The Outdoor Biz Podcast is hosted by Rick Saez out of Bishop, California. He interviews retailers, brand managers, athletes, executives and others in the outdoor biz to share their stories, tips, advice, productivity tricks and ideas you can use to take your career in the business to the next level. The following is transcribed from an interview that Rick had with CenterStone Technologies VP of Sales & Marketing, Dave Mathias. Listen to the complete interview here.
Rick Saez: I’m curious how you went from a B.A. in English to roles with Experian and now CenterStone?
Dave Mathias: My B.A. in English is from DePauw University in Indiana, which has served as a great foundation to be able to read and write well – I also got some background in literature which was helpful. I moved to Denver about 25 years ago to pursue an MBA here, and I hooked up with Tom Detmer and Kenny Edwards who are our CEO and CFO, we’ve started three companies and I spent some time at Experian as a result of them purchasing one of our companies.
RS: How’d you get into the outdoors?
DM: I’m from the Midwest originally and my family did a lot of camping when I was younger. I also was involved in the Scouting program in my community, actually all the way through the time I went to college – so I’ve always loved the outdoors. I started skiing when I was five, at Boyne Mountain in Michigan – there’s actually a funny story there. The last day we were skiing I went into the lodge and filled my pockets with little marshmallows from the hot chocolate stand and they of course melted in the car on the road back to Chicago, and my dad was not pleased, to say the least. We were on the side of the road, I was in my tighty-whities, my dad was angry and my mom and brother were laughing their heads off!
RS: Hopefully there’s no photos of that?
DM: No. No photos – good memory though!
RS: Did you ever work in outdoor retail?
DM: You know, I have not. I spent a lot of time as a kid at Active Endeavors and Year One in Chicago, but I’ve actually never worked on the retail side.
RS: So you’ve been a shopper, not a worker.
DM: I’m a shopper… and a hanger-outer.
RS: And you still do a lot of camping and outdoor stuff in Colorado?
DM: We do – a couple times a summer for sure, and really my family spends time together mostly on the mountain, skiing.
RS: Tell our listeners a little bit about CenterStone.
DM: We’re a company that provides a B2B and merchandising platform to the outdoor industry as well as other industries. We focus primarily on apparel and footwear companies and there are some intricacies around footwear and apparel that our software addresses. Primarily the users of our software, which are reps and retail buyers and customer service professionals, manage all aspects of their wholesale ordering on our platform.
RS: You were part of the group that started CenterStone, right? Tell us about that.
DM: Absolutely – I was involved with the company in its earliest years. If you’ve been in the industry awhile, we were actually a company called The Buyers Page. Around 2000 we recapitalized the company and moved out of our original offices which were in strip mall in Lakewood Colorado, and we rebranded the company as CenterStone – it was an exciting time and it’s been a great ride ever since.
RS: What were some of your challenges getting that off the ground?
DM: Certainly in the 90s and early 2000s it was very much of an evangelical sale – there was not much to the concept of ecommerce at the time and there were absolutely no companies doing direct to consumer at that time so we were kind of pioneering a new space. One of the biggest challenges was that I would talk to retailers and they would say, “When you have more brands on your platform, I’ll use it more” and of course brands would say the opposite – “when more retailers use it…” so it was a little bit of a Jacob’s Ladder to build up both sides of our user community. We’ve got about 50,000 users today, which we’re very proud of.
RS: When I was talking to you guys back in 2005, it was like an online catalog. Can people now place orders? It’s an e-commerce solution as well?
DM: Absolutely. Reps use our tools to do a lot of their selling activities, and we receive pre-season orders, and then retailers primarily use our application to do re-orders or ASAP orders, but users can check inventory, they can look at a digital catalog, they can place orders and do all sorts of merchandising and creating presentations and line sheets with the platform as well.
RS: In addition to outdoor, what are some of the other channels you guys work in?
DM: We do a lot in workwear – Carharrt, Dickies are big clients – and we do a lot in hunting and fishing.
RS: After 15-plus years, what are you most proud of?
DM: Well, I think probably just the growth of the company. When we started the business around 2000, we did 30-million dollars of wholesale orders through our platform and we were, of course, very excited about that – thought that was a ton of revenue on behalf of our clients. We average between 2.5- and 3-billion dollars through our platform each year. Actually in 2017 we crossed the 20-billion dollar mark for the history of the company, so we’re super excited about that. I’d say that the other thing is that we really are proud of our ability to take the company globally – we have offices in Paris, France as well. We collect orders from 180 different countries – we definitely work for many of our clients on a global scale.
RS: How have the challenges that retailers are facing these days impacted you guys?
DM: It’s an observation that retailers – particularly specialty retailers – are becoming fewer, the good ones are thriving and we like to think that we’re helping them be more efficient and supporting their business.
RS: Tell us about some non-profit work that you guys do.
DM: On a personal note I work very passionately with an organization that’s based here in Denver called Love Hope Strength, and it’s an organization that swabs cheeks at concerts and other types of events to put people on the national bone marrow registry, so often times I find myself at Red Rocks or a theater here in Denver trying to get people to get on the list. One of the most challenging aspects of a blood-based cancer is it’s hard to find a match, so an organization called DKMS is the national bone marrow registry so we forward all our swab samples to them and they organize a national registry. We’ve matched about 2,500 individuals from our efforts here in the United States. And then on a corporate level, we sponsor and support the Colorado Outward Bound School quite extensively, and then I think you know Tom Detmer, our CEO, is a board member at the Yellowstone Foundation so we do quite a bit with them as well.
RS: We talked about camping and skiing – any other outdoor activities you participate in?
DM: I’m getting a little bit older so I primarily do lower-impact types of things now – I ski quite a bit, and that’s one of my favorite things to do, I bike as well, I swim in the summer quite often and I do yoga a few times a week as well. It’s really centering for me – it’s 45 minutes to an hour of really focusing on myself and being present on my mat. As a younger guy I did more adventurous things – I was a whitewater rafter and was a long-distance runner for a long time.
RS: Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks that are wanting to get into the outdoor biz or grow their career or do something like you guys have done?
DM: Yeah – as we all know, the outdoor industry is one of relationships and I’ve certainly made some of my best business relationships and friendships going back as far as The Outdoor Show being hosted in Reno, Nevada. That’s a long time ago. But I think if you’re passionate about the outdoors, my suggestion is just get involved in any way that you can, whether it’s working for a brand or for a nonprofit or a retailer – just get going in some capacity and you’ll find that you make good contacts and good friendships in the industry.
RS: Do you have any daily routines to keep your sanity?
DM: Exercise is the primary thing, and that includes yoga. I used to run into work and that was certainly something that was a daily thing that really helped me to think about the day and get organized and prepare for the day – but as I mentioned, I don’t do that as much anymore.
RS: Do you have a favorite outdoor gear purchase under $100?
DM: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s quite $100 but my most recent purchase was a Neversummer longboard. My kids have them as well. I live off a parkway here in Denver and we do a lot of cruising up and down the parkway. It’s a little bit difficult getting up the hill, but it’s definitely a lot of fun coming down. It’s great – it’s not very busy from a traffic standpoint, so you can really carve big turns and cruise down the hill. It’s great. Fun to do with the kids.
RS: Anything else you want to say to our listeners?
DM: Yeah – I would just say if you’re ever in Denver, look us up – we’d love to have you into our offices and get to know you and take you for a beer, for sure. I’m open to connecting with anyone through LinkedIn as well. CenterStone has a Facebook page and Twitter account, of course I’d welcome anyone to follow us.
Printed with permission of Rick Saez, The Outdoor Biz Podcast.
Heather Hart is a writer based in Denver. When she’s not writing about technology, food and travel you may find her camping with her husband and two kids or hiking one of Colorado’s many trails.