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Dec 19, 2018

Tom Williams, OMM MD, talks about the brand’s development, success and future aims

Tom Williams, OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) MD, talks to Mark Hayhurst about the brand's development, success and future aims

Can you tell us the history of the company?

In 1968 a group of like-minded individuals decided to come up with a challenge to decide who was the most capable in the mountains. The OMM was born. This challenge attracted the attentions of Karrimor and for 30 plus years the partnership produced an annual race in October and used the challenge to generate specifications for products that pushed the conventional envelope.

The race has attracted many big names such as Chris Brasher and Sir Ranulph Fiennes and, with capacity limited at 3,000 competitors, it is the biggest mountain marathon in the world.

OMM had lightweight before lightweight was a thing and the classic pack series and Kamleika stretch waterproofs generated whole product categories that are now replicated by many brands.

The fundamentals of the event are self reliance, route selection, moving quickly over difficult terrain, kit management, endurance, teamwork and sound mountain judgement.

How has the market changed in the last five years?

In the last five years our market has benefited significantly from the growth of trail running on the continent. This has allowed our traditional UK fell scene to benefit from attention in product development budgets and our largely ignored sector has leapt forward as a result. Europeans remain perplexed by our insistence in running off trail and in the rain but we will get them there.

To what do you attribute your success?

The success of OMM is from recognising that the event holds great appeal as a test of the human condition. We are natural explorers, we want to be first and we like our friends to know about it. But nobody will ever win this race if they follow the man in front. The brand approach is the same and we revel in originating new concepts and love to talk about them.

How is your company developing and growing?

OMM is on a steady growth trajectory based on family and friends’ ownership who generously reinvest the profits. There are too many risks in the stages of company growth for borrowingled development so we’ve taken it slow and had the time to cut off mistakes early in their creation. To date we are achieving double digit growth each year and are now pushing to build on our UK success by developing in Europe.

We have also looked to improve the pipeline of competitors who find the OMM event which is too challenging for most. This has led to the creation of the OMM Festival including trail events and mountain biking events. It is important that competitors feel the events are for them and are not simply a commercial exercise; to this extent all events are not for profit.

What are you currently working on? New launches, etc?

In the UK there will be new products and an even better OMM Festival and we will be putting further focus onto the continent with establishing sales teams in France to join Germany and the OMM Alps event taking place in Switzerland. An OMM shop has now opened in Belgium.

At OMM, product development is constant and we expect to launch eight models in 2019. However, the rate of development across UK and European brands has dramatically slowed due to political instability, so I wouldn’t expect too much.

What trends do you predict will be popular in the coming year?

Much more can be expected in retail trends with consolidation across high street stores, further independent loss and increased impact from Amazon. As a brand we will try to maintain balance so that consumers can both physically experience our products as well as purchase them if they want. This is going to be difficult and we hope that through the OIA our industry can lobby government to further support the high street.

What inspires you to create new products, how do you develop them and bring them to the market?

As discussed above, the OMM event and feedback from customers.

What advice would you offer to retailers?

Become the authority in a speciality and build your business around it. Growth and achieve sell out margin are the true measures of success for retail and you will never win on a lowest price only consumer campaign. Telling a unique story will allow you to stay out of unhealthy competition and be more desirable to brands. Also, for physical shop retailers, store square footage (meterage) is the commodity of the future. Value it and keep it, the brands will all be willing to pay for it soon!

What services and support do you offer retailers who stock your product?

We try to have good flexibility on stock although we could’ve done better in the last year – sorry everyone. Social stories are very important now and the OMM events provide opportunity for retailers to engage directly with consumers which we will support. We have also recently set up the OMM store - this acts as a centre of knowledge with expert staff who are available on phone, video, messenger, at any time to support retail staff. We don’t mind if it’s a question of technical product detail or where to go to run in the Lake District and how to use a map. We just want to encourage people onto the hill.

There is also a trend to remove retail account managers in favour of leaving no support for independents – we are not going to do this and Charlotte, Nick, Adam and Iain will be there to help. Give us a call 01524 287287 or sales@theomm.com to open a new account.

How important is social media to you?

End users are very important to us and providing them with the information they need, and in the way they want to hear it, to decide to love OMM is vital… whatever that takes. Once in they are part of the family and social media is the metaphysical kitchen table we all sit around to debate from.

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