Columbia Sportswear Company, a leading manufacturer of active outdoor apparel, footwear and accessories, has entered India in collaboration with Chogori India Retail Limited (CIRL) this year with robust plans to expand the market for high-performance outdoor gear. Currently, Columbia has two stores in the country – at Select Citywalk, New Delhi and Phoenix Marketcity, Bengaluru. Columbia’s commitment to India is strong and the company continues to focus on aggressively building on their network, across India. Hemant Sachdev, Chairman, CIRL talks to IMAGES Retail and expresses confidence over Columbia’s future performance in the country.
Founded in 1938, Columbia Sportswear Company has grown from a small family-owned hat distributorship to one of the world’s largest outerwear brands and the leading seller of skiwear in the US.
At the head of the company are 87-year-old matriarch Gert Boyle, chairman of the board of directors, and her son, Tim Boyle, president and chief executive officer. Columbia’s history began in the 1930s when Gert’s parents fled Germany and settled in Portland, Oregon. They bought a small hat distributorship and named it Columbia Hat Company, after the river bordering the city. Frustrated by poor deliveries from suppliers, the family started manufacturing products themselves, and expanded the line to include jackets, fishing vests and shirts. Columbia today has become a leading global brand by channeling the company’s passion for the outdoors and an innovative spirit of ‘trying stuff’, into technologies and performance products that keep people warm, dry, cool and protected all year round.
CIRL currently acts as distributor and retailer for Columbia Sportswear. Speaking about the association, Sachdev says: “Chogori India Retail is proud to represent Columbia in India. We look forward to bringing the outstanding performance and quality of Columbia’s products to India’s emerging base of outdoor consumers.”
Today, Columbia products are available in around 90 countries across the world. Columbia owns and operates sales offices in North America, Europe and Asia. Additionally, the company wholly owns subsidiaries in Canada and Japan. The company’s family of brands has grown to include Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Pacific Trail and Sorel. Columbia corporate headquarters remain in Portland, Oregon.
The company’s flagship store opened at Select CITYWALK, New Delhi and the second store was opened in Phoenix Marketcity, Bengaluru. The current Columbia store is spread across 900 sq.ft.
Columbia’s extensive product line includes a wide variety of outerwear, sportswear, rugged footwear and accessories. The company is renowned for developing innovative products that are comfortable to wear, protective, functional, stylish in appearance and offer great value for money.
Columbia is best known for having a full lineup of high-quality outdoor apparel and technical gear that ranges from thermal, waterproof to lightweight sportswear. The products are priced at Rs. 999 onwards for a T-shirt and the range goes up to Rs. 14,999 for a jacket in India.
Columbia gear and apparel are sourced from around the world through highly specialised and compliant factories.
Sachdev asserts: “Virtually all our products are produced to our specifications by independent manufacturers located outside the United States. Our apparel is manufactured in more than 15 countries. Vietnam and China account for approximately 67 per cent of 2008 apparel production. Our footwear is manufactured in three countries, with China and Vietnam accounting for approximately 99 per cent of 2008 footwear production.”
Talking about the USP of the brand, Sachdev says: “Columbia is a brand with a philosophy that spells comfort, free-spirit and adventure. The brand is a true pioneer in the outdoor and adventure space with a large lifestyle audience as well. When it comes to developing products for its customers, the brand strongly believes in innovation, technology and design.”
The company is targeting malls as they are an experienced mall developing company and consistently do good by the brands they house. Footfalls at the mall are very impressive, especially on the weekends and on the location.
Sachdev states: “Our retail stores strategically support our intent to increase brand awareness and showcase our innovative and authentic premium outdoor products. In our branded retail stores, consumers can experience the full breadth of Columbia’s brands and enjoy shopping from our entire collection of apparel, footwear, accessories and equipment. The vast selection of products is one point of differentiation, while the look and feel of the branded stores are another. We are able to more closely control the retail environment in these branded stores and we expect to use these locations as laboratories for testing new points of purchase materials and sales strategies.”
According to Sachdev: “Since we have been in the retail industry for almost a decade now, setting up stores is not as challenging as regularising the outdoor niche industry, which has been largely fragmented. Our challenges include effectively communicating the outdoor philosophy in the Indian setting, and thereby showcasing the value Columbia offers in making the outdoors more fun and exhilarating. Columbia believes in keeping its customers cool, dry, warm and protected at all times while they venture outdoors.”
He added: “We perceive our risks as our events of learning. And our main opportunity is to effectively utilise our first movers advantage in being a true pioneer in the outdoor segment.”
Outdoor and adventure enthusiasts falling in the bracket of 18–50 years with middle to high income and a passion for travel are the target audience for Columbia.
Target Group 1 – Outdoor and adventure enthusiasts
Target Group 2 – Unaware adventure enthusiasts
The outdoor segment is largely unoccupied in its truest sense. However, the company does believe and hope that competition from other international outdoor brands will be quick to follow the lead, which will make the business far more interesting and the sector better organised.
Talking about the innovations at Columbia, Sachdev says: “Columbia is recognised as one of the most innovative brands in the world. Innovation is in our DNA, and the spirit of trying has always been at our core (since 1938). We continue with our trying process to make better gear so that nothing comes between the client and having a great time outdoors. We know that staying comfortable is critical to enjoying one’s experience and performing at one’s best.Whatever be the activity, whatever the conditions, Columbia’s got one covered.”
“Columbia has continually built on its heritage to offer the ultimate in protective outdoor apparel. We are continually improving our designs, fabrication methods and materials to help the consumer be more comfortable in the outdoors and, ultimately, enjoy their outdoor activities more,” he adds.
The following is a list of some of their proprietary technologies that they use within the Columbia line:
Columbia offers different levels of performance with various coatings and laminates applied to activity-appropriate fabrics. Everything in the Omni-Tech category is treated with a durable, water-repellent (DWR) finish, and garments are seam-sealed for superior protection from leakage. Omni-Tech® is the ultimate weather-protective technology. It features a combination of microporous membranes, sealed seams, and other high-performance materials and construction techniques – all aimed at creating apparel and footwear that would keep one dry and comfortable during all times.
Omni-Shield® delivers protection from the outdoors where one can least expect it but need it the most. This coated fabric resists all liquids below 170ºF from absorbing into the yarns and staining the garment (without any effect on the feel of the material). The fabric itself will also dry 3–5 times faster than untreated fabric, without holding moisture like a conventional fabric, meaning it stays lighter even when it is wet.
Omni-Freeze® consists of specially shaped flat yarns that facilitate the release of heat, and feel cooler to the touch, during warm weather and active outdoor adventures. The specifically shaped yarns, when woven or knit together, creates Omni-Freeze, which transfers heat from a surface at a faster rate than traditional fabric. The Omni-Freeze flat yarns increase the surface area of the fabric which comes into contact with one’s bare skin, which transmits heat faster and feels cooler to the touch.
Omni-Dry® is the ultimate moisture-management technology for the outdoors. Its superior wicking properties move moisture away from the body and enable perspiration to evaporate quickly. During physical activity, increased body temperature causes perspiration. This normally results in damp, clammy, and uncomfortable clothing. With Omni-Dry clothing, moisture is quickly wicked up into the fabric, and away from the wearer’s skin. The moisture spreads out across the surface of the fabric where it quickly evaporates. This wicking or evaporation process keeps the wearer cool and the clothing dry. One can stay dry, which would help regulate temperature, prevent chafing and keep comfortable all day.
Columbia Sportswear’s Omni-Shade® clothing protects from damaging UV rays by blocking the majority of the sun’s harmful rays, allowing one to stay out for longer hours. Omni-Shade blocks Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B rays (UVA and UVB), helping to prevent sun burn and long-term skin damage through tight weave construction, UV reflectors, and UV absorbing technology.
It is unlike Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which is a measure of sunburn reduction from sunblock, and does not indicate any protection from UVB rays. UVB rays are much more harmful than UVA, and are present even on cloudy days. Omni-Shade provides protection from both UVB and UVA rays. Like sunblock, Omni-Shade is given a numeric value to indicate its level of sun protection. Unlike sunblock, Omni-Shade does not wear off. One’s safety increases as the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) increases. Several levels of Omni-Shade protection are available, such as UPF 15, UPF 30, UPF 40 and UPF 50+.
According to the company, marketing for Columbia is largely experential and focussed on outdoor and adventure enthusiasts. A mix of social media marketing, print features, and interactive events are witnessed.
“In the first year, we plan to open 9–12 retail doors along with launching our proprietory e-commerce portal. In year two, consumers will find us across 12–15 wholesale doors, and on one or two additional multi-branded e-commerce portals,” shares Sachdev.
“Just as our first year, we are looking at opening 8–10 stores across all metros. North being a strong territory, we would plan 3–4 stores. Our e-commerce business should take off starting July this year. After initial base, we will monitor the performance of our stores and evaluate opportunities in the coming year. In the second year, we are aiming to open another 12 stores moving into tier-II cities. Opening branded retail stores in the select metro markets will allow us to showcase our brand and our innovations to thousands of existing and potential consumers from around the metros,” concludes Sachdev.