By Eric Smith

When Michael Kadous was named head of the North American Outdoor business unit for Adidas last year, he was charged with much more than helping the outdoor footwear and apparel company grow—which is challenging enough in today’s competitive landscape.

Kadous was also tasked with leading the outdoor unit’s transition from Agron Inc., an ESOP that distributed the Terrex and Five Ten products for the previous 10 years, into the corporate fold of the German-based and publicly traded Adidas AG.

Now in the midst of a two-year process, Kadous is spearheading the brands’ relocation from Agron’s home in Los Angeles, CA, to Adidas North America headquarters in Portland, OR.

He is taking over management from longtime Adidas Outdoor director Greg Thomsen, who led the brand during its first decade and is staying on board throughout the transition (read SGB Executive’s 2019 conversation with Thomsen about the move).

Kadous is deploying all the skills he learned during stints at Target Corp., Gap Inc. and, most recently, in a variety of roles at Adidas’ global headquarters in Germany, including head of business transformation.

Equally important, however, is the help Kadous is receiving in this undertaking from “a team of dedicated and passionate outdoor devotees who have a rich history of digital, product, brand marketing, sales and product marketing expertise,” he told SGB Executive during a recent interview.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Kadous spoke about how he and his team will manage the transition but also—and perhaps more importantly—how they plan to grow market and mind share. They will ensure that happens only “through quality relationships, not chasing numbers,” he specified.

Kadous also touched the brands’ commitment to specialty retail, goals in the coming years, how his strong digital background has prepared him for the challenges ahead, what’s on tap at this year’s Outdoor + Snow Show for the new-look Adidas Outdoor business unit and more. Here’s what he shared.

As you oversee the shift from Agron to Adidas USA (and LA to Portland), what changes can we expect from the brands in terms of its approach to product? Agron has been a great partner over the past 10 years and has given the brand the opportunity to springboard into the future. Their efforts established a footprint within a very competitive market—putting our brands on the map within the specialty world. We do not plan nor anticipate to change this approach to where we sell and how we sell—we are specialty-focused. On the product side, our emphasis will remain the same—nurturing the soul of our Adidas Terrex and Five Ten brands—and committed to uncompromised performance with modern style. A recipe of answering the call of the modern-day outdoor consumer.

What structural changes are on tap for the Adidas Outdoor business unit (new positions, different office locales, change in sales representation, etc.)? Just like any organization, our structure is constantly evolving to meet our consumers’ needs. In doing so, we have now established two key outdoor hotspot locations to support our efforts. We now have a full team in Portland supporting our product and brand efforts, along with sports marketing, grassroots and digital. In addition, we have retained and grown our sales office located in Golden, CO. On the sales side, we’ve made a point to focus on continuity, so we’ve brought on board many of the same reps that have so passionately worked for our brands under Agron.

Is there anything about the brands’ ethos you’ll try to keep intact during this transition? All of it. In fact, we’ll expand on it. We are committed to focus on the strong relationships our brands have had within the outdoor industry, especially within the specialty channel. Over the next year and forward you’ll see a higher level of support for our specialty partners including more consistent personal touchpoints, exclusive creation opportunities, personalized marketing, digital support, and an increased investment within grassroots/events.

In a way, do you view this move as a startup approach of sorts (while having the benefit of the Adidas heritage)? Anytime you are transitioning anything from one group to another there is an element of new beginnings. As a team, we’ve identified that the soul of our brands is healthy and rock solid. So, there is nothing startup about that. Our job is to be the guardian of these souls—nurture and grow them. Now the startup piece comes alive in how we connect with our consumers. We take a hands-dirty, always-on, consumer-obsessed approach. We don’t apply the 80/20 rule, we apply the 100 percent rule. We are here to listen and serve our consumer in a very intimate and personal way. That’s our startup approach—every individual in our org has an equal say, an equal part, and a shared responsibility to ensure we are putting the consumer first.

You’ve got a strong digital background; how do you plan to leverage that to grow brand mindshare? We see the digital disruption everywhere around us. Inside and outside our industry, it’s real, it’s present and it’s expected by our consumer. I have been fortunate enough to be on the front lines of the revelation during my professional time in San Francisco. It’s something I’m passionate about and a focus pillar of mine day in and day out. The first step in growing mindshare via a digital purpose is hiring folks that have this same focus—and creating positions that focus solely on this endeavor. We’ve done both. We are also looking at new ways to engage the modern-day outdoor consumer through our specialty partners. We’ll be rolling out tools and efforts that help our specialty partners upskill in this digital world and acquire that next-gen of outdoor consumers in non-traditional ways.

How many doors are Adidas Terrex and Five Ten in right now, and is the focus on getting in more doors or growing shelf space and wallet share in existing ones? I can’t comment on the specific number of doors we are in, but I can say it’s a lot. Part of this transition is evaluating that door count, our position in each door and formulating a go-forward strategy. Since that door number is substantial, we’re not focused on growing share through growing doors. Our focus is growing healthy and organically within the doors we are in. We are investing further in the partners who have supported us. This is not a land grab. We are in the business of winning hearts and mindshare through quality relationships—not chasing numbers.

What else can you share about your channel strategy moving forward? We have a lot of exciting things to come. From product to purpose, from concept to consumer—there is a lot in the pipeline. I’ll reiterate what I said above, we are focused on specialty and we’ll expand our investment in this channel to promote a very healthy and organic growth. We plan on keeping community front of mind. Specialty leads this as the lifeblood of the community. We will back this up through grassroots efforts and supporting the right athletes and ambassadors that really align with our brand ethos.

Anything new and exciting you can share about what you’ll be exhibiting at Outdoor + Snow Show in January? You will see a lot of newness inside and outside our booth at OR. First, we have a brand new booth that was built with a sustainable first mindset and really creates an atmosphere that brings our brand to life. This is done through some amazing products and showcasing a lot of imagery of what our athletes have accomplished over the year. We really wanted to make sure that every material and story we were telling within the booth could tell the story of the present and future of Adidas Terrex and Five Ten. From a product POV we are really excited about showcasing some innovative products that bring more sustainability to our brand. In addition, we will expand upon our freehiker family of footwear, and of course, showcase product that is technical in ability but still looks good whether you wear it on the mountain or the street.

Photo courtesy Adidas Terrex