She is 36 years old, stunningly beautiful, sweet as can be, loved by her colleagues, 32 weeks pregnant with her second child…so she must be having lunch at the club while her investment banker husband goes back and forth to New York City…right? Or maybe she’s getting a stone message every afternoon at Deer Valley after she goes over window treatments for the new house she is building…yea? Maybe Bob Wheaton is personally giving her a foot massage while the stones are heating up?
Um, no. Actually we’re talking about the new CEO of Backcountry.com.
Backcountry.com is clearly one of the most successful, most talented nichetailers on the Internet. It doesn’t matter who you are in ski industry — a street-side shop, a chain, or a fellow online retailer — you are probably still going to have respect for what these guys (and girls) have accomplished.
Could a site be cleaner? Could a site make better use of better athletes? These guys flat out rock harder than Foghat in 1972 at the Dayton Arena! Two guys – one a visionary and the other an operator…Jim Holland and John Bresee…take a couple of grand and their garage in Heber City in the late 90’s when people were still typing www. into browsers and after an avalanche beacon sale or two…create a business that is pulling down a quarter of a billion a year and has a huge exit to the media tycoons at Liberty!?!?
Must we forget they have a couple other of these sites as well… Bonktown, Chainlove, DepartmentOfGoods, Dogfunk, HucknRoll, RealCyclist, SteepandCheap, & WhiskeyMilitia. And in the vein of Richard Branson they confidently closed a couple that didn’t work as well with no Mickey Mouse wordsmithing or subterfuge…ie. Tramdock and Brociety.
So Holland and Bresee hit their home run, they’ve lapped the bases, they’ve signed their autographs…who gets the keys now? The same someone who never got the memo about stone messages and lunches at the club: Jill Layfield.
We conned her into sitting down with us to fully understand the dileo:
Ski Channel: we will give you $1,000,000 to run away together right now.
Jill Layfield: no.
Ski Channel: $2,000,000.
Jill Layfield: no.
Ski Channel: $5,000,000.
Jill Layfield: no.
Ski Channel: your husband called and said “he is leaving you and should just take the next guy you are talking to.
Jill Layfield: no, I just got a text from him.
Ski Channel: damn cell phones! OK, heavy artillery right out of the box. Brick and mortar – vamp?
Jill Layfield: softball. Although we have no plans to be in the brick and mortar industry, we are very supportive of it. We are trying to grow the industry and the space as opposed to taking market share from brick and mortar. We are a specialty retailer and want to work closer with any specialty retailer in the space to help it grow and thrive. We want a robust industry and especially specialty.
Ski Channel: you guys have succeeded more than anyone in the space. Why is that?
Jill Layfield: we have a laser-targeted focus on ecommerce. We understand it, what drives it and where it is going. We had some early wins in search, but success has come because of what we have done. We understand the relationship between community, content and commerce. We have become a center of industry knowledge online. And, we have done a great job at fulfillment and delivery.
Ski Channel: you guys have certainly created a corporate culture. Describe it.
Jill Layfield: we have unique passion for the outdoors and we have a unique passion for ecommerce. It is not much more complex than that.
Ski Channel: are there any corporate role models out there? Anyone that keeps you up at night?
Jill Layfield: we admire and think about a lot about Amazon. What they have done in ecommerce is amazing. They have an unparalleled, frictionless service and represent the very best of ecommerce. We learn from them, but do it in a Backcountry way.
Ski Channel: one of the smartest most sophisticated media companies in the world (Liberty Media) and two highly successful entrepreneurs handed you the reins – pretty impressive to say the least. How did that happen?
Jill Layfield: John and Jim were perfect people to run this company and have been amazing to work with and learn from. They have really prepared me well. John is an innovator who really thinks differently. He has completely opened my eyes to consumer experience. I joke that Jim is a CFO in disguise as he is so fiscally responsible and savvy at running a profitable business.
Ski Channel: Backcountry.com has just flat out knocked it out of the park with the use of athletes. Can you describe what athlete integration means to your brand?
Jill Layfield: it really is about two big things. Authenticity is the first. We are a core brand largely because we are partnered with so many revered core athletes. It really makes a difference. Second, our athletes actively participate in our Community, writing reviews, posting pictures and videos and answering questions. That makes for an incredible experience for our customers, and helps make our site a true center of gear knowledge. Can you imagine asking a question about gear and having Jeremy Jones respond? Our athletes are so talented, knowledgeable and valuable to the brand.
Ski Channel: you have been at a few Internet companies. What have you learned or brought from those companies?
Jill Layfield: yea I have worked at a number of companies and picked up knowledge from all of them, but the team at shutterfly.com really helped me the most. It was all about working with really smart people and we had them there. I was a sponge and got a great foundation that I have carried with me.
Ski Channel: tell us about you?
Jill Layfield: I am an avid outdoor enthusiast into skiing, mountain biking and trail running. But my first love is climbing. I moved to Park City about 6 years ago and really love it here. Although it did take me about a year to really appreciate it. Now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Ski Channel: tell us about the luckiest guy in the world?
Jill Layfield: (answered without pause) I met the luckiest guy in the world in Napa. We used to climb there together. He is a wonderful Dad and a great guy. We have one child already and another on the way as well as dogs. He loves the outdoors as well. We love to travel…we love food and wine. (we edited out all the mush)
Ski Channel: last words and advice to young Women out there?
Jill Layfield: I am really honored and fired up to be in this position. It is great to work at a company that is doing so well and with such great people. I have candidly been surprised by the amount of emails from women who are supportive. I quickly realized that I have inherited a lot of responsibility. This industry is dominantly male and I am honored to get the opportunity to balance it out. Hopefully this action can inspire other young women to take on roles like this. But if I had one piece of advice for anyone out there, it would be to learn everything you can at your work. You can take that knowledge with you and grow much faster.
Before we finish this piece, we need to highlight the athlete team at Backcountry because of the world class nature of the talent pool of skiers, climbers, mountaineers and product experts. We racked brains here and could not find any entity in the entire industry that has a roster with this type of quality and quantity. On top of that, these athletes actually participate in product reviews and product discussion. You can post a question about a piece of gear and some monster like Jeremy Jones or Chris Davenport responds with his thoughts. Here is a partial list Backcountry hooligans to close:
- Chris Davenport
- Seth Morrison
- Julian Carr
- Jenn Berg
- Noah Howell
- Sage Cattabriga Alosa
- Jess McMillian
- Jeremy Jones
- Ingrid Backstrom
- Greg Hill
- Nick Devore
- Grete Eliassen