Retailers Sound Off on Columbia


Industry insiders said that while they’re optimistic on Columbia’s new direction, challenges remain.

Will Manzer, CEO of the Peterborough, N.H.-based Eastern Mountain Sports chain of outdoor shops, said the focus on out-of-the-box product is paying off.

“Columbia has really come back and demonstrated to the retail community that they’re still an innovator, and they are still a very strong product development force,” Manzer said. “They’ve turned the industry on its head with good, technical innovation on core elements to serve their consumer.”

But Manzer was candid that as much as he appreciated the brand’s forward-thinking strategy, it hadn’t necessarily paid off in terms of in-store sales.

Eastern Mountain Sports began carrying Columbia again last year, but customer response to the new Omni-Heat program has been tepid.

“Most [styles] have not done well recently,” Manzer said, a fact he attributes to the brand’s mass-market reputation. “Our consumer has increasingly been far more targeted as an end user, and Columbia had sold to everybody, and that probably forced their product into more of a pedestrian space.”

However, Manzer said his buyers will keep looking at the brand going foward. “I give them enormous credit. The color statement, the finishing, the performance details and the attention to detail have been very strong,” he said. “Whether they end up back in our doors in a major way will depend on response, but we will look at them very seriously and pay them that respect.”

For other retailers, Omni-Heat has been more successful, especially with the onset of chilly temperatures.

“We’re excited about the product, it just didn’t start to move until this [colder] weather started hitting,” said Chris Dunn, footwear buyer for outdoor e-tailer Backcountry.com.

The site is optimistic, he said, that this shipment will follow in the footsteps of the first Omni-Heat Electric product, which launched in footwear last fall. “Our first delivery of the women’s [Electric] Bugaboot sold out pretty quick,” said Dunn. “It’s a hot commodity, and we’re definitely selling the [men’s] Bugathermo [style].”

Overall, Mitch Kummetz, an analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., said Columbia will have to overcome its own reputation to get the penetration into specialty accounts it’s looking for.

“Columbia served as a value equation, and that’s how a lot of their [wholesale] customers viewed them, and how the consumer viewed them,” Kummetz said. “They need to establish themselves as a relevant brand in the [outdoor] accounts.”

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