Written by Lou Dzierzak (@WriterLou) for the July/August issue of Outdoor Insight Magazine
Pemba Serves, the sales rep firm founded by Brad Werntz in 1999, is fundamentally changing the way it conducts business.
Located in Madison, WI, Pemba Serves represents outdoor brands like Mountain Hardwear, Montrail, Petzl, Leki, Adventure Medical Kits and Atlas. The eight-person firm covers 800,000-square miles in the Upper Midwest.
Traveling from Madison to the far corners of Wisconsin or Minnesota requires a great deal of time in the car. It’s not uncommon to drive 12 hours in a single day to visit two accounts for as little as one hour.
Werntz is committed to championing the brands his firm represents with face-to-face human interaction but he takes a different road in how he travels from place to place. Whenever possible, Werntz and his team leave their cars behind and rely on mass transit, public transportation or human powered activities for travel.
Calling the initiative “car free” Werntz explains the rationale. “First, it seemed like the right thing to do. One of the hidden impacts of the outdoor industry is the amount of travel that we all do. If you want to go backpacking in the Rockies you have to get there, right?”
Supporting retail accounts prosper in the down economy, Werntz and his team suggested promoting outdoor activities like paddling, hiking and longboarding closer to home to inspire consumers who had previously planned outdoor equipment purchases around travel-oriented adventures like trips to Yellowstone.
Werntz says, “The more we talked about that message with retailers, we looked at ourselves and it became a natural extension to do parts of our job car free.”
Getting from Point A to Point B without a car requires improving logistic skills and mastering often complicated mass transit schedules. For automobile centric skeptics who may scoff at the inflexibility of being tied down to a transportation schedule, Wenrtz counters, “We in the United States are under the illusion that being in a car means freedom. If I want to stop for a latte, I can stop for a latte anytime I want. The truth is if you need to make a 1 p.m. appointment in the Twin Cities and you leave at 9 a.m. you have time for just one 5-10 minute pit stop to be on time. On the train you truly can get a latte anytime.”
He adds, “It’s an illusion we’ve allowed to frame our worldview. Which in turn creates behaviors that aren’t in line with a good work ethic, good business ethic and good planet ethic. It’s just a waste in every different way to drive when you can take the train.”
From a business perspective, Werntz describes an even more powerful benefit of moving form driving a car to taking a train. He reports, “We found the more we tackle the logistical challenges the more residual [benefits] we get from our investments.”
Comparing a trip from Madison, WI to Minneapolis, MN Werntz says that equipped with a wireless laptop he can be productive for five hours compared to driving and trying to make telephone calls in spotty cell phone coverage areas to accomplish something productive. He reports, “Five hours of productive time on a train is invaluable versus driving, which is absolutely dead time.”
Initially, Werntz didn’t actively promote Pemba Serves car-free approach to the firm’s clients and retailers. even as conversations about the topic increased the brands represented could see a difference. Werntz notes, “There are tie-ins that you can make with car-free travel that people don’t expect. One thing everyone noticed is our response time has gotten a lot quicker, especially electronic and phone communications. We don’t have as much down time driving ourselves to remote corners of the planet. We are able to serve our customers better.”
Personally, Werntz does 80 percent of this travel car-free. That doesn’t yet include plane travel. Since starting the car free initiative Pemba Serves has saved over 5,000 miles of automobile travel miles by using alternate transportation methods. The firm is using a Twitter account #carfreeme to promote the car-free initiative to a broader audience and looking for a charity partner to raise money for causes that align with the firm’s work.
Devaki Ananda Murch, Park N Pedal says, “carfreeme is not only a great way for people to see the calculated difference they are making not just in parking fees and co2 reduction. It offers tangible benefits to the participant as well as the industry that supports it.”
Pemba Serves commitment to changing the traditional travel paradigm calls the larger outdoor industry to look at the way they do business. Werntz comments, “Being on the cutting edge or not, that is not the idea. If you do what makes sense logically for us as individuals and finding that you are on the cutting edge that’s exhilarating. It’s been a transition in my life towards being virtually car-free on little step at a time. It’s been a two-year journey that makes it exciting to come to work.”