Founded in 1993 by Mike Curtis and Morrie Trautman as Watershed USA, the distribution service was perhaps best known as the U.S. face of Nikwax. In 2004, Nikwax terminated its distribution agreement with Watershed, opting instead to go it alone as a wholly owned subsidiary, Nikwax USA.
Watershed underwent a shift in strategy at the same time, offering both distribution services and warehouse fulfillment services and changed its name to Axis Outdoor. Axis began distributing for Grangers, a competitor of Nikwax, and soon began warehouse fulfillment for Pacsafe, Icebreaker and Mother.
Curtis told SNEWS® that Axis and Icebreaker parted ways last year when its growth became too rapid for Axis.
“We saw ourselves more as a boutique fulfillment house, with emphasis on excellent and personal customer service, and we felt Icebreaker growth was going beyond where we wanted to go,” Curtis told us. “When we parted ways, Pacsafe’s business was growing very strongly and filled in the gap nicely.”
In the last year, however, Curtis told us, changes occurred perhaps partly as a result of the business climate that began to make it more difficult to make the numbers play out sufficiently to justify keeping the Axis doors open.
In January, Orikaso jumped ship to go with Peregrine. Then, in the last month, Grangers made the decision to leave Axis -- a difficult one according to Allen Slade, brand manager for Grangers North America -- and take control of its business much like Nikwax did in 2004.
“It is unfortunate for us,” said Curtis. “Grangers is a great product and they are great people, but financially, it was all not making sense.”
“We looked at a lot of options, including seeking other lines to distribute, turning the operation into more of a Pacsafe-focused one and then filling in around them, but as the dust of the Granger’s decision began to settle, shutting down seemed to make the best sense for everyone,” added Curtis.
Curtis told us that there are currently great closeout prices on stock that Axis has on hand and that interested retailers should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marty Grabijas, president of Mother, told SNEWS® while his company has already found a very good fulfillment house closer to his business and for slightly less cost, he will “miss the collaborative industry knowledge and friendship of everyone at Axis. They brought a degree of service that was consistent with the Mother brand that absolutely helped establish us in our earlier years.”
As for Grangers, the company already has a warehouse established in Vermont and will staff its own offices shortly. Questions regarding product should be directed to Allen Slade at email@example.com.
SNEWS® View: This is news we hate to write. Mike Curtis has a heart of gold and, with Axis, served many in this market extremely well. However, it is indeed a tough market right now, especially for anyone who is entrenched in the after-market care product line. Consumers just aren’t getting amped up about buying footwear or clothing protection like they did in the past and, as a result, retailers are more inclined to keep stock levels low and, if already going with Nikwax, less likely to consider jumping to another product and absolutely less inclined to bring in both Nikwax and Grangers.
We suspect some of the thought behind leaving Axis for some, certainly in Orikaso’s case (another U.K.-based brand) was the feeling that in the U.S. market, sales should be much higher than they were. Maybe sales are higher now with Peregrine, but we doubt by much. At some point, European companies need to realize that throwing a distributor under the bus because sales are not raking as many dollars as expected is less about the distributor and more often about market conditions. The U.S. is a BIG country and one that requires sophisticated marketing efforts to get consumers excited about anything on a national scale – a realization that not all non-North America-based brands have come to.
We wish Mike well and know he’ll land somewhere really good when the time is right.