Chat With Filson Store Manager and their Strategy

American heritage brands' lack of extravagant ad campaigns or the perception of a complicated marketing strategy is a major part of their appeal. The idealized heritage brand marches on unaware and unconcerned with fashion trends, instead focusing on core customers and quality products. Filson is now trying to expand their business while staying loyal to their brand image. The Portland store exemplifies these efforts.

I met Nathan Gray, Filson Store Manager, a couple days ago on my visit to the store and chatted a little about the possibility of Goldwin Inc, Filson's Japanese Distributor, opening a store in Tokyo. Yesterday I exchanged a few emails with Nathan and continued our conversation about the heritage movement and Filson's retail strategy. Here are a few questions with Nathan.

Foster: How much business do you get from people buying Filson due to the recent interest in American heritage brands?

Nathan: So far, the vast majority of our sales have been from our loyal Oregon customers who are delighted that we've opened a store closer than Seattle. I hope that our great location in the Pearl will turn a lot of new customers on to our brand. I believe that Portland will be an ideal location for us due to the interest in American heritage brands and the strong attraction this community has for natural products.

Foster: So Filson is using the Portland store as concept store to test the waters of expanding Filson to a new market? Interesting.

Nathan: I don't know that I would describe us as a "concept test store." One of the goals of any retailer is to increase their customer base, and hopefully the amount of exposure we will get here in the Pearl District will help in that aim.
Filson's apparent marketing strategy differs from that of other American heritage brands like Woolrich and Red Wing, who have launched sub-brands to capture on the resurgence movement. These sub-brands, Woolrich Woolen Mills and Red Wing Heritage, have their own websites, sales distribution, and collections. Filson has instead tried to overhaul their own brand by putting up vintage ads on their website (as attached in the article), and launching stores in strategic locations, Portland and potentially Tokyo, to capitalize on the resurgence movement.

My conversation with Nathan accentuated the differences between Filson and Woolrich and Red Wing's approach to capitalizing on the resurgence movement. It will be interesting to see how these two different approaches will weather the economic crisis and the current heritage fashion trend.


Urban Outfitters

I have always resented Urban Outfitters.

In high school, I used to call out Van's slip-shod J.A.P.'s (Jewish American Princesses) for wearing their "Jesus is My Homeboy" shirt, affectionately purchased at "Urban," for weeks on end. This lack of creativity in their selection and blatant copying of trends bothered me. Or perhaps my time spent as a salesmen at a skateboarding/snowboarding boutique watching tweens cycle through the Urban Outfitters across the street like commuters at subway turnstile. Or maybe it's because every time I go into the men's section, I see clothes very similar to ones i own selling at a fraction of the price. I rationalize this phenomena by saying, "Ohh the quality of this shit is miserable, my Paul Smith shirt will last forever, plus organic cotton makes me feel good about myself."

Recently my view of Urban Outfitters has evolved from disgust to respect.

Urban Outfitters is well positioned to exit this recession as prime youth retailer for multiple reasons.

First, many competing boutiques will shut down leaving the hipster field open for Urban Outfitters to capitalize.

Secondly, Urban Outfitter's Men's buyer, Dan Leraris, is doing a great job of picking brands. A recent article in the LA Times, "American Heritage Brands Make A Come Back" discusses Urban Outfitters role at the forefront of the revival of the American Heritage brand/work wear movement. Their awesome selection of LL Bean, Filson, Pendleton, Sperry, and Red Wing resonates extremely well with the direction of men's wear. By carrying these brands, Urban Outfitters will win over the demographic of men shoppers, like myself, that have avoided their merchandise due to quality issues and thus transfer Urban's brand image of that of cheap t-shirts to quality men's clothing.

In addition to carrying these quality driven brands, Urban Outfitters is doing a great job of launching more economically priced sub-brands for premium brands like Rogues Gallery and Patagonia. For Spring/Summer 2009, Urban will carry a line designed by Alex Carelton (head designer and founder of Rogues Gallery) called Never Sleep.

This Fall Urban Outfitters and Patagonia teamed up to offer a retro line of fleeces. By branding themselves as a viable distribution stream, premium brands, like Rogues Gallery and Patagonia, will use Urban Outfitters as a vehicle by which to launch mass market sub brands. This relationship will prove lucrative for both designers like Alex Carelton and Urban Outfitters while not compromising the image of their premium brands.
Maybe the pricing of this new merchandise will be out of reach for many Americans struck by these hard economic times, but I doubt it. These brands' image of classic quality are the essence of what men want in clothes and will "last." This perception bodes well consumers in a time when they are tightening their belts and focusing on the essentials. Wouldn't you rather have a pair of quality, leather Red Wing boots than two pairs of neon Dunks?

1 Comment