153: Scott Mellin: How the Global GM of North Face has navigated the Coronavirus as this amazing brand continues to flourish…

May 29, 2020

Scott Mellin

How does guest Scott Mellin go about running the mega huge brand The North Face? “It is an interesting role that I have in the company. We basically operate with two business territories. So, if you thought about the larger $3 billion The North Face brand, it is split into the mountain sports, which I manage and then into lifestyle, which I have a contemporary that manages that side of the business. So, when you see our products show up on Hypebeast or with a Supreme collab, he manages that. When you see it on the back of an athlete on Losity or Everest or Meru, I manage that part of the business.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Scott Mellin, Global General Manager of Performance Sports and Global General Manager of Mountain Sports at The North Face. He talks about the role he holds at the company. “Quite honestly, the role is mostly specific to product innovation, and so my focus day-to-day is to develop products that help our athlete team, push the limits of exploration, and those technologies that we develop through our innovation process ultimately find their way into products that end up at Dick’s Sporting Goods.” 

What You Will Learn:

Scott Mellin talks about what it is like being in Aspen and the assumptions that people commonly make about it. “This place has a unique gravity to it. These mountains are largely unexplored. People think of Aspen as a posh fur and champagne place. We have 14 14ers in our backyard with some of the most hairiest skiing you’ll ever imagine and so the benefit of that is that I’m able to attract our global athlete team here into Aspen, to stay in my house, to spend time with my family and I, and we spend a lot of time in the mountains together just talking. Those conversations vary from what do you want to do in your life to what is your next big objective, to what are we not making that is servicing your needs in the Alpine?” 

The North Face has the resources and opportunity to create powerfully durable fabrics to handle the great outdoors. “Typically, what we are trying to solve for our markets is total white space, and so, I will use Futurelight as an example. This is a textile that we introduced in Fall ‘19 we thought would really radically change the marketplace. The reason that came to fruition was because we tapped into an unsolved need for the athlete team.”

Scott Mellin understands the importance of having experience on your side when tackling the challenges of mountain climbing. “The reality of experience is so powerful because you are able to read the weather. You are able to read the snow. You are able to read the rock. You are able to read your teammates. All of those factors come into your system of dress because you don’t want to get hypothermic. You don’t want to get wet at the base layer level. You don’t want to get cold because it is really hard to recover, especially at the altitude that you’re working at. So, it is a constant mindgame of reading the mountain, the weather, your team, and the speed that you are moving at in order to not only achieve your objective, but to come out safely.” 

How has COVID-19 affected Scott’s love of the mountains? “We’ve been kind of lucky during COVID. Slight pivot here on your topic. The mountain towns like Sun Valley also basically emptied out. There is nobody in the mountains, and I’ve spent more time in the mountains in the last two months than I probably did all of last year. I travel a lot. I’m in mills and I’m in factories and so forth to bring these innovations to fruition. But, to be home for two straight months, just working in the mountains has been a blessing in disguise from COVID quite honestly.” 

Scott Mellin talks about the ways in which The North Face has managed their physical brick and mortar storefronts during the quarantine spawned on by the coronavirus. “It is an interesting moment that obviously none of us have experienced before in our professional careers. We operate, as a brand, about 1200 stores around the world and the vast majority of those are shuttered right now. E-commerce makes up a percentage of our business. But, it is not driving enough gross margin and net income to pay for the entire operation. But, we are fortunate to be owned by a much larger entity, VF Corp. VF Corp had going into this an extremely strong balance sheet with a very high level of liquidity, and they have pledged, really a people-first approach. So, even though our stores have been closed around the world for the better part of 6 weeks now, we continue to pay all of our retail associates.” 

Snowboarding vs. Skiing

Scott Mellin talks about how skiing has pulled away from snowboarding in popularity. “Today, snowboarding, based on all of our data points, represents about 25% of participation on the mountains, resort access. So, it’s definitely cooled off significantly. I think at the same time, ski equipment has gotten significantly better in terms of shaped skis, fat skis. Boots have gotten significantly more comfortable, which was an early allure to snowboarding, which was the comfort of the boots.”

Getting Back to Work

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, Scott Mellin also discusses how he sees the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic rolling out for him at The North Face in terms of bringing his employees back to work. “It is kind of a complex, layered strategy because stores are dispersed around the world and you drop from like a federal country level and their mandates down to cantons, to provinces, to counties, or in our case in the U.S. to states and counties. Everyone has a different policy. Fortunately, the way that our retail environments or our retail org designs are stacked is you have store associates, store managers, district managers, that can manage all of the individuality.” 

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