Patagonia exits paddlesports business

Patagonia is out of the paddlesports market effective immediately. Retailers who recently received closeout lists of Lotus and other Patagonia paddlesports gear are rapidly picking the meat off the bones, SNEWS® was told. It marks the end of a paddlesports business that was built on the once highly regarded Lotus Designs brand name.
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Patagonia is out of the paddlesports business effective immediately. Retailers who recently received closeout lists of Lotus and other Patagonia paddlesports gear are rapidly picking the meat off the bones, SNEWS® was told. It marks the end of a paddlesports business that was built on the once highly regarded Lotus Designs brand name.

Lotus Designs was co-founded by Philip Curry in 1992 and sold to Patagonia in 1999. Following the acquisition of the Lotus brand, Patagonia positioned all of its paddling clothing and gear under the Lotus label.

In 2006, Patagonia reorganized its brand architecture, with Water Girl becoming Patagonia Women’s Surf brand as of 2008 and Lotus Designs becoming Patagonia Paddling in Spring 2007.

“Patagonia has a long history in paddlesports – it’s a core part of our culture,” said Casey Sheahan, Patagonia’s CEO and president, in a 2006 press release announcing the end of the Lotus Designs stand-alone division. “All of us here at Patagonia, including our ambassadors, employees and dealers are rallied behind this category and look forward to increasing sales.”

John Collins, vice president for Patagonia, told SNEWS® in 2006 the reason for the restructuring of the branding came from a realization “the Patagonia brand is our strongest asset and we need to be doing everything to support and grow that brand in the market.”

By mid-2007, though, even with the restructuring, it was clear Patagonia was attempting to paddle a boat with too many leaks to stay afloat, so the company began quietly shopping the Lotus Designs brand name. While the company did receive a few nibbles, there was no offer substantial enough that would support a sale. It was in early 2008 SNEWS® learned Patagonia Paddlesports was likely heading for a shut-down when we were told the company had no new products in the design pipeline.

Sheahan told SNEWS® that Patagonia is still very interested in someone acquiring the Lotus Designs trademark.

“If someone wants to buy the mark we are still willing to sell it, and we have 8 to 10 viable UL- approved PFD platforms that have value,” Sheahan told us, pointing out that to get UL approval for a PFD platform requires a minimum $50,000 investment.

“We are leaving the business and writing down the goodwill,” Sheahan said, “and we feel bad as we would love to serve all these specialty paddlesports markets, but we had to come to grips with the fact that it is simply not a sizeable enough venture to continue.”

When asked what happened to a business that was once moderately successful, Sheahan responded, “If you lose your ambassadors and your internal advocates and passionate enthusiasts, as we did over the last decade, it is likely your business category will soon decline.”

SNEWS® View: Some industry pundits and insiders with whom SNEWS® has spoken over the years point to the fact that Philip Curry launched Astral Buoyancy immediately after his non-compete expired and began selling PFDs head-to-head with his old brand. Suddenly, there were two PFD companies competing for the very small slice of the market that was not growing. Others have said it was more a matter of Patagonia trying to be something it no longer is – a paddlesports company – though SNEWS® would point out that the company was once well-known for its paddling jackets, apparel and such, which was an outgrowth of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s passion for paddling. While disappointing, Patagonia insiders could see this writing on the wall long ago and the company was prepared for it. Perhaps underscoring the futility and weakness of the Patagonia paddlesports brand is the fact that despite attempts to sell Lotus Designs, there were simply no takers. Whitewater paddling is still in the proverbial toilet and there just aren’t too many companies making money. The market, it seems, already has more than enough choice, and one less PFD and paddlesports apparel brand on the market doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing for those who remain.

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