Exclusive: Travis Campbell acquires Eagle Creek
VF Corporation’s former president of emerging brands aims to lead the heritage travel company into the next era of success
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Eagle Creek will live on.
VF Corporation announced today that Travis Campbell, the company’s former president of emerging brands, has acquired Eagle Creek from VF for an undisclosed amount. OBJ obtained a copy of the letter that VF President and CEO Steve Rendle sent to employees this morning. “I’m pleased to announce that VF reached an agreement with Travis [Campbell], who is now the new owner of the Eagle Creek brand,” the letter reads. “This sale includes all Eagle Creek assets and liabilities. It does not include any Eagle Creek or VF associates.”
Campbell has served as president of Smartwool, GM Americas of The North Face, and president of the fly-fishing company Far Bank Enterprises. For the last 18 months, he has been president of emerging brands at VF, managing a group of companies which Campbell defines as each worth under $1 billion, like JanSport, Smartwool, Altra, and Eagle Creek.
OBJ broke the news in early June that VF would be sunsetting the iconic pack and travel brand by the end of the year because it “no longer makes strategic or financial sense.” It was not long after that Campbell’s wife asked him the obvious question: “Why on earth are you not trying to buy that business?”
How Campbell acquired Eagle Creek
Campbell had already decided to move on from VF and was trying to plan his next move. He had come to realize that he missed running, nurturing, and growing a single brand, but he wanted to keep his family rooted in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. That’s when he decided to put together a proposal for VF to buy Eagle Creek. “Nobody wanted to see the brand go away,” says Campbell. “It was an economic decision that made sense for VF.”
But it devastated founders Steve and Nona Barker. In an exclusive interview with OBJ after VF’s announcement, Steve Barker said, “Eagle Creek is a great and viable brand. It has a great future and shouldn’t die.”
Campbell says that when he approached VF with the idea of an acquisition, he got nothing but positive reactions. “It was a fast transaction because of the level of trust that existed between me and VF,” he says.
Rendle is happy with the outcome. “From the VF perspective, it enabled us to pursue an efficient and value-enhancing alternative to winding down the brand,” he says. “For Eagle Creek, its loyal consumers, and the outdoor industry overall, we’re pleased that the brand will continue on under the ownership of Travis, who has extensive industry knowledge and is a proven business executive. His career experience, including leadership positions with VF, The North Face and Smartwool, make him well-positioned to be the next steward of the Eagle Creek brand and continue its legacy.”
Campbell reveals his plans for the company
“It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying,” says Campbell, who has helped build many brands but has never owned one himself. “This is a personal purchase. I am currently the sole owner. As the business grows and evolves, I’ll likely bring in outside capital, probably more from banking than outside equity.”
Campbell says his first goal is to “do no harm” to the brand. “Eagle Creek already makes great products in a number of categories,” he says. “I want to work on supply chain issues and get back into stock with the best selling products in our line. We will likely trim some products that aren’t working and over-index on the things that are working. I’ll dig in and listen to former employees and current sales reps and figure it out.”
The Eagle Creek business is currently about 75 percent wholesale and 25 percent direct-to-consumer (DTC). “We have a diverse customer base, everything from Grassroots specialty retailers to REI to The Container Store,” Campbell says. “I think the ratio will continue to evolve, and we’re going to want to get better at DTC because it can help the whole ecosystem by telling your brand story directly. But wholesale will always remain super important.”
Campbell acknowledged global travel is at a low point right now due to the pandemic, but he fully expects it to come roaring back. And he intends to be ready when it does. “The cool thing is that the brand has already pivoted to close-to-home recreation, with strong sales in things like duffle bags and packing cubes,” he says. “Those products that facilitate local camping trips have been really working for the business while the business travel stuff has been lagging.”
The brand’s HQ will be in Steamboat Springs, Colo., but Campbell confirmed the new Eagle Creek will primarily be a virtual organization. “It’s tricky,” he says. “My desire would be to have everyone based in Steamboat, but the practical reality of housing constraints in mountain towns these days means there’s no way I’ll be able to bring everyone in.”