Cole Haan caters to the well-heeled. It designs and sells upscale footwear and accessories, and is the more fashion-footed subsidiary of athletic products firm NIKE. The shoe maker peddles its products through about 110 Cole Haan stores in the US, as well as nearly 70 stores in Japan. It also sells its shoes, belts, hosiery, handbags, small leather goods, fine outerwear, and watches online and in stores run by other retailers. Cole Haan has reached into high-end accessories (encroaching on Coach) in recent years. Most of Cole Haan's products are distributed from New Hampshire; its outerwear is made in Italian factories by G-III Apparel. Cole Haan was founded in Chicago in 1928 by Trafton Cole and Eddie Haan.
NIKE in May 2012 announced its intention to sell Cole Haan (along with its soccer shoe subsidiary Umbro) to better focus on growing its athletic shoe brands. The sale is expected to be completed by the end of 2012. The high-end handbag and shoe maker is estimated to be worth about $500 million. (NIKE acquired Cole Haan in 1988 for about $80 million with the assumption of $15 million in debt.) The brand is reported to be unprofitable. Private equity firms TPG Capital Management and Apax Partners are among several bidders reportedly interested in acquiring Cole Haan.
Cole Haan also serves the fashion-conscious outside the US. The company is looking to expand its global footprint by opening stores in China and Europe to offset declines in Japan. The retailer has opened shops in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau.
Business for NIKE's higher-end brands had been somewhat bleak during the downturn in the economy as mainstream consumers chose to put off purchasing luxury items. Business is now picking up, however. Cole Haan's sales increased nearly 3% in fiscal 2012 (ends May) vs. the prior year, after posting a double-digit increase (~12%) in the previous annual comparison. Sales over the past two years have been driven by growth of Cole Haan's direct to consumer and wholesale businesses.
Adding such items as eyewear to its wardrobe and pricier items, Cole Haan has been expanding its products portfolio. The eyewear collection, which includes sunglasses and prescription eyeglasses priced up to $500, is sold in optical shops nationwide. Looking to cater to the über-luxury crowd (a group that continues to spend when others tighten their belts), the company boasts the Cole Haan Collection, an upscale line of accessories and outerwear that is priced up to 60% above its core line. The collection is sold in select Cole Haan stores and through upscale retailers, including Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. NIKE bought Cole Haan to create a partnership that combined sports technology with fashionable footwear. Its men's suede chukka, for instance, features brightly colored laces and NIKE Air technology for comfort. To further tout its connection to the sports world, the company occasionally enlists the help of athletes to push its products. One such agreement is Cole Haan's deal with tennis star Maria Sharapova, whose collection of ankle boots and handbags debuted in fall 2011. – less