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Nancy Eisen - First Days in the Outdoor Industry 04/09/18 04/18/18

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Transcription Part 1:

Alan Tabor: Okay. So, then how did you get into the outdoor…were you like an outdoor type or did you…?

Nancy Eisen: Yeah! I was, yeah. My boyfriend at the time and I were…we were more into car camping and some backpacking.  His brothers had been very avid backpackers.  From then my I learned about some of the companies and all of the equipment. One of them had hiked back from had hiked from Tierra del Fuego all the way up to San Diego…took him more than a year…[fascinating stories that he had.

Alan: Right.

Nancy: So my boyfriend and I ordered a sleeping bag…actually a double bag… custom made by a guy Topeka, Kansas.

Alan: So, you're in Southern California.

Nancy: Yeah! I was in Southern California. Coincidentally the whole family…the Stephenson family lived in my neighborhood. I went to school with his daughters, too.

[Back to the Bay Area]. Anyway, I was between jobs and Brian Birmingham, who was the manager of the [The North Face] [ factory outlet, said, ”well hey, it's Christmas. I need extra help. Come on in” And I loved it the moment I got there I loved it!

I could, actually I could unbag an VE 24, have it up and sold, and back in the bag in ten minutes. Sometimes I had customers who wouldn't say, “well okay, yeah, this is nice. I'm gonna look at REI and look at what they have, too, before I make a decision.” And I'd be going in my head,  “Oh, yeah, okay. I'll see you back here in a half hour or so.”

Alan: We may have to film you setting that up and taking it down.

Nancy: One memorable customer on a VE24 was Boz Skaggs.  He was he was wearing ostrich skin boots when I sold him that tent. …this is odd, selling that tent… I'm  so used to climbers and backpackers…

Alan: Right.

Nancy: And you know in telling stories, and then here's Boz Scaggs and swearing ostrich skin boots.

So, the job kind of lasted longer much longer than Christmas. I became kind of full-time in in there and then Bob Gorton, in around I think that on February of that year, said, “Hey, I need somebody in mail order”…to run it. So, I went back and now I'm on a typewriter and working in the warehouse and on the phone with customers and shipping and all that stuff. So, it was it was different, it wasn't that same retail exposure and I really missed that because I loved interfacing with the customers…that kind of thing. So, I did that and then that panned out. Retail moved. We expanded, as you know, and at one point we had to move into a trailer behind the whole cutting rooms / warranty building.  There was a field back there…a trailer that we had to be in. It didn't really much heat or too much of the amenities really. But, that's where we worked.  At that point, Jim Guida started getting me involved with helping to track inventory. I made a whole lot of money when they tried to upgrade the shipping system and failed! …started double ship.

Alan: When was that.

Nancy: That was in towards the end of ‘81.

Alan: I kind of vaguely remember that.

Nancy: Yeah! and then there was a surge and I think it was Linda Saxton…no it was her predecessor. I remember him just telling me, well in this surge…the storm you know…electrical power went down. But, before it did there was a surge and it just…

Alan: Obliterated everything!

Nancy: …the computer system and part of what it obliterated was the retail records. They all had to be reconstructed. So all of these paper transactions had to be pulled out and rekeyed.

Alan: Well!

Nancy: So, I went to work down in downtown Oakland in a temporary building that they procured where they had a whole bunch of people in there keying stuff. But, they needed people like me who were familiar with all the product.

Alan: Who could say what that was!

Nancy: He know who can interpret what these various store clerks had written on these sales tickets you know. So, I made so much money that I quit and went to Europe for six months.  And came back. I left in March of ’82 and came back in October of ’82.

Susan Castner: To sit next to me.

Nancy:  I got a job straight off back with North Face.  That was Werlin I think at that point, Bill Werlin. He said, “Yeah, come on in what we need somebody. You know the product and everything.” So, I went in and interviewed with I think was Diane Woodward and Nick Tucci and they hired me.

And it turned out I shared a kind of a cubby peninsula with Susan.  And that's how I met Susan. I think it was it was not too long after… maybe it was April of ‘83 Linden [Hynes] started working and she was the switchboard operator and she was working in a little closet essentially. (Susan: Next to the cafeteria.)  t. Yeah, the cafeteria actually and it you had to walk by her to get into the customer service area. So, she and I used to talk all the time and we became friends.  and I think, somehow or other, Susan, Linden, and I became gaggle and then I think the next person might have been Susan Smith or Karen McGovern.

Susan Smith: Karen, because that was my connection to you guys.

Nancy: Ok and then and then Cammy joined the company a lot later but she's part of our group. Then Joy [Marantz (Doyle)].  I think Joy joined after Cammy.

Susan Castner: Yeah, Gib Mann brought her up from Big Dog. 

Susan Smith: I think that was after Cammy. Because that was at the time that they introduced sportswear and I think Cammy was there before they introduced sportswear. I can’t be sure but I think that's right cuz they didn't introduce sportswear until later…

Nancy:  Yeah, we were in the Pink Palace and all that.

Nancy: I remember the time that Hap went up to Modesto in…I think it was the blue Porsche at that time…he went up there to see Royal Robbins because he wanted to buy Robbins. And you know he met with Royal and I guess whoever else was in top management there and they turned him down and he was super angry.

Alan: Yeah!

Nancy: And he drove back to the Bay Area really fast and got a speeding ticket which I think made him even angrier.  I just remember him coming back and saying, “We are we are starting our own sportswear line!”

Alan: We are going to crush them!

Susan Castner: I didn’t know that.

Nancy: Yeah!

Transcript Part 2:

Alan: At some point you transition from customer facing to supply?

Nancy: Yes, so well what I did…I had wanted to…I got very tethered to the phone. I was essentially Nick’s de facto assistant manager for the department.

But I didn't want to be tethered to the phone anymore. I wanted to have…what I honestly was fascinated with, and I always have been all my life, is how things come together.

Alan: Right.

Nancy: And mass production and efficiencies.

Alan: Right.

Nancy: Et cetera.  With quality. So, I wanted to be an essentially an interface between customer service manufacturing and IT improving.  I did a lot of work with Linda Saxton to try to improve our visibility on things.  One of the most mysterious things to me when I started working in customer services how can I have a customer here in Cleveland who ordered you know 20 VE 24 tents and was promised they would ship by date X. And date X was four weeks ago and they're very frustrated on the phone.

Alan: Right.

Nancy: And to me it's, “Why do we have this issue?”

Alan: Why is this a mystery!

Nancy: Yeah, why is it a mystery. To me, It was important that you know what's going on and that the information be there so that you can proactively contact your customer and let them know and say, “Look, I'm keeping an eye on it for you.”  I think, you know, everybody appreciates a proactive approach from their supplier.

So, that's where my interest lay. I got frustrated because Nick just to really kind of wanted to have his full team in there. I used to go in and sit with him every morning in his office to go over stuff. He had a credenza and he kept a bottle of was it JD…it might have been JD…going in his coffee cup every morning. I just I kinda I started to give up on it and started to think in terms of ‘you know, maybe I'm gonna try something else.’

Alan: And so was he, what, sales manager…?

Nancy: He was in charge of customer service. 

Susan Castner: He started as credit.

Nancy: Credit then customer service.

Alan: Right.

Nancy: So, I quit.  I left and I ended up working in an entirely different industry which was jazz booking

Alan: Huh!

Nancy: It was really fun.

Alan: Yeah, I’ll bet.

Nancy:  I did that for a while. Yeah, yeah. I mean I had a chance to work with like Dizzy Gillespie. I knew Dizzy Gillespie.

Alan: So booking for what, Keystone?

Nancy: The World…the World.  Yeah. Certain artists, yeah. It was really cool. I worked…but, I worked with one man. It was his business…it was him and me.

Alan: Right.

Nancy: And that started to kind of…it was fun because I was working and I got to go to all these shows and I got to know all these people. But, in the end I started missing the camaraderie around the water cooler on Monday morning. essentially.

So, Dan [Castner] was about to lose Marilyn [Bishara.] Marilyn called me and said, “Hey bitch!”…which was [ how we addressed each other when we called on the phone…and she said, you should get your butt down here talk to Dan because he's got a position and it's gonna be mine and I can train you. She worked in Lotus and I wasn't very well-versed in Lotus.

Alan: Right.

Nancy: At that point…anyway she trained me. She stayed for I think a couple weeks before she left and I worked for Dan and then I was in manufacturing. So, I was out on the floor all the time and I got to know and I work very closely with Lydia [Lam] and Kin [Chan] and Helen [Li].