At Columbia Sportswear’s Investor Day, Tim Sheerin, SVP, global wholesale, Columbia said the outdoor brand plans to ”double down” on wholesale growth even as numerous other active lifestyle brands emphasize DTC initiatives.
At the meeting, Sheerin said that when he first joined the company in 2016, CEO Tim Boyle described the Columbia brand as “humble, accessible, democratic. “Maybe the most interesting of the three words to me was democratic,” he said, who formerly led Nike’s North American sales. “We all know brands out there that want to be the most premium and many of them are shifting to a direct business model. At Columbia, we want our brands, we want our products, we want our distribution to be more democratic.”
Drive Growth Through Strategic Wholesale Partners
The Top 50 strategic partners represent 75 percent of Columbia’s wholesale business, and that’s expected to expand. Sheerin said, “retail partners make great connections to a broad consumer base and we believe those partners will be able to grow those consumer connections for years to come.”
In the U.S., key partners cited included Dick’s Sporting Goods, Academy Sports, Bass Pro, Kohl’s, Amazon, and Zappos. Sheerin also cited Tractor Supply as newer partner.
“We’ll work with these strategic partners to provide more custom products, more differentiated assortments, to provide richer content and storytelling and to be more responsive in our supply chain,” said Sheerin.
Explaining the brand’s overall marketplace strategy, Sheerin said Columbia also works with smaller specialty stories in the outdoor and fashion space to support credibility for the Columbia brand.
“Outdoor and fish specialty partners such as Eagle Eye Outfitters in Alabama, an incredible experience for every consumer that walks through the door. And street specialty partners like Kith and Madhappy. All of these specialty partners help authenticate our product and they help future-proof our brand,” he continued.
Digitally-Led Marketplace Focus
Sheerin said, however, that Columbia’s marketplace strategy is “digitally-led,” not only because the fastest growth is expected to come online, but because Columbia.com is the first place where consumers experience the brand.
“We’ll lead with Columbia.com,“ he said, “It’s the face of the brand. It’s our storytelling. Our celebration. It’s our product. It’s our innovation. That’s where we focus our messaging and our content.”
Sheerin noted that as with most e-commerce sites, consumers “bounce from columbia.com without making a purchase” so a priority remains to elevate online content. Said Sheerin, “We want them to leave with an amazing Columbia brand experience so that they’ll continue to purchase our product in the months and years ahead.”
Columbia.com is also where the Columbia brand engages its Columbia Great Rewards (CGR) members, which now contribute over 60 percent of columbia.com sales.
Regarding physical stores, the focus in the U.S., Canada and Europe is on factory outlet stores with a full-price focus on wholesale accounts. Mr. Sheerin added, “We create our content with an eye for columbia.com, but the backbone of our business is with our strategic partners. We’ll take that content, we’ll collaborate with our partners and help elevate the Columbia shopping experience within their stores and on their website.”
Overall, Columbia has a store fleet of 160 factory outlet doors in North America and Europe. In Asia and its distributor markets, the focus is on full-priced stores. The brand has over 700 locations in these regions.
Columbia’s wholesale emphasis runs counter to the increasing movement toward direct selling by The North Face, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, and Canada Goose in the outdoor space and Nike, Adidas, Polo Ralph Lauren and other major apparel players.
At the meeting, Columbia Sportswear set three-year growth targets that included the Columbia brand adding $700 million in sales over the next three years and growing at a 7 percent to 9 percent pace on a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) basis.
Regional Growth Targets
Addressing plans for its five regions, Sheerin said Canada is expected to deliver double-digit growth over the next three years.
“Canada’s actually arguably where we have our strongest brand position. We’ve been the number one trusted sportswear brand in Canada for seven years in a row. We have the number one position in outerwear across the market with a 23 percent share. We have amazing partners, such as Sport Chek, Sport Experts and Mark’s, and yet we still have a tremendous opportunity for growth. We have the momentum to drive outpaced growth both in footwear and everyday outdoor apparel,” said Sheerin.
In Europe, Columbia is looking to deliver mid-teens growth over the next three years. Sheerin said the company is “still relatively small, but we are extremely well-positioned for accelerated growth” in Europe, noting that Columbia recently captured the number two market share position in outdoor footwear in France. Key strategic partners are Intersport, Decathlon and Zalando. For its online business, it is Asos. JD Sports is a newer partner. Said Sheerin, “Our brand focus is to build awareness and affinity, our business focus is to deepen our relationships with our strategic partners, and our geographic focus is France, Germany and the UK.”
In Asia, the Columbia brand operates directly and has a “long history” in China, Japan and Korea. “It’s less about building brand awareness and it’s more about deepening our connection and affinity with the consumer,” said Sheerin.
Sheerin said Columbia sees “meaningful growth opportunities” across all three markets but highlighted the potential of China, where local consumers have “discovered the outdoors” over the last two years amid many pandemic-related challenges. Sheerin said, “There is a whole wave of outdoor experience seekers in China and we are positioning the Columbia brand to be their trusted guide as they journey into the outdoors.”
He said Columbia has established “an amazing team to drive the business forward” in China and is driving online growth through Tmall and JD. Columbia also opened a store on Tiktok in China and a PFG campaign over the 818 Shopping Festival generated over 2 million views. China is also expected to show mid-teens growth over the next three years.
In its international distributors’ regions, Columbia partners with 26 distributors covering over 70 countries. Distribution partners have 300 branded stores and is expected to increase over the next three years. Said Sheerin, “Whether it be Dubai, Turkey, Chile, Mexico, or Israel, our partners have positioned our Columbia stores in the right environment with the right product to be able to connect deeply with the outdoor consumer.”
Finally, Sheerin said the U.S. market is “our most important market, our most complex, our most developed…it’s where we have the most heritage, and it’s where the consumer trusts us.”
He noted that Columbia last year ranked as the No. 1 brand on values and trust in Forbes’ inaugural Halo 100 list, conducted in partnership with analytics firm Hundred X. Beyond consumer trust, Columbia expects to continue to benefit in the U.S. from balanced growth.
“If you go to the Midwest and you ask the consumer about Columbia Sportswear, they’re going to show you their cold weather boots and their cold weather outerwear,” he said. “When you come to the West to Seattle and Portland, they’re going to talk about our rain jackets and hiking boots. In the East, you can’t get them to stop talking about Columbia fleece. We’re an outdoor brand that competes in very seasonal businesses.”
He also cited the brand’s balanced positioning in men’s and women’s, wholesale and DTC, physical and digital, and apparel and footwear. He noted that while Columbia benefits as a major outerwear player in the winter seasons, its performance fishing gear (PFG) range drives growth in warmer times of the year and is popular in the South. Sheerin said, “We have a unique, unfair advantage when the sun is out.”
The brand’s storytelling, connections with loyalty members and tighter collaborations with wholesale partners are also expected to be key drivers of growth in the U.S. Sheerin said, “In a very uncertain retail environment, our partners, our customers, are asking us to partner with them even more deeply, and that’s our intent to stay committed to mutual growth and partnership.”
Photo courtesy Columbia