Canada’s Kodiak Turns 100

Iconic Canadian work and outdoor resource Kodiak Group Holdings Co. is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with an eye toward growing the U.S. business.

While the company’s Kodiak brand has been available in the States since the ’80s, according to EVP David McCarthy, a U.S. office was only established in Portland, Tenn. to distribute both the Kodiak and Terra brands in the mid-2000s. Today, Kodiak Group is owned by U.S.-based Williamson-Dickie Mfg. Co., following an acquisition that took place in 2008. The new parent then created Kodiak-Terra USA to oversee the U.S. business.

As a result of the increased U.S. focus, the company recently expanded its sales force from seven to 20, said McCarthy. And, while he declined to reveal sales figures for business in the U.S., McCarthy said the Cambridge, Ontario-based company plans continued growth here.

Fall ’10 will see the launch of Kodiak’s first lifestyle collection under the Heritage name. The series of men’s and women’s styles have a vintage look and is set to retail for $125 to $175. “There’s a sense of legitimacy about the line,” said McCarthy, noting to the company’s background in the core work business. “We’re not just on the retro trend. If we’ve been around that long, why shouldn’t it be us [doing vintage]?”

Still, McCarthy admitted Heritage will face challenges gaining entry into new retail channels. “We will be knocking on doors,” he said, referring to such desired accounts as department stores, which have not traditionally carried Kodiak product.

Founded in 1910 as the Berlin Felt Boot Co., the company was bought by the Greb family, which later renamed it Greb Shoe Co. Known as a producer of footwear for the working class, the company introduced a more technical product — named Kodiak — such as a waterproof boot in the ’50s. However, the company didn’t officially change its name until the early ’80s.

The company further expanded its business in 2004 with the purchase of its largest competitor in Canada, Terra Footwear, a manufacturer of work product. In 2007, it acquired Iseco, Canada’s largest supplier of specialized industrial footwear, which also operated a fleet of shoe trucks. Today, the Terra brand is focused on edgier-looking, more technical footwear produced mainly in Canada, while Kodiak offers more classic work as well as outdoor looks manufactured overseas. According to McCarthy, business is divided equally between the two brands, with Kodiak priced in the $100 retail range and Terra at $120.

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