Huub Valkenburg, owner of Craft USA, and Jay Duke, formerly with Nike Converse, acquired the worldwide rights to the Karhu trademarks and patents from Karhu Sporting Goods Oy of Finland on June 25. Terms of the deal were not announced. To read the official press release posted to SNEWS® on June 25, click here.
What this means, Valkenburg told SNEWS, is that a longtime dream of his to own the venerable Karhu running brand has been fulfilled. Karhu, on the running side, is still well-regarded in Europe, although he acknowledges the brand is still virtually unknown in the United States.
It also means that everyone using the Karhu name is now paying his company, Karhu Holding B.V., a licensing fee. That includes K2, which is paying for the rights to the name in the backcountry and telemark ski markets. Karhu Sporting Goods still holds the licensing rights to the name in the Scandinavian markets and globally for cross country skis other than backcountry and telemark.
Valkenburg, who’s official title now is CEO of Karhu, was joined in the acquisition by long-time friend, Duke, whom he knew during their days working for Reebok globally. Duke is now the president of Karhu and is responsible primarily for the brand’s growth in the U.S. market.
The first task for the team, Valkenburg told us, is to launch Karhu as a global running brand. “In running, since it is a global category, you can have one voice for the brand. We have a legacy in running we plan to build on, capitalizing on our unique Fulcrum technology which promotes horizontal movement – that natural movement when running.”
Over the last two years, Craft, which has held the license to Karhu running shoes, has been developing relationships with key accounts, according to Valkenburg. “We have worked with Paragon in New York during the New York marathon for example,” Valkenburg told us.
“We have created good momentum in New York and in Chicago and Texas…. The running specialty channel in the U.S. is always looking for that next brand to come along that isn’t in all the stores, and I think we are it,” said Valkenburg.
Already, the Karhu team is out showing Spring 2009 Karhu product, which has been designed in the United States with a New Hampshire-based firm working closely with Valkenberg and his team. Valkenburg said he expected to look to enter the outdoor market in about 2010.
“We will be coming in with a full line, of course, but nothing that is crampon-compatible,” Valkenburg told SNEWS. “We will be introducing shoes where our patents and design philosophy makes sense, which is natural walking, so up to base camp, but nothing beyond that.”
Valkenburg said he expected to leverage some of the old, but very popular designs that had their heyday in the ‘80s when Merrell and Karhu were together – before Merrell went to Wolverine and Karhu decided to focus just on skis and skiing in the United States.
And the ramp up is not likely to stop with footwear. Valkenburg said his company had established a number of trademarks already, including Natural Ride and Natural Feel, and it will be around those concepts of natural fibers, and natural movement, that he plans to develop a line of apparel and accessories for the athletically-minded outdoors person.
As for Craft, that company continues to grow, now under the daily direction of new General Manager, Eric Shenker, promoted from his former position as Craft’s sales manager.
“We have been profitable now for four years,” Valkenburg said, “and we have developed great infrastructure around the brand, but we need to ensure it retains clear and distinct branding from Karhu, which is why we have a leader now focused just on that brand.”
SNEWS® View: Just when you are wondering how on earth the outdoor market can support yet another footwear brand, another one enters the market. We suspect, though, in this case, it’s not just another footwear brand. Craft was frankly also just another base layer when Valkenburg launched it in 1999, essentially on his own, under the umbrella of his company at the time, The Europa Company. To Valkenburg, Craft was never just another base layer, and that is why he succeeded where others may have failed. And, that is why, along with a strong team he’s assembled, we’d bet Valkenburg succeeds again. Karhu is a recognized brand globally. Even here in the United States, it is a brand name and is not unknown, though not yet really associated with anything other than backcountry skiing. Valkenburg’s style has been to develop partnerships with key specialty accounts, and then to support them fully. We suspect he’ll execute his march into the outdoor market in much the same way. As for the SNEWS team, we look forward to testing the Karhu running and outdoor product when it hits the market, and we’ll, of course, let you know what we think. Our bet is it will be top notch stuff. One of our testers is still wearing a Craft base layer he tested back in 2000. Yes, it’s been washed!