Lowa Boots LLC, formed in 1996 through a partnership with Lowa Sportschuhe GmbH of Germany, has dramatically expanded, adding multiple brands to its U.S. distribution network. In January 2007, company general manager Peter Sachs announced Lowa Boots had acquired the North American distribution rights to X-Gear, designer and manufacturer of X-Socks and X-Bionic apparel, a company based in Asola-Mantova, Italy. That partnership is kicking into full swing this summer. Then, on June 1, Sachs made official what SNEWS® had been privy to much earlier in the year: that Lowa Boots would also be assuming the U.S. distribution and sales responsibilities for Tecnica Outdoor Footwear.
It was no secret to SNEWS® that the parent company, Tecnica, based near Treviso, Italy, was not overly thrilled with sales trends for Tecnica outdoor footwear in the United States. During a meeting with Tecnica officials in Italy earlier this year, we learned that the company decided it would be best for the Tecnica outdoor brand to shift sales and distribution responsibilities from Tecnica USA, under the direction of President Mike Noonan, to Stamford, Conn.-based Lowa Boots and Sachs. At the same time, Tecnica USA will be assuming all responsibility for distribution of Nordic touring boot business, which Lowa Boots didn't do so well with in the last year.
To garner a bit of clarity in this seemingly convoluted shift of brand housing, it is important to note that the Tecnica Group, whose parent company dates back to the 1930s, owns numerous other brands under its corporate umbrella. Think Pink was acquired in 1989. Lowa was acquired in 1993, followed by a merger of Dolomite and Nitro in 1998, an acquisition of Nordica in 2002, Rollerblade in 2003 and then, most recently, Blizzard in 2006.
Tecnica executives felt, we were told, that it would be best for the Tecnica outdoor brand to be able to tap into the distribution expertise and sales rep talent of the Lowa Boots team and since Tecnica owns the Lowa brand, the decision to shift responsibilities was made possible. Clearly, Tecnica has high expectations for the U.S. market that have as yet been unfulfilled outside of the ski market. Of its worldwide distribution network, the United States, including Tecnica ski boots, accounts for only 20 percent of annual turnover. Outdoor footwear is a mere fraction of that.
The transition from Tecnica USA to Lowa Boots is final on Jan. 1, 2008. Tecnica USA will continue to fulfill all reorder sales until then while Lowa Boots begins the process of going after 2008 preseason business immediately. Tecnica ski boots and après ski distribution will remain under the Tecnica USA distribution umbrella, including Moon Boots.
Lowa Boots will also be assuming distribution responsibility for a new line of footwear – at least new outside of Italy and its neighboring countries Austria, Switzerland and Germany. T-Shoes will make its debut to the North American market in January 2008 after launching in Italy in 2004 and in the other three countries this year. Formerly a part of the Tecnica outdoor mix (with a tag on its Italian launch of “by Tecnica” that has now been dropped), Tecnica has decided to launch the brand officially this year as a stand-alone brand to the global market. Think sporty, think casual, think shoes that are unlike anything you have ever seen. Inspired by the T-Shirt concept as youth-oriented, casual sportswear that is versatile, easy to care for, easy to wear, and has sports roots, T-Shoes, we suspect, will do more than turn heads. The goal is for the shoes to be as pervasive and as friendly and comfortable to wear as all those comfy tees in your drawer.
Sachs told SNEWS® during our visit at the Lowa international sales meeting in Italy that he and his team were still finalizing exactly what mix of T-Shoes his company will offer to retailers.
Meanwhile, Lowa will bring in just about all of the huge line of X-Gear socks and apparel. In the past couple of years, X-Gear’s distribution partner in North America hadn’t made much of a dent in the markets here with this highly technical (and not inexpensive) gear. The X-Gear company started with socks, moved to base layers, and this summer launched mid-layer garments, with outerwear on the slate in the next couple of years.
In the coming weeks, SNEWS® will profile both X-Socks and T-Shoes with details and photos from our Italian company tour so our readers are well- versed and ready for the debut of these two new U.S. brands.
SNEWS® View: The Tecnica move makes great sense to us. Tecnica USA knows ski business, not the outdoor. And, frankly, Lowa Boots knows outdoor, but not so much ski. What we would expect to see change though, is the current separatist approach from corporate when it comes to marketing and cross-brand promotion. Take a look at all the sponsored athletes Tecnica sponsors around the world. Then look at published photos of them making podium and other appearances. See any of them, and we do mean even one, wearing Tecnica outdoor footwear, or even a Moon Boot (traditional or furry?) Nope! If Tecnica wants its après ski and outdoor footwear lines to enjoy U.S. and worldwide sales success like its ski lines have, it would do well to cross-promote its brands, and utilize the marketing strengths and visibility its sponsored athletes bring. Not doing so is putting way too much pressure on distributors and partners, like Noonan or Sachs, to deliver the sales and marketing all on their own.