For years, and still present today, I purchase gear and clothing that is specifically designed for the male frame. When I look around, I see just as many women committed to the outdoors as I do men, especially here in Bend. We're seeing brands take small steps in thoughtful designs, color and fit offering, and products reps like me, who are on the front lines, make it our job to communicate the lack of offerings, so it becomes a focus," she says.
Work hard. Really hard.
Many people in the industry get their start as an associate or technical rep. As an employee for a sales group, reps like Nick Whitman often work the longest hours, see the most retailers, and drive the most miles. As a tech rep for products including Niche Snowboards and Eddyline Kayaks, Whitman is on the road year-round.
"Last year I basically circumnavigated the U.S.," he says. Whitman maintains a bright and fun attitude despite the workload. "It's hard to believe I started as a part-time employee at a skate/snow/climbing shop 15 years ago," he says. Having worked on the retail end of the industry as well has served Whitman well. The most important lessons he has learned include patience, preparation, follow-up and persistence. It's not all work, however. "I get plenty of opportunities to snowboard and paddle with friends, family and retailers," says Whitman. And, as one might suspect, rep life keeps these road warriors in the hottest gear, while setting the trends, 365 days a year.