Timberland acquires GoLite trademark, hires Bill Dodge

Timberland has acquired the GoLite trademark in conjunction with its introduction of a new line of advanced footwear designed for trail running enthusiasts under the GoLite brand. It is licensing the GoLite brand name to Kim and Demetri Coupounas, founders of GoLite, who will continue to operate the GoLite apparel, equipment and accessories business as an independent company based in Boulder, Colo. Financial terms of the deal were not announced.
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Timberland has acquired the GoLite trademark in conjunction with its introduction of a new line of advanced footwear designed for trail running enthusiasts under the GoLite brand. It is licensing the GoLite brand name to Kim and Demetri Coupounas, founders of GoLite, who will continue to operate the GoLite apparel, equipment and accessories business as an independent company based in Boulder, Colo. Financial terms of the deal were not announced.

Bill Dodge has been hired as senior director to run Timberland's newly established GoLite footwear division. Dodge, a 16-year veteran of the outdoor specialty footwear industry, will report to Gary Smith, senior vice president and general manager of Timberland's outdoor brands, which also include Timberland Outdoor Performance, Mion and SmartWool.

Smith told SNEWS® that because of the company's longstanding relationship with GoLite, both collaboratively and as the co-sponsor of an adventure racing team, Timberland began to think about outdoor athletic footwear in a new way nearly two years ago.

"Most footwear product comes into trail running from a road running mindset, so we asked (Invention Factory director) Doug Clark and his team in the Invention Factory to spend lot of time with a clean sheet addressing what the true outdoor athletic needs were, with a specific focus on trail running," said Smith. "Along the way, the team came up with interesting technology -- we think revolutionary."

Smith said that the core of the shoe, the chassis and platform on which it is built, and the upper are very unique. SNEWS® managed to squeeze out of him that the line incorporates Timberland's PreciseFit system, allowing the consumer to address volume issues with a chassis built inside the shoe.

In trying to decide how to brand that footwear, Timberland turned to GoLite and, as Smith told us, "our friends at GoLite were open to having a conversation."

We asked Smith why Timberland just didn't simply license the rights from GoLite.

"We felt so confident in this new technology (that) we felt we needed to own the brand," Smith said.

Kim Coupounas, GoLite's CEO, added, "We weren't ready to sell the company when we first started talking. We were being asked by our customers for footwear, but that is not our competency and we know that. We are a company that is exacting about the design process, and any company we partnered with or established a relationship with had to be in line with our ethos and the outdoors."

Smith stressed that the business deal is a unique structure that allows Kim and Demetri Coupounas to pursue their vision as it pertains to the apparel and hardgoods side of the GoLite business.

"While we are operating this as two completely separate companies, it is important to note that we have joint responsibility to bring out product that is a true collection from head to foot," said Smith.

"As far as the consumer is concerned, this will and needs to appear to be a single brand face," Kim Coupounas told SNEWS®. "We will work collaboratively with Timberland in bringing out new product lines to ensure compatibility."

The new GoLite footwear line will be unveiled at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market this August in a booth separate from GoLite and Timberland, though that is not indicative of the GoLite footwear line's future, according to Kim Coupounas.

"The GoLite footwear will be in a separate booth this year simply because the timing did not work out to have a larger GoLite booth with combined product," said Coupounas. "However, both booths will have a similar look and are being designed by the same company."

Though the exact mix of products is still being decided, Smith told us that the SKU mix would likely fall into three separate product buckets: Racing Flats for sky running (a combo of ultra-running, trail running and adventure racing at high altitudes) with the lightest possible weight; a Training series that features more protection and offers increased durability; and Warm Down which captures the vibe and philosophy of the racing and training shoes and distills that into an after-sport offering.

Demetri Coupounas allowed that the plan is for him and Kim Coupounas to "run GoLite for the foreseeable future, building the brand in both the footwear as well as apparel and hardgoods components."

Evidence of that brand building should be in full view at Summer Market 2006.

"This will be our most important Summer Market since our company launched," Demetri Coupounas, president of GoLite, told SNEWS® "We have been working on the redesign everyone will see (at the show) for nearly two years. It has all come together in packs, and far more in apparel, with two-thirds of the product line changing."

Not surprisingly, considering the close working relationship that already existed between Timberland and GoLite, the work of integrating the new GoLite footwear brand and the GoLite apparel and hardgoods brand to ensure each complement the other is already well underway too.

"Our company and product cultures already mesh, and we have a high confidence that as we work more closely together, that whatever naturally arises over the years will be worked out to ensure the GoLite brand and ethos remains true -- synergy will dominate, not intention," said Demetri Coupounas.

When asked about distribution intentions for the new footwear brand, Dodge told us that it's going to be specialty only, though it would be somewhat untraditional in its focus.

"The focus in terms of distribution will be where our enthusiast shops," said Dodge. "That means outdoor specialty shops certainly, and running specialty shops with a strong trail running category."

SNEWS® View: WOW! It is a match that has tremendous potential and is a case where both Timberland and GoLite needs the other for that extra little push to see it to the next level of outdoor success and growth. For GoLite, which has been steadily working itself back 16 months after weathering internal difficulties within the design department (resulting in an essentially new team), the addition of a footwear line, along with a partner that has the financial clout of a Timberland is, as Coup told us, like releasing the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" -- it's double sweet.

For Timberland, it adds a brand to its portfolio that it can build upon with confidence, giving the company another cornerstone and a bit more leverage in what has been, up until recently, an elusive outdoor retail market.

Adding icing to what looks to be a perfectly baked cake, is the fact that Bill Dodge is running the GoLite brand. Timberland now boasts two of the most talented outdoor footwear brand leaders and developers we know -- Jay Steere, head of Timberland Outdoor Performance, and Bill Dodge, formerly of Dunham (New Balance) and before that Salomon.

If there is one casualty in this news, it is the La Sportiva/GoLite-sponsored trail running team that is likely no more -- at least as far as a La Sportiva tie is concerned. Expect GoLite to announce a running team soon, featuring its own brand as the solo sponsor (at least on the front end, even if the back end means Timberland and GoLite are covering the expenses).

Does the industry need yet another footwear brand, though, especially one focused entirely on the trail running/sky running market? Well, no. However, we believe that there is always room for true innovation in a category, or new innovation that creates a category -- think Keen. So, if GoLite footwear is as good as the buzz we've been hearing from both the GoLite and Timberland side of the fence, it will be all smiles at Summer Market.

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