Gertrude Boyle is called chairman and, occasionally, one tough mother. The octogenarian and face of Columbia Sportswear's "tough mother" and "tested tough" ads heads one of the global powerhouses in the development, marketing, and distribution of active outerwear. Columbia's trademark Bugaboo parka with weatherproof shell put the company on the map in upscale outdoor wear. Columbia offers performance apparel for a variety of activities, as well as sportswear accessories, boots, and rugged footwear, sold under brands Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Sorel, and Montrail. About 63% of Columbia Sportswear is held by the Boyles: Gertrude, son and company president and CEO Tim, and daughter and director Sarah Bany.
Columbia Sportswear's operations are divided between two product categories: The largest category, apparel, accessories, and equipment, generated more than three-quarters of all sales in 2011. Increasingly significant, footwear accounted for more than 20% of sales.
Products are primarily sold through wholesale distributors to specialty outdoor and sporting goods stores and major retail chains. The company sells directly to consumers through domestic and international banner retail outlets and stores (Columbia-operated and dealer-operated) as well as online (launched in 2009). In countries where it does not trade, the Columbia sells to about two dozen independent distributors. Almost all of Columbia's items are made in Asia by independent manufacturers.
Geographically, roughly 40% of Columbia's 2011 sales were generated by some 100 countries outside the US. Latin America and the Asia Pacific region generated 20% of 2011 sales, and Europe, the Middle East and Africa 16%. Canada drove remaining sales.
After three years of declining performance, Columbia's sales jumped 19% and 14% in 2010 and 2011, respectively, over the previous year. Earnings improved by 15% and 34% in 2010 and 2011, respectively, too. Results in both years were broad based, across all the company's brands, product categories, and markets. Demand from Latin America and the Asia Pacific region (led by Korea and Japan) fueled the 2011 sales rise with nearly a 30% year-over-year bounce. Both product categories logged double-digit increases, largely concentrated in the Columbia and Sorel brands. Notably, apparel and footwear licensing income soared 98% over 2010, driven by an undisclosed third party distributor licensed to make the Columbia brand lineup for sale in the Latin America and Asia Pacific markets.
Columbia has strategically expanded its presence and product offerings through acquisitions, alliances, and licensing deals. In 2012 Columbia formed a joint venture with Swire Resources, a subsidiary of trading conglomerate Swire Pacific, to expand the Columbia and Mountain Hardwear brand in China. Swire operates some 70 Columbia banner retail stores and has exclusively sold both brands through a network of wholesale dealers since 2004. Swire has also distributed the brands in Hong Kong and Macau since 2002. The JV, which is set to being operating in Shanghai in 2014, will be 60% owned by Columbia and 40% owned by Swire.
In 2010 Columbia bought waterproof technology developer OutDry Technologies. Columbia has integrated OutDry's waterproof, breathable textiles into some of its Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, and Montrail products. It has also licensed the technology to other footwear and glove brands. The OutDry purchase is part Columbia's ramp up in breakthrough apparel. Although Columbia is known for its winter wear, it has over the last few years focused on designing clothing to keep consumers cool in the heat. It plans to debut Omni-Freeze Zero, a new apparel range made of fabric that chills when wet (from sweat), in 2013. – less