Will Columbia Sportswear benefit from a greater wholesale emphasis?
At its first Investor Day in its 84-year history, Columbia Sportswear announced plans to ”double down” on wholesale growth even as numerous other active lifestyle brands emphasize direct-to-consumer (DTC) initiatives.
At the event last week, Tim Sheerin, SVP, global wholesale, said that when he first joined the company in 2016, CEO Tim Boyle described the Columbia brand as “humble, accessible, democratic.”
“Maybe the most interesting of the three words to me was democratic,” said Mr. Sheerin, who formerly led Nike’s North American sales. “We all know brands out there that want to be the most premium and many of them are shifting to a direct business model. At Columbia, we want our brands, we want our products, we want our distribution to be more democratic.”
The top 50 strategic partners represent 75 percent of Columbia’s wholesale business, and that’s expected to expand. Mr. Sheerin said, “Retail partners make great connections to a broad consumer base and we believe those partners will be able to grow those consumer connections for years to come.”
Columbia also works with smaller specialty stories in the outdoor and fashion space “to help authenticate our product.”
Mr. Sheerin said, however, that Columbia’s marketplace is “digitally-led”, not only because the fastest growth is expected to come online, but because Columbia.com is the first place where consumers experience the brand. He said, “It’s the face of the brand. It’s our storytelling. Our celebration. It’s our product. It’s our innovation. That’s where we focus our messaging and our content.”
In the U.S., Canada and Europe, the brand is concentrating its physical retail strategy on its factory outlet stores with the full-price focus on providing differentiation and elevated storytelling at wholesale accounts.
Mr. Sheerin added, “We create our content with an eye for columbia.com but the backbone of our business is with our strategic partners. So we’ll take that content, we’ll collaborate with our partners and help elevate the Columbia shopping experience within their stores and on their website.”
Columbia’s wholesale emphasis runs counter to the increasing movement toward direct selling by The North Face, Patagonia, Arc’teryx and Canada Goose in the outdoor space as well as Nike, Adidas, Polo Ralph Lauren and other major apparel players.
- Columbia Sportswear Company Outlines Strategic Priorities and Plan to Accelerate Profitable Growth – Columbia Sportswear
- Investor Analyst Day (webcast) – Columbia Sportswear
- Columbia Sportswear Investor Day Presentation – Columbia Sportswear
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does Columbia Sportswear’s focus on wholesale brick and mortar relationships vs. owned brick and mortar make sense? What should guide a brand’s decision to emphasize third-party selling versus leaning into going direct?