Lowe Alpine Restructures, Names O'Keeffe U.S. President

David Joyce, CEO of Lowe Alpine International, told SNEWS® today that the company has restructured its U.S. subsidiary with the appointment of Geoff O'Keeffe as president, replacing Blake Waltrip who has decided to step down to pursue other interests after 14 months there. In addition, Sandy Sincek has been promoted to vice president of merchandising and Gareth Richards to vice president of marketing.
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David Joyce, CEO of Lowe Alpine International, told SNEWS® today that
the company has restructured its U.S. subsidiary with the appointment
of Geoff O'Keeffe as president, replacing Blake Waltrip who has decided
to step down to pursue other interests after 14 months there. In
addition, Sandy Sincek has been promoted to vice president of
merchandising and Gareth Richards to vice president of marketing.

"We have 30 distributor markets, five subsidiaries --UK, U.S., France,
Germany, Benelux, -- and 13 legal entities around the world," Joyce
told SNEWS®. "Some of the parts have operated in isolation and there has
been too much duplication of administrative and operational costs. The
restructuring of the U.S. subsidiary begins a worldwide reorganization
that establishes Lowe as an international brand with an executive
management team made up the five subsidiary heads and the Lowe
International executive team.

"By moving in this direction, we are eliminating expenses from the
administrative side of our business and placing the financial resources
where they should be -- on the front end, developing product and moving
the brand forward."

Blake Waltrip, Lowe's former president, told SNEWS® candidly that his
departure is a mutual decision and that in no way is he heading out the
door with "Lowe's boot print firmly stamped on my backside." According
to Waltrip, O'Keeffe, and Joyce, Waltrip played a strong part in
crafting the plan for reorganization.

No reorganization of this scope is without a human cost, however; U.S.
management on March 20 laid off seven of 25 employees -- two of whom
had international and U.S. duties. All told, the worldwide
restructuring and reorganization is expected to save Lowe Alpine 1
million GBP (USD $1.4 million ) over the next two years.

O'Keeffe told us that while the team is a scrappier and more efficient
one as it moves forward, the U.S. Lowe subsidiary is still a U.S.
corporation with a president and a team that sells, markets, and
delivers product here much as it did before -- with one major
difference: "We will do everything better than it has been done before."

"For us, this is a 180-degree mindset shift," said O'Keeffe. "In the
past, we used to essentially focus on speaking up to demand that the
U.S. had what it needed without worrying about what the rest of the
world was doing. With the restructure, we are making a statement that,
for the first time, we realize that Lowe Alpine is an international
brand with international significance. We recognize that while the U.S.
is vital to the world as a market influence, we need to be working
together to deliver product that is commercially viable and marketable
everywhere.

"That's not to say we'll homogenize product to the point that national
and cultural distinctions are lost, but that as an international
company, we will work together to take advantage of those distinctions
collectively," said O'Keeffe

SNEWS® asked O'Keeffe what retailers can expect from the "new" Lowe.

"Retailers should expect continued support from our existing rep
network, which we think is excellent," said O'Keeffe. "Product design
is moving forward in all areas, even with needed improvements in pack
design where we have been well-recognized for quite some time. There
will be dramatic improvements on the apparel side and improving levels
of customer service.

"We know how to get scrappie and everyone on our team now is very
experienced in the outdoor specialty market. Let me add that there has
been speculation about distribution and it is important to stress yet
again that we are now and will always be a specialty-focused company.

"I have the intention of recommitting to specialty outdoor trade here
in the U.S.," added O'Keeffe. "We have made some missteps in the past
and let key specialty retailers slip away and that will not continue.
Specialty retailers are our heritage and you will see from us a
definite focus to reconnect and cement stronger relationships than
previously existed."

SNEWS® View: When Joyce was named CEO (click here to read article)
we speculated that he was stepping into the hot seat and that he needed
to establish himself quickly. He has done just that and, in our view,
is making all the right moves so far. Creating an international
management team and restructuring Lowe as an international brand with
multiple market influences that can be leveraged to increase sales is a
bold and forward-thinking step. No more infighting among subsidiaries
wondering what the home front was doing leaving retailers wondering
which Lowe would deliver what product -- one cohesive unit working
together on the same page to move the brand forward, worldwide. Now
that's the kind of consistency retailers have needed from the company.
It remains to be seen how well the company will be able to execute
given some of the financial woes still facing its parent company,
William Baird, but we can say from personal knowledge that if anyone
can pull off the U.S. revitalization, it is O'Keeffe. He knows this
industry as well as most, is a visionary, respects his staff and is
respected by them, and, above all, listens to the market. Overall, no
matter what happens to Baird, the moves to ensure Lowe is a healthier
brand worldwide can only serve to secure the company's future, no
matter who may end up owning it.



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