Yakima bullish on its future and passionate about its heritage

Yakima will bring a new team and, company representatives told SNEWS®, unveil the broadest product line in its history at Summer Market. Operating as Yakima Products Inc., Outdoor Retailer Summer Market will be the first trade show Yakima will attend as an independent brand since it became part of Arcapita's WaterMark family in August 2001.
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Yakima will bring a new team and, company representatives told SNEWS®, unveil the broadest product line in its history at Summer Market. Operating as Yakima Products Inc., Outdoor Retailer Summer Market will be the first trade show Yakima will attend as an independent brand since it became part of Arcapita's WaterMark family in August 2001.

While admitting the last two years, and in particular the last 12 months, have been particularly painful and challenging for the company, Jim Clark, Yakima's CEO, told SNEWS® that everything retailers and the industry will see from Yakima at Summer Market is a validation of the company's decision to move to Portland, divest itself of the paddlesports business, and refine its corporate vision.

"Summer Market will be the first glimpse of what we believe is possible for Yakima and one of the reasons we moved to Beaverton to refine the company vision," said Clark. "What all this shows me is that we have a great brand and product, an amazing heritage and history to build on, and a solid vision with which to navigate forward and produce a lot of very cool products in a very short time."

It appears others from outside the industry are buying into the new Yakima vision mantra too, as David Fee, with a resume pedigree that includes Nike, Harley Davidson and, most recently, brand manager for the Ford Mustang, joined the team as Yakima's new senior category business manager.

"I loved working for Ford, but Yakima is a much smaller and much faster-moving company that is willing to take a few risks, which affords me much greater opportunity to personally have an impact at the company," Fee told SNEWS®.

While at Ford, Fee, a triathlete who first learned about Yakima while working for a Portland bike shop in college, learned that he was not as passionate about cars as he was about the outdoors and sports.

"Yakima is one of the few places in the world where I can put together both my sports and automotive marketing backgrounds," Fee said.

When asked what retailers can expect from him in terms of influence, Fee told us that his focus will be on one of differentiation for Yakima from its competition (read Thule). Fee pointed out that while the industry knows Yakima and Thule are very different companies, consumers really don't see much difference other than the fact one company features square bars and the other uses round ones.

In addition, he will be working with Yakima as the company seeks to diversify its product offering in categories that are still all about organization and storage, but perhaps less connected with automobiles as a sole focus.

"We realize that Yakima has a reputation for durable, authentic product that helps people organize their lives and gear," said Fee. "And right now we do a very good job of helping people manage their gear on and in their cars. However, we need to expand our market to be successful, and that means reaching out to customers who own gear and need organizing solutions beyond the automobile."

And for that, Yakima is debuting a new product line at Summer Market that, Clark confirmed with us, will provide customers with the ability to easily move from the garage to the car and back to the garage again with efficient, flexible storage solutions.

When asked if the concept was similar to Mountainsmith's Road Trippin' modular system, Clark confirmed the ideas were on the same vein, and that Mountainsmith had clearly recognized a market need, but that Yakima's solution was vastly different in execution.

The new product line, as well as new products in the expanded product categories of bike racks and more will be debuted in Yakima's new 48-foot by 50-foot booth, larger than any previous Yakima booth. It will feature reproductions of large graphic murals that speak to the heritage of the brand -- the murals originally existed on the walls of Yakima's now-defunct Arcata facility. Located on the main aisle close to the paddling tank, the booth will include miniature-sized vehicles on the outer edges featuring Yakima racks placed at eye level for easy access and viewing. As retailers enter the booth, they will see the "concept center" that houses Yakima spring 2006 products and provides a preview of production materials, form and design. This area also serves as a venue for retailers and media to meet with Yakima management. Lastly, visitors will be entertained by Yakima's recently produced short films showcasing its products in humorous and quirky situations.

The concept center is an idea that has been created at the company's new Portland headquarters. Clark said that for the first time Yakima is able to set up a retail showroom to demonstrate to dealers how the product and product display will actually look and feel in their stores.

Despite all the emphasis on new vision, new management and new location, Clark is adamant about paying tribute to the heritage of Yakima, he said. Throughout the new building are images highlighting the company's growth, from the Yakima Industries storefront to replica murals and product images that offer up a historical perspective on product development and innovation.

"I think that if Don Banducci came up here today, he would be pleased with what he saw," said Clark. "And that is very important to me and the team…that we give credit to history."

SNEWS® View: After all the tears that were shed over the last year dry and the requisite finger-pointing fades from memory, we suspect that history will show that Yakima's move to Portland was a good idea. Sure, you can debate all you want about management decisions and communication over the last year, and that location doesn't make a company and that people are all that really matter, but let's face it -- the Yakima team currently does appear to be an A-level operation that knows marketing, knows branding, knows manufacturing, and has strong financial backing. The management team in place is top notch, and frankly, David Fee's addition to the program is a breath of fresh air. And as history has shown, no industry is better off when only one company is dominating the market scene. Thule needs Yakima to be very successful and to challenge it on every design front. And Yakima needs Thule to do the same. Because when that happens, retailers benefit, as do customers. Time is certainly the best judge of innovation and product success, but if what we have heard and seen to date is any indication, we believe Yakima is back -- at last. We've missed you.

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