VF Outdoor announced on Nov. 24 that it was launching two new backpack brands -- Wolf Creek and L8R. Both brands will launch at mass, club, mid-tier and larger sporting goods retailers in fall 2010.
Remembering the lack of success with a former attempt at value-engineered product by The North Face in the late ‘80s dubbed Windy Pass, SNEWS® asked Steve Munn, president of JanSport, what makes this latest VF attempt different.
“We did not think of this on our own,” Munn told us. “We were getting requests from our retail partners asking us how we were going to offer a stronger value equation. We felt it would be much better to do that with a different brand than to try to take our brand downstream again.”
According to Munn, the VF Outdoor team started to see as early as 2007 and certainly by 2008 a change in value orientation from the consumer and a move to shopping different channels. But what was most interesting, Munn told us, was through its research it found that value to consumers was not just about price.
“Our $30 entry price-point bag is not the biggest driver in our business, for example” said Munn. “Our $40 bag is earning much more business.”
The VF Outdoor team started to look more closely at the long-term projected affect of the economy. The sentiment was not only had the consumer shopping behavior shifted, it would likely stay in this value mode for a long time. The company realized the discount and mass merchant side is a totally different business, where the overall dollar size being generated is the same with twice as many units selling at half the price as a specialty outdoor store. Munn and his team were charged with putting together a go-to-market strategy to address mass, club and retail stores that were capable of accepting containers of product directly.
Internal research by the company revealed to Munn that 80 percent of packs for kids in the 13- to 17-age range were purchased by a parent, and 74 percent of the time, the kids had primary or equal influence on the purchase.
So, the JanSport design team, which was tasked with overseeing the design and development of the two pack lines, went to work, focusing only on a handful of key attributes younger consumers and their parents wanted and needed in a daypack.
The outcome was two different brands and logos:
Wolf Creek, a pack line that is targeted more at connecting youth culture and outdoor styling, has three styles ranging in price from $20 to $30. (See image to right.)
L8R (pronounced later and an acronym from the pages of Facebook and Twitter) packs offer an edgier design, Munn told us, targeting the youth culture outside of, well, the outdoor set. L8R features only two styles, but in 14 different colors and patterns ranging from $20 to $25. (See image to left.)
Currently, Munn’s team is in the process of seeding the bags and brands at value sporting goods stores, several mid-tier market retailers, mass merchants, such as Target, and a club retailer.
Thanks to Munn’s knowledge of the distribution channels, and VF’s supply chain and sourcing connections, production and shipping costs have not been whittled, but literally carved out of the packs. This is why, Munn said he believes, the launch effort will be successful.
“With an opening price of $20 up to $30, retailers can outfit an entire family for $100, which parents will appreciate,” said Munn. “We have maximized our connections in Asia, and we fully understand who we are selling to in order to make this successful. We are targeting fewer than 10 accounts that can accept full container loads of product and take ownership of it at the Port of LA -- eliminating handling, warehousing and DC costs. In many ways, we are launching a new business model as well as product here.”
Munn also stressed to us that even though the job was to cut costs and create high-value pack brands, at no time did his team ever compromise the standards of production and material quality VF brands like The North Face and JanSport have become known for. “There are materials and methods of production we simply will not use just to cut costs. There are a lot of PVC bags out there for example, and that is just not something we will ever do.”
Steve Harden, a former director of sales for adidas, has joined the VF Outdoor team and will head up distribution and operations for both Wolf Creek and L8R.