This arrangement enables Montane to play an active role in supporting the access, conservation, safety and youth work undertaken by the BMC. The PR benefit to Montane is considerable, while for their part the BMC hope the deal will provide a source of new members.
The partnership is part of a wider BMC strategy to engage with new commercial partners, a decision taken to bridge the funding gap brought about by recent changes to Sport England funding. This September, Cotswold Outdoor and Snow+Rock became the BMC's recommended retail partner. Further partnership announcements will follow.
Dave Turnbull, BMC CEO, said:
"We're excited to welcome Montane on board as our recommended clothing and pack partner. Montane is an independent British brand with an established reputation. Their involvement not only enables the BMC to address a funding gap, but sees us gain an enthusiastic, relevant and innovative partner with a strong interest in climbing and hill walking across the UK. We look forward to working with them."
As a benefit of the Montane partnership, all 85,000 BMC members will be able to access a discount of 15% on Montane clothing and equipment (20% until 19 November 2017), while up to 500 BMC volunteers will be eligible for a permanent 20% discount. All these are available only through montane.co.uk
Jake Doxat, Managing Director of Montane, said:
"We're immensely proud to be selected as the recommended clothing and pack partner of the BMC. This is a big moment for Montane and shows how far we've progressed since our founding in 1993. This new partnership not only gives us a strong platform with which to engage the British climbing and hillwalking communities, but also allows us to play a role in the active support of the vital work undertaken by the BMC. This in turn ensures continued rights of access and conservation of our much-loved outdoor spaces as well as encouraging young people to challenge themselves in the outdoors."
This move by the BMC will not be entirely uncontroversial. To find out more about the thinking that went into it, we caught up with the man responsible - Simon Lee, Commercial Partnerships Manager at the BMC:
UKC/UKH: In order to meet the funding shortfall, could you not simply have increased membership fees?
Simon: If only it was that simple! It was agreed at the last AGM to increase them by £2.50/year for individuals and £1.00 for club, U18, student and unemployed members. A proposed subs increase at an AGM would normally be a fiercely debated item but not this time - I think other matters occupied the audience's attention. Benchmarked against similar organisations and considering the range of work we do I think our fees represent excellent value for money.
Do you have any sympathy with the idea that a national representative body should be seen to be above commercial relationships with particular brands?
I think the vast majority of our members are pragmatists and recognise what we are doing and why. The BMC is late to this particular mode of fundraising, compared to other national bodies and charities such as the National Trust and the Ramblers who have been doing this for over a decade. Presumably they grappled with the same issues a long time ago. Overall, I believe if the brands we work with are good and supportive of our aims then collaborating is a positive thing. As well as helping to fund our altruistic activities, they also support our drive for new members by promoting the BMC to their wide customer base. Many companies and the people that head them also want to "put something back" and we provide a route to do that.
Is there any possibility of future conflicts of interest arising as a result of these partnerships, and if so what steps has the BMC taken to guard against them?
I don't anticipate any. As with most contracts of this nature, it is possible for either party to exit if there is a reputational damage issue. The guidelines for our strategic partnerships include that commercial partners do not have an influence on BMC policy, which is as it should be.
When negotiating this series of relationships, were you worried at all about the chance of alienating other non-participating brands and retailers?
The strategic partnership is a new form of relationship which doesn't replace the existing types of sponsorship relationships we already have. A brand or independent retailer that we have worked with (such as supporting a BMC TV film, providing prizes at competitions or support for an event) can continue to do so. The same applies to advertising in Summit. We would like to work with anyone who would like to work with us to support the good work we do. That's the bigger picture.
How did you choose who to partner with?
Firstly, I looked at the outdoor industry, as their customers are typically our members or target members. Secondly, a larger business was required that has the infrastructure and resources to support our 85,000 members and our funding aspirations. Thirdly, we give first refusal to UK-based companies. Last, but most definitely not least, it has to be a reputable business with great products and service that we are delighted to endorse. In Montane and Cotswold Outdoor and Snow + Rock, we couldn't be happier at how closely aligned they are to these criteria and their supportiveness of our cause.
Is there any evidence so far of bad feeling?
It seems that new initiatives by the BMC inevitably attract criticism on the UKC forums! Outside of these forums, we have not received a single critical letter or email or telephone call from any of our 85,000 members about the new partnership. In fact, one independent retailer hearteningly emailed me to say: "I'm happy to continue to support the BMC, both as an individual member and through our business' contribution to the members' benefits. I hope the new commercial partnership works out well (for my sins, I occasionally lurk on UKC Forums so I'm aware that there may be other opinions on this!)"
How much money are these partnerships worth to the BMC?
From my perspective we have made a fantastic start, but the journey is far from over. There were more than a few that doubted that this could work when I joined in January. I hope I have now opened a few eyes as to what might be achieved. Provided the organisation is supportive of me continuing commercial initiatives then I have more collaborative plans and ideas which I am confident could exceed Sport England funding over time.
The relationship with Cotswold has had a few weeks to bed in already. How are people generally receiving it? Have benefits from it already begun to be felt both by Cotswold and the BMC?
Absolutely. I understand from Cotswold Outdoor and Snow + Rock that this has been both the speediest and smoothest Partnership launch they have ever had. Credit for this is due to our talented Marketing and Communications team headed by Alex "don't shoot the" Messenger. I gather that many of our counterparts at Cotswold Outdoor and Snow + Rock are BMC members so are both excited about the partnership and on our wavelength. The partnership was recently featured in their email newsletter which went out to 700,000 customers. We are already looking at many innovative schemes of tying in rewards through them as part of what Alex calls the membership journey. Many members took advantage of the introductory 20% discount and some new members were nudged to join to take advantage too. Our dedicated volunteers, on whom the BMC depend, also get a permanent 20% discount which I think is a nice small thankyou for their selfless work. There are other forms of exciting collaboration we are in advanced discussion on, so watch this space…