A small number of retailers were invited by Timberland last week to join its new "First Cirque" group of specialty retailers who will get support and guarantees from the company in exchange for certain commitments from the retailer.
"Our goal is to have a situation where these accounts are intimately involved in how we come to market and who will help us in selecting product programs, putting merchandising programs together, and right marketing programs," Jay Steere, Timberland director of sport specialty, told SNEWS®. "What we are able to bring is the strength of our brand and business systems. We are saying, take advantage of our brand to bring customers into your store."
The program was unveiled to a group of 16 hand-selected retailers from across the country at a gathering called the First Cirque Retailers Summit in Ketchum, Idaho, June 24-27, which SNEWS® attended.
Timberland says it has 35 accounts that qualify for the program, and the company hopes to climb that number by another 15 by the end of 2003. They are selected based on several criteria, including reputation in their marketplace, reputation in the trade, fit of the brand in the store, and a willingness to work with Timberland on the notion of commerce in community.
Jack Kirkham of Kirkham's in Salt Lake City, Utah, told SNEWS® he was not told of a program that would be presented or any requested commitments by Timberland when they were invited to the summit, but it didn't surprise him, nor did it seem unreasonable.
"It certainly did not offend us in any way," Kirkham said. "It was presented very humbly and without pressure. The expectations of Timberland in exchange for what they are willing to do seemed very reasonable to me. I especially appreciated that they were not asking for any specific dollar commitment, just a reasonable product representation."
Timberland is asking a three-season commitment, a minimum of six footwear SKUs and 75 square feet of apparel, and use of the company's visual support program. Timberland is offering, for example, custom marketing programs, visuals that will identify a store as a First Cirque retailer, special pre-season and in-season terms, priority shipping status, and the ability to rotate stock. Timberland also made it clear that as part of this program, they want to work closely with First Cirque retailers to create service projects that benefit the community the retailer does business in.
Host Ketchum and First Cirque retailer Sturtevant's -- outfitted already with the amount of product and visuals as requested in the program -- served as a model for attending retailers to see during their stay in the Sun Valley area.
"We want to keep the shelves vibrant," Steere told the group on the last morning of the gathering. "We understand that first and foremost product is key. This is something that can make you money.
Not all retailers responded immediately positively, with one telling SNEWS® it had to think about it since it ran a highly technical shop and wasn't sure Timberland's newer lifestyle offering would fit into the mix.
Another -- Mark Singleton of Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, North Carolina -- said he wants to see more than just in-store implementation in partnerships with suppliers.
"It is more than just carrying a line within our retail operation," Singleton said. "It is about giving something back to the community as well. That is the part from my perspective that makes it very interesting.
"I haven't ever heard a pitch like this before. I think the message is very compelling," he said. "Certainly we are going to give the program full consideration."
Being invited to the gathering, which included a full-day of local community service, wasn't an arm-twist to sign up, Steere emphasized.
"Honestly, it's OK if they say 'no,'" Steere said. "It is a lot of work for everyone and involvement and rolling up the sleeves. I would rather have someone tell us now. We are engaging stores in our idea so they can make a decision."
SNEWS® View: Since 1995, Timberland has increasingly been doing well while doing good. With the launch of First Cirque, the company is taking that philosophy to another level by inextricably linking its merchandising and selling programs with retailers who also share or wish to share the same vision. It is certainly not lost on Timberland that the company stands to profit nicely from this approach. But what was refreshing to us is that doesn't appear to be the driving force behind the move. Yes, it is good strategy. We doubt that if the company simply went to retailers to hawk its line of softgoods and shoes, many would give them much notice. It is lifestyle product with performance features to be sure, but that's a tough sell for many outdoor retailers. However, as retailers struggle to remain significant to consumers in their community, the concept of linking business with community well-being is as strong a marketing message as any. Consumers will shop at places and buy from brands they perceive to be beneficial to them and the community -- brands and businesses who they see giving back to the greater good. Timberland's message is clear: together we can make a difference in our community, in our country, in our world, and because of it, we'll all realize greater success. Tough to argue with that. We share Mark Singleton's view that this is the first time we've heard of such a retail presentation of this scope on any level, and that's very refreshing too. If more companies linked the selling of their product with the concept of working together with retailers to improve their communities on any level (civic, urban, environmental, etc.) we'd build a force for improvement and good of both business and community that would be unstoppable!