What a difference a year can make. In 2020, outdoor lifestyle footwear brand Chaco pivoted a mobile tour scheduled to stop at major music festivals into a mask-making program for healthcare workers. A year later, the brand is on the road activating its original tour concept across the U.S., delivering the kind of comeback story brands at the height of the pandemic could only dream of. Launched June 7 and wrapping Oct. 3, the Fit for Adventure Tour is making stops in Portland, OR, Denver, Nashville and Austin, offering consumers a chance to have their Chaco footwear repaired, fun swag and pop-up experiences in partnership with local retailers.
The centerpiece of the Fit for Adventure Tour is the ReChaco Roving Repairs Bus. The vintage school-bus-turned-mobile-factory was designed to provide consumers with the same experience they would have while visiting Chaco’s Michigan-based ReChaco Factory, where workers repair the brand’s signature Z/ sandals and new after-sport Chillo slides. The tour strategy further promotes Chaco’s message of sustainability—that you don’t dispose of its made-to-last products; you repair them.
At each tour stop, consumers can board the Roving Repairs Bus to drop off their sandals for free same-day repairs (any repairs that can’t be done on-site are sent to the ReChaco Factory). They can also design their own custom Z/1 sandals and Chillos using an array of exclusive webbings, buckles, threads and other components, and watch while the footwear is made right in front of them. And a “foot selfie” photo op with “Show Us Your Toes” messaging encourages attendees to share the adventure they’re “fit for” (think: “fit for climbing”) and post it on social using #ChacoTour.
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Storytelling is another key component of the experience. After having their Polaroid photo taken, attendees are asked to tell their personal Chaco story, which is then shared on a wall of fame of sorts on-site. The photos and accompanying narratives will ultimately be posted to an existing master wall of Chaco stories at the ReChaco Factory.
“The Chaco stories are better than anything we could ever think of or write from a marketing perspective,” says Lyndi Bell, brand marketing manager at Chaco. “I can say all day long, ‘our sandals are super durable.’ But a better story is: ‘These are my grandma’s sandals from 10 years ago and when she passed away, she gave them to me and I happened to be the same size. Now I’m going back and doing that same hike [she did]. Thank you for re-webbing them so that I can do that.’ I mean, just tear-jerking stories—you can’t make content that good.”
The program strategy also includes Chillos Mobile Pop-Up experiences (originally designed to serve as respites from the heat at festivals) in and around each tour city. Chaco is partnering with like-minded retailers, like Outdoor Voices in Nashville and Topo Designs in Denver, to host the pop-ups in an effort to reach new customers. On-site, attendees are encouraged to sign up for giveaways, pick up swag, drop off their sandals for repairs, get fitted for and/or purchase Chillos, enter to win an OARS whitewater rafting trip and get a tarot card reading.
The tour’s original goals—to churn out content and drive awareness of both the brand and its new Chillo product—have remained the same. But Chaco had to make a few COVID-era tweaks to the program’s execution. Case in point: Instead of tying its tour stops to an array of major events like SXSW, Chaco is aiming to drive its own traffic by staying in one location throughout its residency in each city. In addition, the brand is encouraging consumers to book appointments for their repairs online to control the flow of traffic, although walk-up time slots are available. And the pop-up experiences, originally meant to serve as chill zones where festivalgoers could spend ample time, have been redesigned for shorter visits. Bell says moving forward, the tour bus is more likely to pop up at a farmer’s market or a 5k versus a music festival, at least while the pandemic is still underway.
To measure the impact of the Fit for Adventure Tour, Chaco is working against eight different KPIs. Among them: number of repairs made, custom sandals designed, rafting sign-ups, social media engagements and overall impressions. And fortunately, the brand is already exceeding its goals. During the tour’s first week, Chaco booked more than 200 appointments and had to add a member to its field crew based on the volume of customers. “We want to measure [the tour] in a variety of ways because we want this to work,” Bell says. “We’re a small brand. We need it to work really hard for us. And we’re seeing the early return already, which is amazing.”
When the tour wraps on Oct. 3, it won’t be the last you see of the ReChaco Roving Repairs Bus—the vehicle was built for the long haul. The brand is working on developing an evergreen mobile factory program in order to continue reaching new customers and reengaging loyal members of its Chaco Nation community in person.
“The years that we have been on the road doing consumer face-to-face interactions, our brand has grown, so it’s very crucial to our long-term growth and continues to bring in new consumers to our brand,” Bell says. “How are we going to really know what the consumers want or what they love about our brand or what they need without actually talking to them?… There is nothing that will ever replace a face-to-face consumer interaction. I believe it now more than ever.”