Gertrude Boyle is called chairman and, occasionally, one tough mother. The nonagenarian and face of Columbia Sportswear's "tough mother" and "tested tough" ads heads one of the global powerhouses in the development, marketing, and distribution of active outerwear. Columbia's trademark Bugaboo parka with weatherproof shell put the company on the map in upscale outdoor wear. Columbia offers performance apparel for a variety of activities, as well as sportswear accessories, boots, and rugged footwear, sold under the Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Sorel, prAna, and Montrail brands. Founded as a hat company in 1938, Columbia Sportswear is controlled by the Boyle family and run by president and CEO Tim Boyle, son of Gert.
Columbia Sportswear's operations are divided between two product categories: The largest category, apparel, accessories, and equipment, generated 78% of the company's total sales during 2015. Footwear, including Sorel brand boots, accounted for the rest.
In the US, the sportswear maker operated 109 outlet stores, 24 branded retail stores, two employee stores, and five brand-specific e-commerce sites. The company had 241 concession-based, branded, outlet, and shop-in-shop locations in Japan and 169 additional such stores in Korea. It had a handful of retail stores in Canada, and 10 outlet retail stores in the EMEA region.
Columbia Sportswear's products are sold in North America and 100 more countries worldwide. The company generated 63% of its sales in the US during 2015, while another 7% came from Canada. Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region (LAAP) -- which includes stores in Japan and Korea -- is the company's second-largest market behind North America, accounting for 20% of sales. Other markets include Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Sales and Marketing
Columbia's products are primarily sold through 8,000-plus wholesale distributors to specialty outdoor and sporting goods stores and major retail chains. The company also sells directly to consumers through domestic and international banner retail outlets and stores (Columbia-operated and dealer-operated) as well as online. In countries where it does not trade, the Columbia sells to about two dozen independent distributors. Almost all of Columbia's items are made in Asia by independent manufacturers.
The company uses a variety of media to market its products, including online advertising and social media sites, TV, and print. It also sponsors events and operates branded and outlet retail stores in high-profile locations.
Columbia has been boosting its advertising spend in recent years. It spent $120.8 million on advertising in 2015, up from $110.1 million and $78.1 million in 2014 and 2013, respectively.
Columbia Sportswear's sales and profits have been trending higher in recent years thanks to the success of its direct-to-consumer channel, which sells through company-operated retail stores and e-commerce sites.
The sportswear maker's revenue jumped 11% to $2.33 billion during 2015 mostly thanks to a 21% jump in its US sales led by the wholesale business as retail customers ordered more fall season product (especially the Columbia, Sorel, and prAna brands) in advance. US direct-to-consumer sales were also up thanks to 16 net new retail store openings and stronger e-commerce sales. Sales in Canada were up 11% on better wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales, but were down by 5% and 10% in the LAAP and EMEA regions, respectively, entirely due to unfavorable foreign currency exchange rates (sales were essentially unchanged in the two regions after excluding FX).
Double-digit revenue growth in 2015 drove Columbia Sportswear's net income up 27% to $174.3 million. The company's operating cash levels fell by nearly half to $95.1 million for the year mostly as the company built up its inventories, but also because of unfavorable working capital changes related to its accounts receivables and income taxes payables.
Columbia Sportswear has strategically expanded its geographic presence and product offerings through acquisitions, alliances, and licensing deals. The company typically acquires or partners with brands that move it into new and complementary consumer categories, especially ones that reduce its dependence on cold-weather products. In December 2015, for example, Columbia expanded into new clothing territory after forming an exclusive licensing agreement with
Delta Galil Industries
, which would begin developing, producing, and distributing performance-based underwear under the Columbia Sportswear brand.
To expand the Columbia and Mountain Hardwear brands in China, Columbia in 2014 launched its 60-40 joint venture with Swire Resources, a subsidiary of trading conglomerate
. Swire operates some 70 Columbia banner retail stores and has exclusively sold both brands through a network of wholesale dealers since 2004. Swire has also distributed the brands in Hong Kong and Macau since 2002.
Mergers and Acquisitions
In May 2014, Columbia Sportswear diversified its brand portfolio after buying prAna Living LLC and its prAna Lifestyle Apparel brand from owner Steelpoint Capital Partners for $188.5 million cash. The deal included seven company-owned retail stores, an e-commerce site, and direct-mail catalogue.