Boys and their toys

Valdemar Bardram became the CEO of Outfit International – which incorporates Harkila and Seeland – in July 2018

Outfit International boss, Valdemar Bardram, talks to Colin Fallon about his plans for the future of Seeland and Harkila and how the gun trade compares to the toy industry

Danish clothing company Seeland is one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of clothes, footwear and accessories for hunting.

It has been manufacturing and selling the Seeland range of mid-priced shooting clothing since 1996. In the mid-90s it took over the high-end Harkila brand of clothing, but the two brands continue to run as separate entities under the management of Outfit International CEO, Valdemar Bardram.

Speaking at his first IWA Outdoor Classics, Valdemar explained how he was enjoying unfamiliar surroundings. “I started with the company in July last year,” he said, “so I’m well past my first 100 days, but I am still an infant in the industry. I came from the toy industry and baby equipment industry – but shooting products are just toys for grown-ups, right?

“The industries do look similar in their distribution networks and the way they sell. One of the benefits is that we can take from the experiences that I have had in other industries and use them to see how the industry is moving forward, with online and social media and bricks-and-mortar consolidation.

“So we can make our preparations and learn from the mistakes we
have made in the past.

“I have done quite a lot of outdoor activities; I used to be in the army and have been a hunter for about 15 years. It wasn’t too difficult for me to find products – quality and functional products – that I could relate to. I think a change of business is healthy and when the opportunity came, it was too exciting to pass along,” added Valdemar.

In less than a year, he has already spotted development in the industry. “The pace it is developing with is much faster because the learning has already been done,” he argues. “I think this is an industry with a huge potential, but also some challenges to the way that we do business.

“One is to make sure that we are innovative when we look at our product development at Harkila and Seeland – so we are not only innovative with design, but also in the way that we approach customers, speak to consumers and help our distribution networks to be better at what they do.

“Also e-commerce is not very strong in this side of the business, but I think it is safe to say that the internet and e-commerce are here to stay. I don’t think it will go away very soon, so we might as well embrace the fact that e-commerce will be a much more dominant part of the trade.

“It is very important for us to tell our distributors that we will work with them and that they are are a valuable part of our network. We are not on a journey to become an online business; we aren’t going to cut away our distribution networks because we think we can make more money by going direct to the consumer.

“We believe that if we are going to sell expensive, technically advanced products, we need our distribution partners to be part of that,” Valdemar adds.

“There is a consolidation and modernisation going on. Some people are on that train and driving the modernisation and technological developments. It is important that we help our partners be a part of this, because if they aren’t, then three or four years down the line, it will be too late.

“Coming from a different industry, where that development happened probably eight or ten years ago, I know we need to help our partners as they see this development.

“Speaking to UK audiences, I’ve found that is probably one of the most important markets because there is a long tradition of shooting and hunting. When you go through our product range, there are a lot of products developed specifically for the UK market,” says Valdemar.

In a UK market rich with unique traditions, Harkila and Seeland are adapting their business approach to bring more to growing markets.

Valdemar says: “If we didn’t think the UK was an important market then we would never go down the route of upholding some of those traditions, because there is no market for those products outside of the UK.

“The UK is a very good market and it is a growing market. There are some changes in the trade in the UK that we have noticed. The main thing thing we focus on is hunting, but clay shooting is something that we are looking into – we have launched a new range this year that is just focused towards clay shooting.”

Valdemar remains in frequent contact with the UK agents of Harkila and Seeland, with weekly video conferences with Simon Esnouf, Ewen Steel and Matt Sage to keep abreast of the latest trends emerging in the UK. He explains: “Just being close to the market helps us understand what the trends are and to make sure that they have the support they need.

“A big change in our marketing is our move from B2B marketing to a consumer focus (B2C). We will be pushing [our marketing] much more locally and in a way that ensures when we promote a product, we do so in a way that is relevant to the local market – rather than trying to make one size fit all.

“If you ask the agents, you will see there is a huge increase in the interest in
the market.

“It is not just a British thing either,” adds Valdemar. “Germans can look at an advert and think that it looks too British. This actually makes the business very complex because we look at the products very differently.

“There are very few products that work across the board – they are all highly specific products because they are designed for a specific way of hunting or shooting.

“I think the opportunity of having two brands as strong as Harkila and Seeland – and building a community around those brands – will be a point of intrigue to the trade. My vision is, if a hunter wakes up with a question or the need for information, they should think about going into the Seeland or Harkila universe to seek out that information.

“We want to be the fi rst point of contact for everything. Having co operation between a number of partners can help provide that content. It is something that I am really excited about. It’s not easy; in fact it’s quite complex, but if we can nail it then I think we can have something really neat.

“We can’t do it on our own though,” he warns.

“We need strong partners to help us do that and by building it, it would be something unique for the trade.”

With plans firmly in place for the future of Seeland and Harkila, Valdemar does have time to reflect on his first nine months with the brands.

“When we look at the products we have introduced for autumn and winter 2019, across both brands, our feedback shows that it’s the strongest line we have ever had. They are the best products the market has seen, especially as we see the trend of adding more and more layers,” he explains.

“Some of the good feedback we are getting is about shortening the jackets. In the UK, adding big pockets for cartridges is important, but people also want to look more sporty, so the length of the jackets will shorten to become a sports jacket that can also be used for hunting.

“I think the products being more versatile is something that people have definitely embraced and although in this trade things don’t necessarily happen overnight, we are seeing that the changes are happening at a faster pace every day, which is great.”

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