Last week was the semi-annual sales meeting for Sierra Designs, during which shelters, sleeping bags, backpacks, apparel and accessories were shown to our domestic and international sales representatives. Most products will release in February 2018.
Sierra Designs is a 52-year-old brand, and for decades was a dominant player in multiple categories. But due to a range of factors — e.g. changes in ownership and leadership, the evolving retail landscape, mission creep, and strong competition — Sierra Designs lost its pole position.
I joined Sierra Designs in early-2015, a year after then-Brand Manager Michael Glavin and his team had launched a slew of innovative new products, like sleeping bags with bed-like features, rain gear with long torsos and chaps, and single-wall tents with generous ventilation and dedicated gear storage areas. An essential design criteria was that everything be “better and different.”
This relaunch earned Sierra Designs significant press and flattering awards. Sales improved but were not sustained. Stubborn consumer behavior, noncompetitive prices, an unintuitive line architecture, and lack of succession planning were probably most to blame.
A year ago the brand was given new life, when Stephen Barnes took over. The “new” SD will be no different than the old when it was most successful: better designs and functionality at more affordable price points. (In this Facebook Live interview, Stephen and I talked in-depth about his vision for the brand.) The brand personality — which is captured well in SD’s Instagram feed — is already in place.
Stephen’s influence will first be seen this September, when four new tents from the 2018 line become available from select online retailers. They will be followed up with 31 other new products in February 2018.
The Sweet Suite and Studio tents convey the brand flip perfectly. They are free- or semi-freestanding double-wall tents, available in 2- and 3-person sizes, with either a 1-door/1-vestibule or 2-door/2-vestibule configuration. Due to the pole geometry and the use of pre-bent poles, these models have more livable space than category benchmarks from Big Agnes, MSR, Nemo, and REI.
The new tents won’t excite the UL crowd, but three other new products might:
- Nitro bags ($300, 1 lbs 6 oz and up), featherweight mummies with thoughtful features and best-in-class prices, available in 35-, 20-, and 0-degree comfort ratings, plus 20- and 0-degree women-specific models;
- Highside ($280, 1 lbs 14 oz), which will compete with other coffin-sized double-wall tents like the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 and Nemo Hornet 1; and,
- Animas Pillow ($25, 2 oz), an unnecessary splurge that’s exceedingly more comfortable than a sil-nylon stuff sack filled with dirty socks and a fleece.
The two products currently in the Skurka Series — the High Route Tent 1FL and Flex Capacitor 40-60 Pack — remain in the line. Our plan is to grow the series in Spring 2019, with a tarp & bivy system, sleeping quilt, smaller backpack, and perhaps a Core 13 Clothing-inspired collection.
I’m not an industry pro and I’m reluctant to predict how SD’s new products will be received in the marketplace. Needless to say, I hope that it’s turned a corner.
Whatever happens, I want to applaud the current team — notably Stephen, Casey, Candyce, Sako, and Suzanne — for what we saw at the sales meeting. The flipped brand represents an astounding amount of deliberate thought, coordinated effort, and hard work.