Starting the discussion: #CarFreeReps (Part I)

As manufacturer representatives in the outdoor industry, one important part of our job is to spend time in our retailers shops: supporting their business, training their staff on the proper use of our equipment, and how to sell it to their customers. As individuals and as a business concerned about the environmental, health, and national security problems caused by our automobile-centric culture, we have taken many steps to reduce our car use in our personal lives.

Most of us bicycle, walk, or carpool to the office – and those of us who work out of our homes have a head start! This is an important step; I am convinced that meaningful changes have to start with small-but-committed changes in routine, and the daily commute is a great place to explore alternative transportation.

However, it is hard not to notice that for us, with our jobs, the daily commute is just the little toe of our carbon footprint; our seasonal roadtrips through the upper Midwest and biannual flights to national tradeshows and national sales meetings are our biggest source of emissions. But these are job requirements, and as a small business trying to maximize efficiency while conserving time and money, perhaps we’ve done enough?

This short video produced by the Outdoor Alliance (a coalition of groups working for public access to and environmental protection of America’s rivers, trails, mountains, and crags) reminds us why we care:

1) We are these climbers, hikers, skiers, and paddlers – I’d like to keep enjoying my snowmelt Western rivers.

2) Our customers are also these people – we sell harnesses, jackets, tents, and boots – it would be great if there is somewhere for our customers to use them.

3) It’s an issue of culture. Improving the way we conduct business is part of Pemba Serves’ culture. Environmental conservation, including alternative transportation, is increasingly part of our retailers’ cultures – it’s our job is to support this. Finally, the Outdoor Industry is uniquely positioned to start changing the mainstream culture – if we can’t make it here, we’re in trouble!

So what does it mean for a rep to go car-free? We have lots of ideas about what it could mean in 5 or 10 years, but here’s what it means for us, right now:

1) Our cars are still parked in the driveway. We’re not totally car-free, that’s just the ideal. Small steps, remember? Many of us are single car households, with partners sharing our car-lite values. When we do need an extra car, car-sharing programs like Madison’s Community Car and Chicago’s I-GO are always available.

Brad rocks out Milwaukee clinics, car-lite.

Brad rocks out Milwaukee clinics, car-lite.

2) We all live or work within 3 miles of a customer. I just moved to Chicago; I have six accounts within three miles from home. And it is substantially faster to bike to all of them. These are easy. There are an additional 10 accounts within 25 miles. This trip is longer by bike, and not all are on bike-friendly routes, but most are on ‘L’ or Metra train lines.

One of many Chicago shops within biking distance for Pete.

One of many Chicago shops within biking distance for Pete.

3) We’ve been able to make a couple of bigger trips this year on intercity bus and Amtrak. When we’re traveling longer distances to attend a meeting or support a specific event, we don’t need a car once we’re there. Intercity bus and train turn out to have many advantages; we’ll explore some of the data in Part II.

Brads intercity, car-free. Bus+Bike

Brad's intercity, car-free. Bus+Bike

4) Getting out of the car isn’t just about saving the environment… I’m sure every sales rep, retail employee, and manufacturer sales manager in the outdoor industry has has this conversation with a cute boy/girl at a party:

CUTE GIRL: “So tell me, what do you do for a living?”

ME: “Oh, I’m a sales rep/salesperson/etc in the outdoor recreation industry. We sell mountaineering, skiing, kayaking, and camping equipment.”

CUTE GIRL: “Wow, that is so cool! You must get to go on some amazing trips! You know, for ‘product testing’ and stuff? Tell me about your last adventure!”

ME: “Well, umm… there was this trip to Utah a couple months ago, but it’s not what you think…”

For me, creating space in my work life to get outside and use our gear – even if just to ride across town in Gore-Tex waterproof goodness – makes me better at my job and feel better about my life. And most of all, I have a better response for the cute girl at the party:

ME: “Remember that record snow storm last winter? Well, I had this really important meeting on the other side of town, and all of the bridges were closed, and ….”

Pete skis to work, 3/08.

Pete skis to work, post-snowstorm 3/08.

Join the conversation on Twitter, just tag your posts with the hashtag: #carfreereps. And check in next week for Part II where we’ll examine some of the other benefits of going car-free or car-lite. We are a business after all; we’ll be talking time and money.

Until then, ride on.

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