Wolfskin CEO speaks out about North American departure

After months of silence following Johnson Outdoors sale of the Jack Wolfskin brand in August and then immediately pulling the plug on its North American sales, Wolfskin CEO Manfred Hell acknowledged to SNEWS his frustration in a legally forced lack of communication, as well as his own disappointment in the retreat by Johnson from his hard-won North American market.

After months of silence following Johnson Outdoors sale of the Jack Wolfskin brand in August and then immediately pulling the plug on its North American sales, Wolfskin CEO Manfred Hell acknowledged to SNEWS his frustration in a legally forced lack of communication, as well as his own disappointment in the retreat by Johnson from his hard-won North American market.

"I can understand the lack of communication is creating questions," Hell told SNEWS in a conversation at the ispo trade show in Germany, "but I'm not in a position to explain the situation and the sudden departure of the brand from the market there.

"We are in an exploratory phase for the future for possible re-entry into that market," he said, declining to offer details because of confidentiality agreements.

"I can empathize with the frustration and disappointment of a lot of U.S. retailers who have supported the brand and contributed to what was a successful and growing business," he added.

"I have invested a lot of time and I've met a lot of people who meant a lot to me and of course still do," he said, "and I'm still uncomfortable and regret the way it all played out."

He also added that Wolfskin in its home German market continues to grow steadily, racking up its 16th straight year of growth -- 18 percent in the year ended in September over the previous year, he told SNEWS, with the winter season indicating about a 20 percent growth over the previous winter. In fact, more Wolfskin stores are planned to complement the growth.

How has Wolfskin managed to counter the trend of status quo or losses? Hell points to continued innovation, lots of new products, clear distribution policies and plans, and large support for retailers through company advertising and marketing.

SNEWS View: The fiasco, which SNEWS wrote about late last summer and into early fall, where Johnson sold the brand, then shut it down without any chance for it to continue since Johnson maintained a two-year exclusive North American license left a bad taste in the mouths of many retailers and other industry professionals. It certainly didn't help that Hell, who is a partial owner in the buy by Bain Capital, stopped talking. To anybody. Hell won't divulge details, but we believe the shut down of the market here surprised Hell as much as it did others. Perhaps during the months of negotiations, the buying group simply forgot to close some loophole in the contract and simply had no recourse. Unrealistic with such a savvy company? Not really since in the heat of negotiations one is juggling a million clauses. Some have expressed doubts whether the Wolfskin brand can once again re-enter the market and still win retailer support -- burned once, burned twice, do they dare again? We think the brand still has enough of a following and good enough relationships that it would be possible -- especially if it can wiggle out of the two-year exclusivity held by Johnson and get back to the U.S. market earlier. And of course anything is possible.



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