Hi-Tec Explains the Reason for Its Double-Digit Growth

Hi-Tec’s leadership has big ambitions in North America for 2018 — to become known as a head-to-toe brand for the entire family.

The Netherlands-based label, which was acquired by Cherokee Global Brands in December 2016, is ready to showcase an expanded product offering.

“The program [Cherokee is] implementing is going to ensure that Hi-Tec is better-known than it already is,” Simon Bonham, president of Hi-Tec North America, told Footwear News.

One advantage, according to industry insiders, is the label’s emphasis on a midtier shopper who is looking for both fashion and value.

“They’re focused on the more moderate part of the marketplace. There’s a lot of business done there,” said Matt Powell, senior industry adviser of sports for The NPD Group Inc. “The more moderate consumer has a fashion sophistication that drives them to have more updated product, and Hi-Tec can fill that bill.”

In fact, the early efforts are already paying off. Bonham confirmed that the brand experienced double-digit year-over-year growth in 2017 and expects the same this year.

The exec attributes the sales bump to multiuse footwear with style appeal, which will continue to be its bread and butter.

“The future for Hi-Tec is to engage in the crossover category, a crossover between outdoors and urban — I call it Urban X,” Bonham explained. “It comes with much more of an everyday opportunity.”

For fall ’18, he is confident its Wild-Fire multisport looks will resonate the most with consumers out of its lineup (see sidebar for more).

Here, Bonham talks about striking a balance between price and value, and why Outdoor Retailer’s move to Colorado will revive the show.

As you head to Outdoor Retailer this week, how are you approaching the shift to Denver?
“I don’t think it [affected] our belief in what the show can deliver overall. In fact, we’re quite excited about the change. I’m confident it will reinvigorate the industry and what is still an important trade show. We’ve had some good shows [in Utah] over the last few seasons, for sure, and we’re looking forward to another one. Lots of retailers will go, and some won’t, probably more because of timing than anything else. These shows need to be earlier. It’s still very useful and still great to see the industry get together, but it should be early December [for Winter Market], and the spring should be no later than the middle of June.”

Why did OR need to be overhauled?
“Everything that has been running for a number of years — a show or whatever it might be — you always need to reinvent. You need to be looking at new things and new ways to excite your customers. It’s no different if you’re a retailer, a vendor or a trade show.”

Simon Bonham president Hi-Tec North America
Simon Bonham, president of Hi-Tec North America.
CREDIT: Joshua Scott

What challenges is Hi-Tec facing?
“We continue to have to provide phenomenal product at great prices, and that’s always [difficult] in a day and age when the consumer places a high demand on value. I don’t believe so much in the doom and gloom at retail, but everything is changing so quickly. The major challenge is to develop yourself as an omnichannel brand. We have to figure out how we’re going to help ourselves and our retailers reach all the touch points the consumer explores these days.”

What brands does Hi-Tec consider to be its competition?
“In footwear, we are probably closest to Columbia in terms of product and price points. Obviously we have [the same kinds of styles that] Merrell and Keen do, and Timberland to a certain extent as well. And then, of course, there’s the more specialist and technical guys like Vasque and Oboz, who do a great job. You can’t ignore the people who are price point-oriented as well.”

Who is the Hi-Tec consumer?
“It varies because we’re in work safety, we’re in hiking, we’re in kids, and we’re in women’s, so it’s a question that’s difficult to answer. I’m a big believer in not pigeonholing people in demographics. I believe more in psychographics — the family that enjoys the outdoors and being together, whether it’s watching the kids play soccer or taking a Sunday afternoon hike or even heading into the city to a restaurant or a pub for the evening.”

Some outdoor brands are holding on to tradition; others embrace a modern outdoor consumer. Where do you stand?
“We’ve had a more traditional-led consumer. But absolutely with our marketing efforts, our design and development, just like everyone else, we’re trying to broaden our reach. But I don’t think we’re ever going to be crazy-contemporary.”

What is the biggest way to encourage participation in outdoor activities?
“Hi-Tec has a large number of ambassadors who communicate their outdoor adventures through social media. I believe it’s important to support those who make the outdoors exciting but, most importantly, accessible. Also, as parents, we have to lead by example and encourage our children to get out every day to play, hike, explore, to use their imaginations and have fun.”

Hi-Tec also has a robust heritage sneaker label. Will that be a growth avenue going forward?
“It’s definitely part of the future. Our back catalog of athletic product is phenomenal, and going into that fashion element of the business is 100 percent part of the future. We want to do it right, we want to seed it properly.”

What can you do to protect the outdoors?
“We will continue to explore all opportunities to improve our environmental footprint. This is a responsibility that we all share, not just outdoor companies.”

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