Tyler Haney just wants to have fun.
The founder of Outdoor Voices, a business centered around the idea of “creating the next great activewear brand around recreation,” she said, defines recreation as “activity for the fun of it rather than the pressure to perform. At Outdoor Voices, what we’re trying to harness and bring back into adult life is this notion of play, this courage to go back to when you were a little kid and approach things boldly, get outdoors, take up space, get your ya-yas out.”
Haney, who grew up a competitive athlete in Boulder, Colo. — “where activity is baked into everything you do,” and “there’s no real separation between your gym life and your life life” — said that while competing, she wore brands that boasted “harder, better, faster, stronger, which makes a lot of sense when you’re trying to beat Jenny at a track race running over hurdles. But as you get older, activity takes on a whole new meaning: it’s less about this harder, faster kind of pressure-oriented positioning and all about freeing fitness from performance, and that’s what OV is built on.”
But while the brand offers activewear for women and men that answer the need for performance, the crux of the company’s success lies more in its ability to create a sense of kinship among its customers.
“We’re focused on building a community around this notion of doing things, approaching activity with moderation, with ease and humor and delight,” Haney said.
Outdoor Voices is primarily an online business but it does operate nine stores around the country with three more in the pipeline for later this year. “Central to our strategy is starting off-line and then connecting with our customers in real life, that’s where we’re seeing success from a growth strategy perspective,” she said. In fact, “driving that emotional connection with our customer is what ultimately drives the value of the brand.”
Outdoor Voices uses a hashtag of #doingthings, which Haney said is intended to be “our simple, friendly, inclusive call to action that we’re building a community around.”
The stores act as a gathering spot for customers and like-minded people seeking a non-judgmental experience that is also uplifting. For example, the stores offer dog-walking groups, hikes, yoga and Pilates and customers are quick to respond. Haney pointed to one yoga class in Austin, Tex., that drew 600 people in 104-degree heat.
“The key thing here is these are the new generation of exercisers who don’t necessarily view themselves as athletes but want to be athletic and want to incorporate exercise into their daily lives,” she said.
Outdoor Voices uses some 150 ambassadors who use the company’s stores as a center to “drive this recreational electricity that we are then able to capture and amplify through social and digital to scale and grow the brand,” she said.
This also translates into success on the bottom line. Haney revealed that people who got involved with the brand through its field marketing efforts at one of its stores were three times more valuable as customers than those who shopped with Outdoor Voices online. “That prompted us to build this as a core pillar of the business,” she said.
Haney also pointed to an Instagram shot of Lena Dunham wearing the brand as she did her first run on the HBO show “Girls.” That and similar real-life stories that customers share “in real, authentic ways is what’s driving loyalty with our customer,” she said.
Outdoor Voices has also embraced inclusivity in its advertising, showing real people doing things they enjoy. “It’s not what people are seeing out there and comes back to realness — building a community that trusts you and wants to engage with you,” she said.
“What we’ve found that really drives engagement and emotional connection is operating as human, not superhuman — almost like being a best friend in all the ways our customer is interacting with us,” Haney added.
She shared a story about how customers had been asking the brand to offer medium- and high-support bras. “So instead of going to 10 people in lab coats, we went to Instagram and said, ‘What do you want? Help us by being part of this product development process.’”
Outdoor Voices’ new bra line was introduced earlier this month and Haney said it’s been “phenomenally successful because we involved the customer in that journey.”
Building a sense of community also speaks to the authenticity that Millennials are seeking in their lives. “Where we’ve really seen it be successful is stripping any barrier to communication and making it really flow,” she said.
So what does the future hold for Outdoor Voices? “We will continue to invest in stores and in our ambassador field marketing network and continue to have this network of daily activity that gets captured and amplified online to drive the digital brand. It’s my hope that through Outdoor Voices, we’re building a resource for recreation that gives people the product, platform and community to reignite the courage to use your outdoor voice,” Haney said.