Eagle Creek renews brand image on heels of leadership, headquarters changes

Eagle Creek breaks the news of a new logo and brand direction. SNEWS has the photos and the exclusive story.
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Sometimes, all an older house needs is a little freshening up and a bit of remodeling to make it seem new and inspiring again. Such is the case with Eagle Creek, a solid house of travel goods built in 1975. In January 2010, company founders Steve Barker, Ricky Schlesinger and Nona Barker announced they were stepping away. With new leadership in place, the remodeling the Barkers and Schlesinger had envisioned years ago is now underway.

In mid-January, Michael Millenacker (photo top right) stepped in as company president. Candyce Johnson (photo middle right) joined Eagle Creek in the newly created position of vice president of merchandising and marketing, and Thomas Ryll (photo bottom right) was appointed to oversee the company’s international business, including licensees. (Click here to read a news release detailing the leadership changes.)

Then, on March 1, the brand moved from Vista, Calif., into new digs in Carlsbad, Calif. “Culturally, we’re a Southern California lifestyle brand -- it’s our heritage and part of our passion. And it’s great to be in a new environment where people can more fully enjoy that. Commuting to work along the coast, having closer access to the beach and surfing at lunch are some of the things that are part of the major changes taking place,” Millenacker told SNEWS®.

Now Eagle Creek has implemented a new logo and brand image (the paint and décor theme of the house, if you will) that, according to Millenacker, brings to fruition the changes Barker and Schlesinger envisioned two years ago when the company was acquired by VF Corp.

“We are going through more change than at any time in the brand’s history,” Millenacker told us. “Ricky and Steve set this process in motion two years ago as they saw the brand needed to change in order to survive and prosper.

“Steve and Ricky stood side-by-side and built a great brand for over 30 years with a strong foundation based on integrity and trust and a promise to deliver on consistency and authenticity. It’s a promise that makes this brand special. We want to make sure we keep that promise as we set out on the new journey,” he added.

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Millenacker noted that everyone in the company recognized as early as January that Eagle Creek was at a crossroads in brand history. “We knew immediately, with all the changes in terms of leadership, the global headquarters and distribution systems, we were being presented with a unique opportunity to reignite the brand and, in the process, reach a broader audience. And that meant perhaps changing the brand’s image by freshening it up.”

Before Millenacker and his team could make any color and design changes, though, it needed to revisit the core ideologies, mission, vision and values of the company’s culture.

“What Candyce did when she first came in here was to observe our company was somewhat dysfunctional by talking about products designed for this traveler or for that traveler,” said Millenacker. “She asked, ‘Can we just talk about travelers?’ and that really hit home for us. We want to be the brand badge for the smart traveler.”

And so, the company’s new vision statement says, simply: “We are for travelers.”

The new mission statement, Millenacker said, feels a lot like the Eagle Creek most everyone has known: “We enable discovery. Born from far-flung personal journeys, we create inspired travel solutions that ease travelers’ progress throughout the world.”

With core values that embrace the concept of being a tribe of travelers, and a core purpose to “inspire personal discovery through travel,” the company arrived at its brand positioning statement: “We are experts in solving complex problems for the global traveler. Our unique systems and intuitive designs are the smart choice. Our focus on simplification and preparedness means the Eagle Creek traveler arrives confident and ready for fluid movement from destination to destination.”

To pull off an image change required resources that Millenacker wanted, but were not in the budget. Specifically, he wanted a branding agency like Factory Design Labs.

“I met up with Scott Mellin, the CEO of Factory, at Winter Market, and after listening to his ideas, I was so inspired, but also felt there was no way we could afford this,” Millenacker told us. “But, I talked to Steve (Rendle, the VF Outdoor Coalition president) and told him this is the kind of thing we need to do. We have to reignite and rebrand now, because if we don’t start now, we won’t be able to have any effect on spring 2011 branding, advertising and sales.”

Rendle listened and went to VF with the proposal. In short order, Millenacker and team were presented with investment dollars from the parent company to rebrand.

Working with Factory Designs, the Eagle Creek team looked at existing outdoor brand logos, placed them on a design continuum and decided what characteristics worked and didn’t work. The team decided the sweet spot was to embrace sophistication, emotional connection, premium status and approachability.

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“We were then presented with 100 logos. We narrowed it down to 35 and then to 15,” said Millenacker. “Finally, working with 15 Eagle Creek stakeholders, and after a few tweaks from our own design team, we arrived at (our new) logo -- we own the font now.” (see image – right)

The Eagle Creek team also revisited the company tagline, “Inspired by travel” and, according to Millenacker, loved it so much, they decided it was staying put.

Along with the new logo, the company also owns the rights to an official new color for branding, which has been dubbed “discovery blue.”

“From a new color and logo that will run through all of our branding, POP materials, hangtags and more, we wanted to simplify the company product nomenclature -- in a way that would better guide a consumer through making a purchasing decision,” Millenacker told SNEWS.

What the company arrived at (pictured - right) is a four-part system, each with a different color-code, that will appear on all hangtags, POP materials, product literature and the website. “The idea is to walk a consumer through the steps for getting outfitted smartly -- no matter what kind of trip they are going on -- starting with their luggage or pack, then to our Pack-It system for organizing, then to necessities, and finally to day travel.”

Eagle Creek will also begin employing “QR codes” on POP materials and hangtags. What is a QR code? Short for “quick response,” the funny looking graphic can be read by a SmartPhone and is becoming more common in print advertising, websites and yes, product information hangtags. By shooting a photo of the QR code, a SmartPhone with a QR reader will, for example, launch an instructional packing video from Eagle Creek. 

The company will officially unveil its new brand image to the international and European trade at OutDoor Friedrichshafen on July 16, then in North America at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market on Aug. 3.

And with that, the remodel is complete -- for the time being. The classic older house boasts newer and upgraded fixtures, with modern designs and colors that are, the Eagle Creek team said it hopes, emotionally inspiring for consumers. Of course, like with any new owners in a house just remodeled, it’s possible they’ll discover some other room they just can’t resist improving.

“We are gelled around the idea it is now or never to make the changes we need,” said Millenacker. “It is on the move and moving fast.”

--Michael Hodgson

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