adidas Outdoor returns to U.S. with long-term plans, says this time will be different

After being absent from the outdoor market for a few years, adidas has decided it’s time to come back -- and this time it has a seven-year plan with bite. adidas senior vice president Rolf Reinschmidt and U.S. managing director Greg Thomsen spoke to SNEWS about products and plans for the U.S. launch in January 2011.
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Two years after re-launching its outdoor segment to Europe, adidas will roll out the red carpet in the United States in January 2011 for specialty retailers ready to take on the three stripes for hiking, mountaineering, watersports and getting outside.

SNEWS® has watched the German company’s progress, product line-up and news in European publications since it first hit the market abroad with much adieu and aplomb at the 2009 ispo winter show. When it was ready to move across the Atlantic to North America -- all strategic and calculated steps set up in a seven-year long-term plan -- SNEWS met with German and U.S. executives both at the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen in July 2010 (photo, right, from right to left: Reinschmidt, climbers Alexander Huber and Thomas Huber and Reinhold Messner with beard) and at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2010 to discuss what its steps meant, its intended focus, details of the product, what the goals for the U.S. market were -- and how this launch (the prior three in North America didn’t end up having teeth) was going to be different.

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“We know we need to earn our way,” Rolf Reinschmidt, adidas senior vice president and global head of operations for adidas Outdoor, told SNEWS. “As adidas, we have one more chance to do it right.”

And that’s why Reinschmidt came on board to head up the initiative. He has been with adidas, based outside Nuremberg, Germany, in small town called Herzogenaurach, for 16 years, but in 2007, he had taken a sabbatical to decide what his next step would be. Reinschmidt had already been the global director of running, global director of footwear and global director of performance. He spent his time away working with the horses he trains on his property – and, of course, keeping in shape running and being outdoors.

When the concept of heading up an outdoor initiative came up, Reinschmidt told SNEWS that was something he could get back on board with -- but only with strong, long-term guarantees and a deep investment to do it right.

2015…and beyond?

Reinschmidt was back in late 2007 to start planning.

“We are very invested,” he said of the detailed plan that takes the company through 2015. “This was signed off by the board.”

When the company launches its three stripes into the United States at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011, it will have five more years left in its plan. Reinschmidt told SNEWS the company’s goal is to become the outdoor “leader” -- and it will have its work cut out for it to become that.

“If adidas does something, we want to be the leader,” he added.

After its initial European launch in January 2009, followed by Russia and China the next year, plans needed to be laid for the United States. Agron’s Greg Thomsen (gthomsen@agron.com) was called upon to become the managing director of the U.S. division, with Larry Harrison (lharrison@agron.com) stepping in as the U.S. director of sales. Then things began to move quickly, although product will not be ready to ship in the United States until July 2011. As of Sept. 9, Harrison reported that the last sales team had been added to the business, which now has all of the United States covered with 31 independent reps. The company is holding its sales meetings Oct. 19-20, 2010, at the new adidas Outdoor U.S. offices in West Los Angeles, across the street from the Adventure 16 store. (Click here to see the adidas Outdoor U.K. website; the U.S. site is still being finalized.) 

“They felt very comfortable with focusing on Europe first,” Thomsen said, since that allowed the company to make sure all the distribution and other logistics were fine-tuned in an area where it is part of the culture. “Knowing the United States was extremely competitive, they wanted to work out everything in Europe first.”

Thomsen, too, sees this launch -- considered more or less Reinschmidt’s “baby” -- as one that will have more of a bite than any of the previous attempts: “In the past, it was smaller collections of products but not a complete strategy and brand-building process.”

Part of the brand-building meant adding a couple of key outdoor names to add cache but also help with development of authentic product. Foremost is spokesman Reinhold Messner, sometimes called the greatest mountaineer of all time, who made the first solo ascent of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen and who was the first climber to ascend all 14 “eight-thousanders.” Now turning 66 in mid-September, Messner is a dominating presence recognized by even most non-mountaineers in German-speaking countries. When at the OutDoor show in Germany, SNEWS had the opportunity to be introduced to and speak with Messner for a few moments in a restaurant -- and watched fingers pointing, whispered conversations, and heads-swiveling in his direction.

Also on board are the “Huber Brothers,” Alexander and Thomas, who are so well-known as personalities beyond climbing in Germany that they have even made TV commercials for products such as chocolate bars. (photo, left, Alexander Huber)

Rumors are that Messner may make an appearance in the United States in January -- although no plans have been laid yet.

All three have had heavy input into product development and fit.

What’s on tap

Nearly everything that’s in the line will come to the United States, Thomsen said, with no changes. That means about 60 men’s apparel styles and 55 women’s. In footwear, the U.S. team expects 40 men’s styles, 33 women’s and 15 children’s styles.

The line is broken into two categories:

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>> Terrex, which is the higher-end, lightweight, younger, athletic collection for a leaner fit and for faster and perhaps more hard-core endeavors. (photo, right, Terrex High Gore-Tex FM boot, MSRP $199)

>> Super Trekking, which is a bit more casual with a roomier fit but still maintaining technical features for more relaxed endeavors. (photo, left, ClimaProof Storm Jacket, MSRP $249)

Although many outdoor companies consider trail running part of that genre, adidas split out trail running and kept it with adidas running. That means, Thomsen explained, that adidas Outdoor is more about mountain and off-trail-oriented activities that are not running-based, but include multi-sport endeavors. Some of the product could cross-over into lifestyle wear although not specifically marketed as such.

Nothing is “entry level” or considered low-cost in the coming line although prices extend broadly from a mid- to a high-end level. For example a Terrex Gore-Tex jacket has an MSRP of $450, while a basic fleece jacket has an MSRP of $50. (photo, right, below, Terrex Swift Lite Softshell jacket, MSRP $99)

“We’re not intending to do the commodity-type products,” Thomsen said.

That also means an emphasis on specialty retailers.

“We know specialty retail,” Thomsen said. “We love that market and that’s where the brand will be focused.”

Still, he said he knew it would take time to build trust -- partly because three-stripes is so well-known in other sports segments and in many other channels and partly because it’s tried (and failed) in outdoor several times in recent years.

“It’s a fresh line with fresh products,” Thomsen said. “There’s no compromise in the design and development side because of the factory and company behind it.

“The specialty retailers are going to make a decision based on the product,” he added.

Details, details

The spring/summer 2011 line SNEWS viewed at the OutDoor show in July 2010 popped with fluorescent lime greens, pink splashes and blues, especially in the more youthful Terrex collection. The Super Trekking line had more khaki and subdued colors with mini-plaids and more conservative touches but still remained bold. Footwear, new to the line, crosses between categories. (photo, left, Hydroterra Shandal, that can be a sandal or shoe, MSRP $95)

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The line that will debut in the United States is more muted, SNEWS was told.

“It’s evolving into a more subtle line, still making a statement but we’re going to be very comfortable with it,” Thomsen noted. “We do want to look a little different than other American brands. There always has to be a European flair to it.”

Reinschmidt said that the adidas group believes the outdoor community is getting more athletic, “and we need to stress that’s what differentiates us.”

--Therese Iknoian

To watch an interview by SNEWS Editor in Chief Therese Iknoian with adidas Senior Vice President Rolf Reinschmidt at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, click here to go to SNEWS TV

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