Gertrude Boyle is called chairman and, occasionally, one tough mother. The octogenarian 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 brands Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Sorel, and Montrail. 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 rings up nearly two-thirds of its sales in the US and Canada. Beyond North America, the company's products are sold in about 100 countries. Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region is the company's second-largest market, accounting for more than 20% of sales. Other markets include Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Columbia Sportswear's operations are divided between two product categories: The largest category, apparel, accessories, and equipment, generates about 80% of the company's total sales. Footwear, including Sorel brand boots, accounts for the rest. The sportswear maker also operates 55 outlet stores and eight branded stores in the US in high-profile locations, including Chicago, Seattle, and its home city Portland.
Sales and Marketing
Columbia's products are primarily sold through wholesale distributors to specialty outdoor and sporting goods stores and major retail chains. The company sells directly to consumers through domestic and international banner retail outlets and stores (Columbia-operated and dealer-operated) as well as online (launched in 2009). 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 Sportswear's 2012 sales declined more than 1% versus the prior year, while net income fell 3.5% over the same period. Depressing sales was a 10% decline in the footwear category, which the company blamed on a mild winter. Sales of apparel, accessories, and equipment increased by about 1% in 2012 versus 2011. The decline in sales followed two years of positive annual sales comparisons and rising profits. While sales in the US, the company's largest market, were essentially flat, Latin America and Asia-Pacific (LAAP) drove growth with an 11% increase in sales in 2012. The double-digit jump in sales in the LAAP region was led by sales increases in apparel, accessories, and equipment, and footwear, particularly in Japan and Korea.
Columbia Sportswear has strategically expanded its presence and product offerings through acquisitions, alliances, and licensing deals. In 2012 Columbia formed a joint venture with Swire Resources, a subsidiary of trading conglomerate Swire Pacific, to expand the Columbia and Mountain Hardwear brand in China. 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. The JV, which is set to being operating in Shanghai in 2014, will be 60% owned by Columbia and 40% owned by Swire.
In 2010 Columbia bought waterproof technology developer OutDry Technologies. Columbia has integrated OutDry's waterproof, breathable textiles into some of its Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, and Montrail products. It has also licensed the technology to other footwear and glove brands. The OutDry purchase is part Columbia's ramp up in breakthrough apparel. Although Columbia is known for its winter wear, it has over the last few years focused on designing clothing to keep consumers cool in the heat. It plans to debut Omni-Freeze Zero, a new apparel range made of fabric that chills when wet (from sweat), in 2013.
About 57% of Columbia Sportswear is held by the Boyles: chairman Gertrude, and her son the company's president and CEO Tim.