Just before press time last week, Sports Executive Weekly learned that Wolverine World Wide is restructuring the reporting structure of its Outdoor Group. The main component of this restructuring was the appointment of Bill Dodge as vice president – product development for the Outdoor Group and Mark Sandquist as president – global apparel.  Both Dodge and Sandquist will report to Jim Zwiers, president – Outdoor Group.

Sandquist will be managing the Merrell Apparel brand from Merrell’s current headquarters in Michigan. Other changes include Jamie Barbour’s appointment as the new director of Patagonia Footwear. Scott Sible will remain in his current position as President of Merrell and Chaco.

SEW was able to catch up with Zwiers to uncover more details about the restructuring and the key goals for Wolverine’s Outdoor Group going forward.

SEW:  What was the main motivation behind the restructuring?
Zwiers: There were a couple of reasons – one was to focus on some key areas where we are very attentive. The first is innovation in product. So this is really at the core of what we are doing with all of our outdoor footwear brands. The second thing is to really enhance our focus on the consumer.

We are really excited about the growth opportunities in the outdoor industry, both with the outdoor consumer and through the outdoor retail channel.  We are focused on making Merrell into Wolverine’s first billion dollar brand…  In Merrell we are going to move to a gender-focused approach, so we think there are tremendous opportunities in kids, women’s and men’s product.

On the apparel side, really the opportunity was two-fold… We wanted to enhance the team with additional resources, but we also wanted to broaden the platform. We wanted to provide the opportunity for Wolverine World Wide to pursue accessories for other brands as well. As for the Chaco business we see a lot of opportunity there as well and we continue to get great feedback from our dealers. Patagonia Footwear continues to be a great opportunity for us as well – its good to be able to partner with a brand like Patagonia.

SEW:  As Merrell becomes a $1 billion brand, how large of a piece of that will Merrell Apparel become?
Zwiers: We think Merrell Apparel can be a substantial part of (Merrell as a $1 billion brand). We haven’t released specific numbers, but we believe having an apparel component is important on a number of different levels. First of all it’s a brand building effort. Having apparel continues to enhance the brand’s reputation in outdoors. We also know that there is a significant amount of opportunity for apparel with our existing retailers. So, we really see apparel and accessories as a brand building opportunity, but also as a revenue building opportunity. We think it can be very substantial – you can look at the size of the leading brands in the outdoor space to get an idea of how big our apparel opportunity might be.

SEW:  Does this mean that the Merrell Apparel business be moving to Michigan?
Zwiers: No, It doesn’t necessarily mean that. Mark Sandquist as a member of senior management and senior brand management will, over a transition period, be moving to Michigan. As part of his strategic review, Mark is taking a look at all of the functions in the Portland office and within our apparel division. He will be looking at the best opportunity and finding where those resources should be located around the strong current team that we have.

SEW:  What are the overall goals of the Outdoor Group as a whole?
Zwiers: We are not putting any specific numbers on where we think the Outdoor Group can go in terms of size, but we can talk about the individual opportunities.

In terms of Patagonia Footwear, we think that it is one of the better product launches in the outdoor footwear space to date.  We continue to be pleased with how this brand is handling a tough marketplace. Our larger customers continue to gain confidence in the Patagonia footwear brand and we think it still has a lot of opportunity. The Patagonia brand in general is trending and performing well right now.


Our Patagonia footwear distribution is pretty well balanced – a significant portion still come from Patagonia’s catalog and store distribution, but not so much as their own apparel business. In Chaco, this brand has exceeded our internal projections. There is definitely a buzz out there around the Chaco brand. We think it is an ideal time for this type of footwear. We have significant growth plans for the brand, both in North America and as we roll it out more broadly into the international markets. The global launch will take place primarily in the spring ’11 season, with some in Fall ’10 for the counter-seasonal markets.