Outdoor Prolink | Our Manifesto

Outdoor Prolink's Commitment to Responsibility & Authenticity

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Where we started

The Outdoor Prolink story began in 1999 when Gareth Richards left a faculty position in Outdoor Education at Prescott College in Arizona and started working for PlanetOutdoors.com, an early specialty-outdoor website that tried but sadly failed to launch into the early outdoor retail ecommerce world. The Outdoor Prolink story began in earnest in 2004 in a basement in Boulder, Colorado. At the time, Gareth, our founder, had been working as the Director of Sales at various outdoor brands. That gave him 50-percent of his inspiration for Outdoor Prolink. The other 50-percent, possibly the most important part, came from his background as a Mountain Guide, Kayak Guide and Outdoor Educator.

Gareth experienced first-hand how necessary it is for outdoor professionals to have the very best gear. He also recognized the need for brands to get their products in the hands of these influencers (though nobody called them that at the time he founded the company, but there’s no doubt that’s what they are today). Over the years, Gareth continued to see the writing on the wall; the important opportunity to be the "link" between these core groups.

Outdoor Prolink’s mission from day one has been to outfit stewards of the great outdoors with high quality, affordable gear so they can develop deep connections with the wild places we love. We believe outdoor professionals are chief protectors and promoters of nature and lead by example in so many ways. They dedicate their careers to getting more people outside, and because of that, we believe they have earned pro-deal discounts on quality outdoor gear they rely on for their jobs. Seventeen years later, Gareth sees to it that Outdoor Prolink remains an authentic, responsible pro purchase program to serve the outdoor industry.

Our Growth

We have spent 15 years building trusted brand relationships and gathering a community of authentic professionals. We act as the facilitator of trust to “link” them to one another, and we take this responsibility very seriously. Our unwavering commitment to authenticity means that we focus on the quality of our membership base over quantity. Our membership growth over the years has constantly fluctuated as we approve new applicants while simultaneously expiring those who no longer qualify.

In 2020 we added crucial roles to our Membership Team in an effort to deepen our relationships with key outdoor organizations and further intensify our focus on verification and, of course, re-verification of pros.

Today, Outdoor Prolink has a base of 130,000 individually vetted professionals. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 5.3 million Americans are directly employed by the Outdoor Industry and over 153 million Americans participate annually in outdoor activities. Thus, the Outdoor Prolink membership base represents only 2% of total reported outdoor recreation positions, and 0.008% of reported annual outdoor recreation end consumers. While our membership base may seem small in comparison with others, we will not compromise when it comes to maintaining our authenticity.

Our Verification Process

We believe that pro purchase programs are only effective if they are 100% legit, and we strive to be the most authentic, responsible pro purchase program in the industry. To make good on that promise, we continuously iterate on our proprietary application review process with input from our brands and industry relationships.

To begin with, our membership specialists systematically and rigorously vet every application. If an applicant is “on the fringe,” we review as a group and make a final ruling together. Each quarter of every year we revisit all fringe cases and adjust our parameters and rules accordingly to ensure our database remains squeaky-clean. After 12 months, each pro is required to upload current documentation to renew their membership. If they do not update their documents after three months, their account is terminated.

We utilize a detailed rubric to review and verify each individual applicant. To make it through the first stage, a pro must fall into one or more of these buckets:

  • They work for an outdoor brand
  • They sell outdoor goods and/or gear
  • They require technical outdoor gear to do their job
  • They work as an outdoor educator
  • They advocate for the outdoor industry through their job
  • They work in environmental conservation
  • They work in public service (military and law enforcement)

When pro purchase programs stretch the boundaries of who is considered a “pro”, it muddies the waters and expands pro deals to a broader audience that isn’t deserving of discounts. It undermines the commitment, knowledge, and deep understanding of gear that our members have earned throughout their careers.

This is where we differentiate ourselves from other pro purchase programs out there, and we refuse to let our membership base get diluted. The following are NOT considered Outdoor Prolink pros and are not accepted to our platform:

  • Outdoor enthusiasts, "experts" or hobbyists
  • Subscribers, members of and/or donors to outdoor clubs, non-profits or publications
  • Students and participants of outdoor skills courses (NOLS, Outward Bound, AIARE)
  • Professionals in careers outside of the outdoor industry as defined by the OIA

In addition to our strict qualification standards, we have a strict code of conduct for our pros. If any pro is caught abusing their pro deals - such as purchasing gear for others, reselling products or disrupting retail stores - they are booted indefinitely.

Supporting Retail

Our pro purchase program is made up of three components - the pro purchase program (us), the brands that offer discounted gear to pros, and specialty retailers. A responsible, well-executed pro purchase program fosters a relationship between local shops and pros, and educates pros on their responsibility to be an ambassador for the brands they buy as well as their local retail shop. Speciality retail is a critical channel for our brand partners, so supporting and growing that channel is central to our purpose.

We care deeply about contributing to the health of the retailer segment and want to keep our country’s retailers thriving. We believe it’s our responsibility to educate our pros on how to use their influence to drive traffic to brick and mortar stores. A pro’s experience provides credible assessment of gear quality - they are, afterall, an elite, trusted and highly influential user - and when a pro believes in a brand or piece of gear, their clients listen.

We hold them accountable for following our pro code of conduct, and if they are caught violating these terms, or abusing their privilege in any way, they are booted from the platform. We ask them to respect retail employees time and be discreet about their discounts. If they get questions about their gear, we ask them to direct people to their local outdoor specialty store. That way their dollars will stay in their community and keep the outdoor industry thriving.

One of the areas we’ve been focused on is developing ways to further incentivize our pros to build deeper connections with their local shops. In fact, we spent the last half of 2020 diving deeper into researching and learning how to measure a pro’s impact on driving business/new customers into brick and mortar stores. Many specialty retail shops were forced to close their doors due to COVID, and it’s now more important than ever to support them in any way we can. After all, we all can agree that local outdoor shops provide a personalized service when selecting gear, and the consumer often walks away a lot happier and inspired to get outside in the end.

We are also continually working on projects to measure and track the direct impact our pros have on end consumer behaviors for retailers. We see this as a KEY opportunity and a necessary component to leverage the most effective form of marketing - word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted professionals.

Pro Purchase Should Be a Marketing Arm

Plain and simple - retailers cannot compete with pro purchase programs who offer deep discounts on gear to individuals who should be full-price customers. Once a pro purchase program entices a brand to join their pro purchase program simply to open another sales channel - that’s when pro deals are no longer working (or more bluntly, are not pro deals at all).

We operate as a marketing arm within a broader sales and marketing strategy, and it’s important for us to be clear and upfront about that with the brands on our platform. Together we use our deep knowledge of our member base to craft and execute a marketing strategy that achieves our brands’ retail sales growth goals.

Over the years, we've witnessed a shift from others in the pro industry from the word "pro" (which is based on an objective definition requiring qualification based on employment in the industry) to "expert" or "influencer" (which are subjective terms completely severed from employment qualifications) . Those terms are being used to loosen qualification standards, and rapidly grow a “pro” membership base at all costs.

Outdoor Prolink and other responsible pro purchase programs are sometimes associated with irresponsible programs - and we have directly experienced the negative impact of such platforms, and in our opinion, it has given the entire concept a bad reputation in the industry. A concept which most outdoor industry players - brands, retailers and beyond - can agree has an important place when executed responsibly.

Our team is incredibly proud of our business model and high standards we adhere to. We are dedicated to changing the narrative; and working to create a word where all pro purchase programs in the industry are responsible and upstanding. We have always had an unwavering commitment to being the most responsible pro purchase program out there, and we will continue to remain true to that mission.

Final Thoughts

We believe the world is a better place when people go outside. When authentic pros are outfitted with high-quality, affordable gear, they influence others to develop a connection with nature and outdoor adventure, which in turn helps protect and promote wild places for all to enjoy.

After all, we are all in this industry for a common reason. We dedicate our lives and careers to the pursuit of the great outdoors because we share a mutual love for nature, passion for adventure, and need for connected experience. The health of all players in this industry, big and small, is essential for our planet, our community, and our industry as a whole.

We value full transparency and accountability - and we are incredibly proud of the Outdoor Prolink team and their dedication to setting the bar for responsible pro purchase programs in the outdoor industry.

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