By Stephen Regenold
With its distinctive "three-stripes" logo, an internationally-known name brand, and connections to top athletes in almost every sport played on the planet -- not to mention a global workforce of nearly 40,000 people and billions of dollars in annual revenue! -- adidas AG is one big fish. This year, as was announced in January, the new pond for the Herzogenaurach, Germany, company is the USA and specifically the outdoors industry, a seemingly small watershed for the global giant. But adidas (small "a" is intentional) has long had its toe dipped in the outdoors world, including development as far back as the 1970s with Reinhold Messner and footwear that went to Mount Everest. Today, after a launch in Europe in 2008, the adidas Outdoor brand is coming to American soil with a line of footwear, jackets, optics, and apparel. Gear Junkie sat down with Greg Thomsen, managing director of adidas Outdoor U.S., for a Q&A on the brand and its big plans for the domestic outdoors market.
Gear Junkie: When will we see adidas Outdoor products on shelves at REI and other stores like this in the U.S.?
Greg Thomsen: You will see adidas Outdoor products at REI and other specialty outdoor retailers starting this coming July.
What U.S. markets do you hope to enter first, geographically or otherwise?
Our approach is to focus on the top 500 specialty outdoor stores in the U.S. These stores have a pretty good geographic distribution in all 50 states.
How will you show U.S. consumers that you're a brand serious and knowledgeable about the outdoors?
We are taking a long-term approach. Word travels faster these days when the product surpasses expectations. We understand that we need to earn our reputation in the outdoor market through being authentic and consistent. Our distribution is tightly focused on specialty outdoor stores where our unique features and design benefits can be explained and demonstrated by knowledgeable salespeople. Fortunately, the product truly speaks for itself.
What are your best or most innovative products?
In footwear, we have a number of really cool styles. But I feel the most innovative styles are the Terrex Fast X FM Mid Gore-tex hiking boot, which won the Innovation Award at the 2009 Outdoors Trade Show, and the Terrex Solo, which also won an Innovation Award. On the apparel side, I think the Terrex Swift 3-in-1 Gore-Tex Primaloft Jacket is the best combination of materials and design features I have ever used.
In reference to adidas Outdoor's product range, the company is stressing design focused on "the new generation of outdoor athletes." What do you mean by this?
On one side, we have a new generation of climbers that are doing faster and lighter ascents. To create designs to meet the demanding needs of this level of alpinism, adidas Outdoor has worked closely with Alexander and Tomas Huber and many other climbers to produce the highest, most versatile products possible for their style of expeditions. On the other hand, there is a new generation of sport climbers and outdoor athletes in general. This new generation is working out more in rock gyms as well as regular gyms, which enables them to be able to send new projects [rock climbs] at higher and higher standards. This generation is looking for newer colors and cooler styling in addition to higher-performance products. A younger attitude and a more athletic fit is required to meet their design and performance needs.
You launched adidas Outdoor in the U.S. after years of planning. Can you give some perspective on the timeline?
Adidas has been creating outdoor products for many years. In the late '70s, adidas was designing and making lightweight hiking and approach shoes for Reinhold Messner, which he used on his early Everest expeditions and on his successful first ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978. Over the following years, adidas had created a number of outdoor products, but it wasn’t until about three years ago that the outdoor focus became realized under the leadership of Rolf Reinschmidt [adidas senior VP/global head of operations for adidas Outdoor] and his handpicked outdoor team.
How big is adidas Outdoor?
Today, adidas Outdoor, if it were a separate operating company, would be in the top five outdoor brands in the world on a total sales basis. But our focus is not aimed at top-line sales volumes. We are more focused on building a solid business that meets the need of our target customers.
Final thoughts on the company's plans overall in the U.S. market?
The U.S. plan is to think small and humble, in a good sense, and to stay highly focused, sell to specialty outdoor retailers, support high-level alpinists and up-and-coming sport climbers. We'll carry substantial inventories to take the burden off of the specialty retailer. We will maintain the highest levels of customer satisfaction. We'll let the market dictate the size of the business, and have fun doing it!
--Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.