NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 29, 2018
Marcus, this is a big week for Gander Outdoors, obviously, sponsoring the gamut of races we have here at Pocono Raceway. Can you talk about positioning the Gander brand with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2019?
MARCUS LEMONIS: Yeah, I think we have to take a step back and really focus on what NASCAR has really meant to our business and to other businesses, and there's this‑‑ I think there's this notion that sports sponsorship has sort of lost its way, but we're here to tell you as a company that our relationship with NASCAR has really paid dividends over the years. About eight or nine years ago when we first launched Camping World with the Truck Series, it was a much smaller company. It was about a third of the size, and as we went into new markets and we found new customers, it was a great way to relate to customers, and if you visit the infields, you obviously see the parallel.
So it was an easy transition for us in the evolution of our own business, a transition to Gander Outdoors, which is a new company for us, a new acquisition for us, and as we think about the future of our business and the future of NASCAR, we know that fans are looking for simpler, easier, less expensive, and we as a retailer have an obligation to do that, and we want to use NASCAR as a platform to communicate that.
THE MODERATOR: For you, Steve, can you talk about having Camping World as a partner and their desire to bring the Gander Outdoors brand, and how do you think the fans will react to this new move?
STEVE PHELPS: Well, listen, Marcus has been a phenomenal partner‑‑
MARCUS LEMONIS: And I wore you out about this.
STEVE PHELPS: ‑‑ for the industry for a long time. That's tracks, teams, NASCAR itself. Been a phenomenal partner for the Camping World Truck Series, and we see this transition as one that is going to be seamless. Our fans over‑index on RV's and camping equipment outdoors. They also over‑index on just outdoor activities as a whole, whether it's water sports or fishing. Anything from an outdoor standpoint, our fans love.
I think it's a testament to Marcus and his team to put the trust to take this brand and have it be Gander Outdoors, and it really is a testament to our fan base, right, because our fans are the single best fans, not only just in terms of their size and the passion, but also their loyalty to products and services that are sponsors of NASCAR.
MARCUS LEMONIS: One thing that we did, and I think Steve aware of this, is we did a lot of focus groups on what the relationship with our company and NASCAR meant to them, and the feedback that we got from fans is that the products that we sold at Camping World weren't daily tangible brings. Yes, you can buy an RV and you can get everything you need for your RV from Camping World, but they were looking for products that were more tangible, and they wanted to understand, if I'm a NASCAR fan and I'm a Gander Outdoors customer, what is that going to mean for me. And so we're in the process of developing NASCAR‑exclusive arrangements with fans so they can enjoy tangible things, so whether it's fishing, hunting, whatever it may be, things that they can sink their teeth into on a daily basis, and so that was really the genesis of the transition was the fans were telling us what you're giving me as a fan isn't enough for me to sink my teeth into. I want more, and you need to give it to me, and that's really what we're responding to.
Q. First question is how hard has the transition been going from Camping World to Gander Outdoors in terms of logos, and then going back further into it, into the internal, how tough has it been to just change the name of a series?
STEVE PHELPS: Well, so this is for '19, it's not for '18. The transition we think is actually going to be fairly seamless, so all the digital and social pieces, those are obviously very simple. Physical things like wrapping haulers and things of that nature, we're well on our way. We love the way the new identity looks, the new logo looks, the new series logo, so we're excited about it.
Again, fairly‑‑ I think it'll be fairly simple. And I think the most important thing is that the fans are going to embrace that transition. So we see it fairly seamless.
MARCUS LEMONIS: I think the challenge for us is having the community, the NASCAR community, understand why the change was made and what it means to them. In every case, nobody likes change, and so the onus is really on me to communicate to the NASCAR community why this is a good thing for the people that pay money to sit in the stands and support our sport and sign our checks, essentially.
STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, to that point, you're bringing more resources to the table, so you had Camping World, now you have a broader network of Gander, Overton's and others that we can draw from, and I think that will be‑‑ the fans will be the beneficiary of it.
Q. Marcus, it feels like the Truck Series has had a pretty good reputation for its on‑track product. How encouraging is that for you as someone who's investing in the sport, and does that affect how much you put into sponsoring the sport?
MARCUS LEMONIS: Yeah, I think that in the last couple years, I was a little negligent in really creating the connection between the on‑track success and the grit and the gravel of it all, the excitement, and transitioning that into our retail environment so customers understood that. I happen to be‑‑ I'm partial to the Truck Series. It's not that I don't like the other two series, but I think that our racing is the best racing, for a couple reasons. One, it gives people a shot that wouldn't normally get it, and it really is a great breeding ground for the superstars of tomorrow, and we want to be a part of that.
I think we can do a better job going forward of taking the edgy, fun, aggressive racing that happens on the track and transitioning that into some fun experience at the retail level. So that's a challenge for us for sure.
Q. Marcus, we debate a lot on where the Truck Series should race, and I'm curious, do you give Steve suggestions of where they should race, and if you do, what are those suggestions?
MARCUS LEMONIS: Do I ever give you any suggestions?
STEVE PHELPS: Never. This will be the first suggestion I've ever gotten from Marcus.
MARCUS LEMONIS: Usually when I text him at 11:30 at night, he responds. You know, I have a particular point of view. There's certain markets that I do miss going to, and without naming them, we aren't really able to influence that outcome. But I think if we want to drive where that's going to happen in the future, we have to put our money where our mouth is and try to figure out how to create an environment in a city like Milwaukee, right, where that's a really good market for our company, and I really used to enjoy going to the races there.
If we want to drive that process, we're going to have to really draw the roadmap for NASCAR, and what that means financially for the tracks, what that means for NASCAR and what that means for the fans, first and foremost.
I think there's some work to be done. It's not me being critical, but I definitely think there's markets that we'd like to be in‑‑ I wish we could go back to Denver. That was a market that we haven't been in in a long time, but I don't think there's anywhere to run. At least not today. But I definitely have an opinion; you know me better than that.
Q. I'd like to ask, you're known for taking companies and building them up, and obviously Camping World it seems would be a big benefit from the Truck Series. Is that your goal? Did it work so well that you're trying to bring Gander back to where it should have been?
MARCUS LEMONIS: Secretly, the transition from a financial and a business standpoint to Gander, was I saw the success that NASCAR played for Camping World and really taking it to the next level. It was a billion‑dollar company before we started our relationship with NASCAR. It's a $4 billion business today. It's not all attributable to NASCAR, but if you watch the path and you watch the markets where we opened, we have a track and a store correlation in almost every single market, and so the Gander process clearly will be propelled by our relationship with NASCAR. That's the truth.
Q. Marcus, we've seen the growth of Camping World through the NASCAR sponsorship; what activation will we see for not only the fans at the tracks but working with the teams and drivers who seem to be more accustomed to you being a major role in the series?
MARCUS LEMONIS: We realized that over the years, right, we needed to bring cooler and better products but things that can be consumable. So I would expect that our activation at track would explode at a pretty significant level. You know, we bring RV's to the track, it's nice, we bring camping supplies to the track, it's great, but to bring everything in our arsenal to the track we think is going to really change.
And when we look at our Overton's brand, particularly in markets where we‑‑ like Daytona where we can really bring things to life and create experiences, we want to be able to create weekend experiences where people can come to the track, and when we're not on track, we can take them places or do things with our products on track or at track.
Q. How much do you want to work with the drivers and teams?
MARCUS LEMONIS: There's particular drivers that are really engaged. In fact, I got two nice tweets from Kyle and from Joey Logano last night that have been longtime supporters of Camping World, and they're excited. Clint Bowyer reached out when we first acquired Gander, and he's like, I need to get some free stuff. So as I said to him, it won't be free, but it'll be close to free.
And so I think the drivers are excited to be able to access products at employee‑type pricing where they're going to be able to get out and use it. I expect to get phone calls for free stuff for sure.
Q. Marcus, this is a question for you. What type of promotional events do you have to try to tie Gander Outdoors and the Truck Series together in 2019?
MARCUS LEMONIS: I think for us, it's using our brick and mortar assets to give exposure and promotion to those young drivers that don't necessarily get it with some of our sponsors. If you look at the sponsorship lineup that exists in the Truck Series today, the retailers that are on there are a little more local and a little more condensed. We want to give those retailers some exposure, but more importantly, how do we give the drivers an opportunity to really spread their wings, and whether that's using our direct mail to our 5 million customers or using our stores, I think we want to use our Broadway stage to propel these guys and get them ready for the big leagues. It's our responsibility to help them get ready to answer the right questions, so we think it's important.
Q. Marcus, what now becomes of the Camping World brand and its relationship to NASCAR?
MARCUS LEMONIS: So we‑‑ if you really study what Camping World has done over the last 10 years, we have really a multi‑strategy, which is at track, like Camping World 400 or Camping World 300, spotty races, where we find a driver that is really needing sponsorship or we get a call from a team that needs help. You should expect Camping World to continue to activate like it has historically because our company wants to be supportive of the sport, and I always get uncomfortable‑‑ when we joke about the calls to Steve late night, when I go through the roster of the tracks that are unsponsored at the beginning of the year, I start dialing, how can we help, what can we do. When I look at the teams that are struggling, how can we help and what can we do. So we're supporters of the sport first, and we are hoping that the fans recognize that and the media recognize that and give us whatever draft they can to help our business.
We feel it's a scratch‑my‑back, scratch‑your‑back relationship, and Camping World is not a one‑and‑done. We expect to continue to do things like we've historically done, just not with one series.
Q. Last year we saw a major partnership between 5‑Hour Energy and Bass Pro Shops where we saw 5‑Hour Energy product go into Bass Pro Shops. Is that same type of partnerships available within the Truck Series or Xfinity Series to go in Overton's, Gander Outdoors, etcetera?
MARCUS LEMONIS: Look, from a big business standpoint, it's our expectation that we help NASCAR and the teams drive their business using our platform. I think the big challenge for us, and this is really directed to the entire NASCAR community, it's expensive to do things like that. And so when we're giving team sponsors a chance to have product placement or we're helping a track sponsor, we need to be able to drive business through our business so that that wheel moves for all of us.
There are a number of partnerships working with a number of teams, and sometimes we don't feel the need to publicize it. You get a team owner that'll call and say, I'm trying to get somebody from 7 to 12 races. I think if you help me get some product placement, I can do that. I can't help you do anything today, but I'll really appreciate it. We want to be that partner that's sometimes behind the scenes helping people, and you'll see a little bit more of that going forward.
Q. Steve, this is for you. When you've got someone like Marcus publicly just say his company went from a billion dollar company to a $4 billion company and that was partly because of the branding with NASCAR, what does that say about the overall health of the sport going forward and what you're trying to do to help boost up not only the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity but even the Cup Series when you're marketing the sport?
STEVE PHELPS: You know, I think there's a misconception out there that sponsorship in NASCAR is not doing well, and that's not true. We have more sponsors in this sport today than we've ever had. We've got almost half the Fortune 100, almost a third of the Fortune 500. It's a lot of large companies who are in the sport not because‑‑ it would be really cool to go racing. It's because it works. And so Marcus talked about fan loyalty, talked about what it's done for his business. There are other brands that are doing that, as well. So people tend to focus on oh, my gosh, sponsor A left and sponsor B left, and for us, it's like, okay, well, C, D, E and F also came on board as brand new sponsors. And then a plethora of others have renewed or extended for a period of time.
I think this industry tends to focus on the negative. I'm not really sure why‑‑
MARCUS LEMONIS: Welcome to my world.
STEVE PHELPS: But I'm excited about it and want to thank Marcus and his whole team for their partnership for these many years, and we look forward to many, many years to come.
MARCUS LEMONIS: One last thing that I'd ask all of the media and NASCAR, as well, we can never take our eye off the single ball, which is our customers and our fans are the reason that we exist, and so if we're not curating something for them at the price points that work for them with the experience that works for them, they'll vote us out by not showing up, and so I think we need to be very careful that whether it's in our stores or at our tracks or in our sponsorships that we're remembering who our boss is, and that's our customer, and I think the minute we forget that, we're out of business.
STEVE PHELPS: Couldn't agree more.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports