5 Questions for Hi-Tec’s Ed van Wezel

Ed van Wezel is seeing a shift in the outdoor industry.

The CEO of Hi-Tec said the category is trending toward more athletic-inspired looks, and his company is primed to take advantage.

“Hi-Tec is a sports brand by heritage,” van Wezel said. “The market is coming toward us, and it actually plays into our hands to develop [those types of] shoes.”

When the 34-year-old executive took over the reigns from his father, founder Frank van Wezel, last year, he laid out a five-year strategy to fine-tune the company’s presence in the U.S., starting with a makeover in product design. The move included assembling a completely new product team at the company’s headquarters in Amsterdam to offer sportier looks. And out of the 71 styles Hi-Tec has for spring ’13, 54 are completely new designs.

“We had one product manager a couple years ago, and now we have 17 people in product design and development,” van Wezel said.

Here, van Wezel talks about the brand’s new direction and what opportunities he sees for Hi-Tec in the outdoor category.

1. What change to the spring ’13 line will we notice right away?
The industry is becoming more sporty, so we wanted to reintegrate our harpoon logo. You wouldn’t have a Nike shoe without a swoosh on it or an Adidas shoe without the three stripes. In the past, logos were shunned in the outdoor industry. Shoes were more tonal or without a lot of branding. Now it’s about color, it’s about synthetics, and it’s about branding. Even our more traditional hikers have the logo incorporated on them. I’m proud of the shoes, so I [said], “Let’s put a big logo on them.”

2. What changes have you noted recently in the outdoor industry?
Traditional outdoor shoes are becoming faster, lighter, and more colorful and synthetic. It’s a lot different from what the outdoor industry was. The emergence of skate, surf and paddle sports has [made] the outdoor industry bigger, whereas before it was very niche. And before there were two worlds: brown, which was outdoor, and white, which was sport. There was fast and slow. There was no new product development. The same shoes lasted for years. This movement is great because the industry is moving fast and becoming more youthful, which brings a lot of opportunities.

3. What opportunities have you identified for Hi-Tec?
Hi-Tec is a sports brand by heritage. We think we’ve got a right to make the lightweight multisport shoes. We see the hiking business [slowing] down a bit, and the multisport category [is] where a lot of the business is [building].

4. The mild winter and fragile economy were a big concern for a lot of people in the industry this year. How did Hi-Tec fare?
[So far], from 2010 to 2013, we will have tripled our international sales, and I don’t think there are many brands that can say that. I think with good management, you can still find a way to be successful. I say all boats rise and fall with the tides. You can’t control it, so just ride with it. The industry’s very robust. We’ve been around for 40 years, and we’ll be around for another 40.

5. When you first took over as CEO last year, one of your goals was to shift away from value-priced retailers. How has that strategy progressed?
Retail distribution is a long-term burn. You can’t change it from one season to the next. We are slowly migrating away from the distribution that we know is detrimental to [where] we’re headed. We’re whittling it down, but we can’t completely cut it off. But as a young CEO, I’ve got time on my side. For me, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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