Beyond the Core Columbia Brand


Columbia wants to exploit its footwear business beyond the flagship brand.

“Columbia has the broadest range of opportunity, all the way from hunting and fishing to footwear to casual. But at the end of the day, all our brands need to be differentiated from each other and from competitors,” said Columbia Sportswear Co. President and CEO Tim Boyle.

Mark Nenow, VP of global footwear merchandising, has been working to carve out clear identities for Sorel, the Canadian winter boot brand the company acquired in 2000, and Montrail, a trail running player bought in 2006.

Montrail, the smallest of the three brands, has returned to its roots as a brand focused on outdoor and trail runs, Nenow said.

“Montrail was always about performance, but Montrail was making climbing shoes, Montrail was making alpineering boots and Montrail was still thinking that it was making world-class trail running shoes,” he quipped. “That landscape was confusing. It was unfocused and it wasn’t leading to growth.”

Going forward, Nenow said, the product team will use the brand’s running identity to tap a new market.

“We are going to keep very true to the trail-running consumer, but we want to increasingly create an interest among the general running population,” he said.

And despite the crowded running category, Nenow is optimistic: “There’s always somebody coming and there’s always somebody going, so there will be room. And Montrail doesn’t need a lot of room to open up and grow from where it is now.”
An even bigger opportunity may be the Sorel brand, which Columbia bought out of bankruptcy. Over the past three years, Nenow said, the brand has actively tried to break out of its heavy-duty reputation and its down-market distribution. “Sorel was stuck in winter. It was stuck in utility. It was stuck in the Arctic, and it was very clearly stuck in men’s,” he said. “So starting in the fall ’09 creation cycle, we intentionally severed all of that.”

The results have been striking. With a focus on women’s and premium materials, the brand has found space in retailers including Neiman Marcus, and collaborated on projects with The Tannery in Boston and Collette in Paris. Sales in the 12 months ended Sept. 30 have grown 25 percent to $68.2 million, from $54.5 million in the comparable year-ago period.

“Sorel has huge potential,” Nenow said. “And we’re seeing that unfold right now.”

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