Retailers trying to order any Vaude product since last week from the company's U.S. distributor Windsong Allegiance Group are being told that Windsong is no longer dealing with Vaude. Windsong was named Vaude's distributor in May 2003 after the company ended a long-term relationship it had with Guntrum Jordan.
Mark Carlstrom, co-owner of Northern Mountain Supply, and one of the several retailers who contacted SNEWSÂ® asking what we knew, told us, "I tried to place an order and was told by a very nice customer service woman that 'I'm not supposed to say anything, but we don't do Vaude anymore.'
"Apparently, there is no Vaude product to get currently, and that is a shame because it has been a good line for us," Carlstrom added.
SNEWSÂ® placed repeated calls to the Windsong San Francisco office, to Ron Page's cell phone (he's the one who has been tasked with dealing with the transition since the departure of former president Read Worth to Gerry in January) and to Windsong's New York headquarters. We received no return calls or even an acknowledgement of the emails we sent -- not one. Turns out Page was in Europe at the time -- you'd think someone at Windsong would have communicated this instead of simply giving us a cell phone to call each time, but noooo.
When we finally did get in touch with a Windsong representative on Monday that the New York office said was the correct person to talk to (a person in charge of imports it turns out), she danced around our questions more quickly than Fred Astaire around a lamppost. In fact, though she initially told us she was the person responsible for the Vaude line, she then told us we couldn't say that, could not use her name and that she was not able to confirm anything. Jay Shaw, who is the company vice president in charge of sales and marketing, also was not available to speak with us. Is it any wonder retailers have no idea what is going on?
We did, however, manage to get in touch with Jan Lorch, export manager for Vaude, who told us, "We are at the moment looking for another distributor in the U.S. and hope to be able to make an announcement that we have signed a contract within the next week to two weeks at the latest."
Lorch told us that it was a mutual decision to end the distribution arrangement with Windsong after less than one year.
"We both had different expectations of the other that were not fulfilled, and so we decided to end it now on good terms," Lorch said.
Since Windsong is, evidently, being less than helpful regarding Vaude and retailers requiring product assistance, Lorch suggested that in the transition, any retailer with a need for more Vaude product, or with a Vaude question, email email@example.com.
"Emails to that address will be directed quickly to the right person who is in charge of all affairs related to the U.S. market," Lorch told us.
SNEWSÂ® View: Both companies deserve a black mark for poor communication to Vaude U.S. retailers. No retailer should have to find out by accident that a distribution agreement has been ended and then left in virtual limbo. To be fair to Ron Page, he has been left to defend a fort with no ammunition in his gun. Retailers have confirmed that Page has helped them when he could, but there isn't much he can do with limited stock. And since he's employed by Windsong who's foot is already out the door, and left to work with a parent company who apparently hasn't been very communicative during the transition, Page doesn't have much alternative other than to field phone calls when they come in -- and during the last several weeks, they've been coming in droves -- and tell retailers he can't tell them very much. What is very evident from the last year with Windsong is that the company does not understand the outdoor market. In the company's defense, insiders have told us that Windsong invested close to $1 million since last year in making a go of Vaude, without much, if any, support from the parent company. However, if Windsong imagined for one minute it was going to be able to turn $2 million in annual sales into $10 million just by adding high-end jackets and a footwear line, simply because it's an expert in marketing and distribution, it quickly got a wakeup call. The outdoor marketplace bears no similarity to the one the garment company is used to with its own Joe Boxer line. Not even close. The company also did not fully grasp Vaude's historic reluctance to invest much, if anything, in terms of financial resources into growing the U.S. marketplace. Vaude is a very strong brand, and retailers who have carried it here in the United States tell us they like the brand very much. In fact, we would estimate that approximately 200 retailers currently carry Vaude, although many of those tell us they are carrying only smatterings of the line. Vaude, apparently, is not unlike so many other European brands, which believe that because they are successful in Europe (which Vaude is) they should be instantly successful in the United States. WRONG!!! To be successful in the United States requires committed focus and strong investment in the future of the brand -- and that includes financial investment to secure marketing, sponsorships and other means to elevate the brand's awareness in the public eye. One German brand -- Deuter -- finally realized this and has subsequently been reaping the rewards. Mammut, a Swiss brand, has also realized that it needs to take a long-term view toward success, and it too, is just beginning to realize what could be considered successful sales increases, we're told. We hope that this time, Vaude establishes a true long-term and realistic partnership with its new distribution partner that includes financial investment and backing. We also hope that Vaude realizes that $400 to $500 parkas will not sell well over here, and that just because the company has a footwear line, it only means it is suddenly one of over 55 brands of footwear that retailers have to choose from -- not a recipe for overnight success by any stretch of the imagination. Unless you have a really wild imagination that is.