New England Footwear LLC on Friday closed a deal to acquire the GoLite footwear business from The Timberland Company. Douglas Clark, who was previously VP of Timberlands Invention Factory, formed Portsmouth, NH-based New England Footwear two weeks ago. He is now the president and “visionary” of the company and has assumed functional responsibility of the product line as well as personal oversight of all product development. As of press time, financial terms of the deal were unavailable.
The Timberland Company decided in April to shutter its Miôn and GoLite outdoor footwear lines in a sudden reversal of its multi-branded outdoor specialty strategy launched three years ago. The decision, which resulted in the termination of a number of executive and staff positions, was made after efforts to sell the brands failed. Investors interested in the GoLite brand reportedly backed off after Timberland disclosed it would not sell them an exclusive right to use the technology that went into the shoes unique sole. Apparently the company intends to incorporate the shoes unique lugged soles into its other outdoor brands.
Clark has hired Tom Montgomery as COO to help run back-end operations at New England Footwear. Montgomery previously served as senior vice president of sourcing at Stride Rite, and his experience includes stints as SVP of sourcing at Kenneth Cole and VP of sourcing at Timberland. Matt King, a former sales executive at Peregrine Outfitters, has also joined the company to run sales and marketing.
Clark was adamant when he said, “The thing I want people to understand is that were not going to just continue what was happening. I want to get back to introducing this innovation. To me, the GoLite platform has a tremendous amount of potential not only for trail running shoes, but for any activity performed on uneven terrain. We would like to reposition this brand to be an OUTDOOR athletic brand-outdoor in capital letters and athletic in lowercase. We see this brand quickly extending into the categories of fast-packing, hiking, trekking and hybrid shoes.”
In general, Clark intends to continue sharing merchandising direction and color palettes with GoLite founder and apparel and equipment maven Demetri Coupounas. “Wherever possible, I would like both businesses to show up as one brand,” said Clark.
Distribution of GoLite footwear will be an extension of what Timberland had already started.
“There will be a lot of overlap with where GoLite apparel shows up, and there will be a focus on the outdoor specialty market – independents in particular,” noted Clark. “Weve got to see where it goes. Im a big believer that the independent channel is the one I want to tap into, which means that if we start in outdoor specialty shops, I could see us ending up in independent sporting goods, where appropriate. I could also see us in independent shoe stores (where you see a lot of Merrells and Keens), and the day may come when were talking about the bigger sporting goods players, but not on day one.”
Internationally, a small portion of GoLite footwear is being sold in Europe and Asia, but the plan now is to focus on the U.S. market.
“I want to focus on North America and do it right,” said Clark. “If there is an account that has gotten a little bit of traction in Europe or Asia, Ill probably try to maintain it, but the expectation is not to focus on expanding international distribution until Ive really got my act together in the U.S.”
In the next two or three years, Clarks reported that he expects GoLite footwear will be a core outdoor brand. “Our platform is distinct, relevant, and it works,” said Clark. “With the right merchandising and development approach, and with being smart about our distribution and pricing, I think we can be in the same league as all of the Asolos, Montrails, Tecnicas and Lowas that you see out there.”
At present, Clark is putting the finishing touches on new GoLite footwear styles that will be launched at the upcoming Outdoor Retailer Summer Market show and will be available in early 2009. The line, which is very tight, consists of 10 or 11 models including new and carryover styles. The collection is now about 65% mens/35% womens, but over time, womens offerings will be expanded. The centerpiece of the line is a new lightweight hiker.
“We are developing a hiker that will make people look twice,” exclaimed Clark. “It will be one of the industrys first 12-ounce hikers that compromises absolutely nothing in the way of performance. We think leveraging our “soft against the ground platform and leveraging our molded upper constructions allows us to get a significant amount of weight out of our boots.”
In terms of pricing, Clark intends to make the brand more accessible to consumers. Although retail price points now range from $100 to $180, the goal is to make the heart and soul of the line between $85 to $90 and $125.
“Im planning on being tight and Im trying to make this collection [focused] on solving problems, not chasing fashion,” said Clark. “I think if we do our job right, we can create a sustainable business with shoes that become almost classic to the GoLite brand, and not just seasonal wonders that appear for a season or two.” He added, “my goal is sustainability through solving problems in a way that lasts and is timeless.”
While Clark certainly has his hands full with GoLite footwear, he has no intention of stopping there. Growth plans for New England Footwear call for acquisitions over the next few years.
“The reason that this is called New England Footwear and not GoLite footwear is because we have a strategy that said we will build a portfolio of brands over the course of time,” said Clark. “We are essentially an incubator of new ideas. We are going to do this through acquisition of very young ideas and technologies, and through the incubation of our own.”
In short, he said, “The job of New England Footwear is to become an incubator of innovative, break-through footwear ideas that are powerful enough to be the basis of new brands and not just of technology.”