With the Dec. 2 announcement that Brent Bishop had been appointed as president of the Moonstone brand, more than a few of us were left scratching our heads. After all, there was no mention of Hoby Douglass, the man who'd been Moonstone's brand champion for the last four years.
A few phone calls to insiders, Bishop, as well as to Todd Gilmer, marketing director for Pacific Trail and Moonstone, confirmed that Douglass was no longer with Moonstone, having been let go Nov. 30. SNEWSÂ® reached Douglass who would only tell us that he had indeed been fired, and that he wished the Moonstone team nothing but the best under Bishop's leadership.
There is more to this story though than a simple changing of the guard. It is no industry secret that Moonstone has not even come close to yet achieving the sales goals a company parent such as London Fog would have for it. It is also no secret among insiders that Douglass no longer had company President David Greenstein's ear. So, where does Moonstone stand right now, and what does Bishop have to look forward to? Here is what SNEWSÂ® knows:
1. Sales are not pretty. While Moonstone was busy waving its banner about being in nearly 300 retail doors earlier this year (up from 35 doors when London Fog acquired the brand and Douglass took the helm as sales manager in 2001), a little simple math demonstrates that the company was simply trying to scatter rose petals over something that doesn't smell nearly as sweet. Insiders confirmed earlier this year that Moonstone was generating no more than $1.5 million in sales domestically. Bookings were also down this year. That indicates that if every retailer was placing identically sized orders, no order would be larger than $6,000. Retailers we checked in with confirmed that because Moonstone really didn't have a cohesive program, most orders were cherry-picked, and the vast majority of love was being given to the Lucid jacket -- the one bright spot on Moonstone's record.
2. Financial hiccup? In September 2005, SNEWSÂ® began receiving emails and calls regarding unpaid debts to suppliers by London Fog. Several suppliers asked us to begin an investigation into the solvency of Moonstone and Pacific Trail since they had been informed by London Fog that the debts would be paid, but not anytime soon, we were told. We asked Douglass and Gilmer in October about the reports, and were told then that neither had any knowledge of late payments, but each said they would look into it.
3. No fall sales meeting. Moonstone cancelled its fall sales meeting. On the record, Gilmer told SNEWSÂ® that the meeting was cancelled because the new line for Moonstone was not yet finalized, and since it wasn't final, "it made sense to have the line complete first and ready to make the best use of everyone's time. We recognized that this has shortened the selling season somewhat, but we believe that the new products will be worth the wait."
4. Moonstone design responsibility shifted to Italy. Insiders tell us that the reason the line wasn't ready is a direct result of London Fog's Stacey Hasse shifting design responsibility from Seattle, Wash., to an Italian designer. Shortly after that move, Amy Lietz Roberts, a talented designer with Moonstone, left the company and is now with Mountain Hardwear. While both Gilmer and Bishop acknowledged that the Italian designer's sketches looked super, initial samples were not as compelling, but all indications were that the line the company would show at SIA and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market would be strong.
Gilmer told SNEWSÂ®, "Moonstone will continue to seek talented designers who can help us bring new excitement to the brand, with an emphasis on style. We remain committed to our core and will continue to offer performance apparel, but we want to avoid the homogeneity that many outdoor brands offer. This talented designer happens to be located in Italy, indicating we are willing to work with the best designers, no matter where they are based."
5. Moonstone for sale? We asked both Gilmer and Douglass about this in October, and SNEWSÂ® was told that London Fog executives flatly denied any sales discussions. Yet the rumor of a sale persists, with SNEWSÂ® even having received queries from folks asking us what we thought of the brand in November. Folks don't usually issue queries unless there is something to query.
SNEWSÂ® View: Moonstone is a brand in search of relevancy, with its current owners apparently clinging to a notion that the brand name still carries sufficient cache that retailers are lined up to support it -- if only it can deliver product worthy of the name. While that might have been the case five years ago, it is no longer reality. Brand names mean little if there is no longer anything special about the product lines propping them up. Dana Design comes to mind here. And Moonstone is no different.
From one owner to the next since Fred Williams originally sold his company to Hap Klopp and the Outdoor Industry Group in 1995, the story line has remained the same. Consider this from the SNEWSÂ® archives in August 2001, when we announced that London Fog had acquired Moonstone and Roffe:
"Over the past few weeks, amid hearing the rumors of an impending sale, cynics were saying that Moonstone had reached rock bottom and there was no way that London Fog will keep it as a high-end technical brand. The less cynical are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Our take on it? IF Moonstone stays true to its specialty roots, and IF rumors about new product introductions with a Marmot-like Precip line and some value-priced Gore-Tex are true, and IF retailers believe Moonstone deserves shelf space, and IF Moonstone manages to create collections that make sense to a specialty retailer, and IF the retail economy cooperates so retailers don't simply cherry pick the line as a fill-in brand, then Moonstone has a very good shot of resurrecting itself. That's a lot of big 'IFs.'"
Clearly, Greenstein was no longer enamored with Douglass or the Moonstone results under Douglass' watch. And perhaps it was time to make a change. But Greenstein needs to realize that just because the nameplate has changed on the Moonstone president's door, it doesn't mean things will be any different for the company when it comes to the bottom line results. Greenstein didn't exactly do himself any favors either with his abrupt canning of Douglass and no public acknowledgement to what Douglass had brought to Moonstone. That alone speaks volumes, as does the fact Douglass was fired on Nov. 30, the last day of the month. Don't have to be a corporate wizard to see what was going on there -- saving the company a month of benefits and salary.
With Bishop, Greenstein has a man with a solid design and business pedigree, but with nowhere near the sales connections or relationships that Douglass had. And perhaps that is what Moonstone needs right now -- someone to direct Moonstone from a product and not a sales angle toward more collections in the line, more cohesiveness, more brand identity, and, dare we say, more fashion and more mainstream distribution.
But even Bishop has to know the clock is ticking. Moonstone is losing, not gaining specialty retailers. Moonstone has completely missed pre-show booking opportunities, and will likely have a line that is barely ready for primetime by the time SIA and Winter Market role around. And unless New York-based London Fog management is willing to invest, and invest heavily over the next two years (marketing, PR, design resources, R&D resources, POP programs, etc.), and demonstrate to retailers that the company is in this for the long haul and not the quick fix and flip to another owner, it will perhaps be time to talk about Moonstone's demise, rather than its resurrection. Five owners in 10 years isn't exactly a sterling record of consistency or an example of stellar brand strength.
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