With VF Corp recently selling adventure luggage company Eagle Creek to Travis Campbell, its former president of emerging brands, the new owner has big plans for a brand whose doors were shuttered just a few months earlier. SGB Executive caught up with outdoor industry veteran Campbell — who previously served as VF’s general manager Americas for The North Face and president of Smartwool — to see what’s next for the travel accessories, luggage and daypack brand that’s been given a second chance.
What’s the new corporate structure, and how is funding looking? The acquiring company was an LLC I created, and the terms of the deal are private. VF did not fund the transaction. The business is well funded to get started again, and we’re in active discussions with several banks to line up more traditional financing for our future growth.
What exactly was acquired? VF has a complex corporate structure, so the acquisition entailed a few different entities in a different form. The net-net on the deal was that I acquired all the IP, most of the assets in terms of inventory and receivables and some liabilities. One point that I know people have asked about is that the new business will continue to service the Eagle Creek warranty for consumers.
Do you see any fundamental changes to brand direction? Eventually, we will put our own stamp on the brand, which would likely be in terms of new categories or activities we want to serve. In the short term, I want to take the time to understand where the brand has been and where it is right now before we make significant changes. The great thing is that we’re starting from having an iconic brand that has made great products over time. As travel starts to recover, I think our core portfolio of products and customers will serve us well and give us room to grow. There isn’t intense pressure to move quickly in new directions.
Any big changes in staffing or location? The brand has been located in Denver, CO since VF moved its outdoor businesses there in the summer of 2019. We’re in the process of moving our headquarters to Steamboat Springs, CO, and I’m searching for a location in town to house ourselves. We have to build our team from scratch because of how the transaction was put together. I’m working fast to define what the future organization will look like and which roles I need immediately versus which ones can come over time. Because VF is providing a transition services agreement for us and still providing most of our operations, we have a runway to build our organization.
Any plans to add new reps and, if so, will they be in-house or independent? Our rep force has been independent, with many longtime partners. I expect that to continue for the foreseeable future.
When do you see having the new line ready to sell? Because of COVID, the brand had built newness into the line that it held off on introducing in the last couple of seasons, and it’s developed newness for Spring 2022 and Fall 2022. We have a lot of new products in the pipeline. We’re working quickly to determine when we want to introduce those products based on a variety of factors, not the least of which are supply and logistics challenges in Asia. For Spring 22, our focus is on being in stock on our core, best-selling items.
Do you see the re-launch as a ‘time is of the essence’ event? Could the brand’s recognition lapse if you don’t have product quickly? For sure. VF was a great partner in working quickly on this transaction, and I think we closed it in near-record time. Everyone involved recognized time was of the essence, and there was a significant benefit to letting the market know that the brand would be moving forward with new ownership and renewed energy.
How big will a part of the business be DTC, and what comes first, DTC or wholesale? Eagle Creek is predominantly a wholesale business with strong long-term partnerships. I want to see those getting stronger in the future. That said, the brand has to be stronger in the digital marketplace, and we’ll work on that ourselves in the areas we can control directly, and we’ll work with our wholesale partners to strengthen the brand’s digital presence in stores as well. After years in this marketplace, I believe that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, and you can build programs, products and tools that lift the whole market, so there doesn’t have to be the old feeling of it being a zero-sum game.
Does the recent slowdown in travel due to the Delta variant give you cause for concern? For sure. Not so much in the long term because I’m convinced that global adventure travel will come back stronger than ever, but it impacts bigger trips in the short term. That said, many people adjusted to more close-to-home outdoor recreation last year, and that trend continues to explode in a positive way for parts of our business.
Photo courtesy Eagle Creek