By  on February 12, 2009

At Timberland, sustainability goes a long way, from store design to the balance sheet.

The outdoor-oriented, environmentally conscious brand closed 2008 with earnings up 7.3 percent to $42.9 million — although they were down 46 percent to $13.1 million in the fourth quarter — but free of debt and with $217.2 million in cash, practically insuring operations long into the future.

On Friday, the $1.36 billion company will open a 2,000-square-foot shop at 474 Broadway in SoHo, built extensively out of reclaimed materials and found objects, putting a positive spin on a retail program that’s taken some knocks. The stores ran negative comps last quarter and 40 stores closed worldwide in 2008. Currently, 474 Broadway is the only confirmed opening for 2009, though the intention is to open additional stores in New York and elsewhere in the U.S. over the next couple of years.

The SoHo store, on the block between Broome and Prince Streets where Topshop is opening and Madewell already operates, is the only Timberland store in the city. A unit on Madison Avenue was closed a few years ago.

“SoHo is not just about us opening another store. We want it to be a beacon for the brand and the ultimate in accessing our brand, not just for our products, but for who we are and who we stand for,” Gene McCarthy, Timberland’s co-president, told WWD.

He called SoHo “the measure by which all of our [retail] partners look up to.” So presentations at Macy’s, Nordstrom. Foot Locker, Finish Line, among other retailers carrying the brand, have “a higher standard.”

As for future openings, “We don’t have a plan to constrict or expand, but we are acutely aware of the [economic] environment and will make decisions as need be….We are completely opportunistic. We want to manage a marketplace, not real estate.” McCarthy said that before he came on board as co-president in December 2007, “the company operated in a fractured way” with little integration among retailing, wholesaling and marketing operations. “We were a fabulous shoemaker that sold to wholesale accounts and had stores on the side, treating them as a wholesale account,” McCarthy said.

But the SoHo store ushers in a broader strategy of “marketplace management,” McCarthy said. “In every market, I want to make sure we have a comprehensive plan on how [consumers] can shop and be aware and interact with Timberland.” Whether it’s with the store on Regent Street in London or SoHo, “We don’t want to be in the city. We want to be of the city.”

He said Timberland’s business model needs to be flexible, explaining, “The consumer is ever changing. How they access the brand is going to change dramatically over the next five years. Will it be more online? Will it be more brick and mortar? Will it morph into different types of presentations?”

In New York as in other cities, Timberland’s plan is to have a program of community outreach, such as having associates help senior citizens attend concerts, and supporting local artists. Timberland will be a sponsor of the 2009 Green Apple Festival in New York and support Earth Day activities in New York and nine other cities. Furthermore, Timberland is investigating ways to partner with the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation on greening efforts.

It’s all about, as McCarthy put it, “generating brand heat and height” and taking a stake in the community. “It’s how to take the legend of the brand and make it live in the present.” Marketing through mobile technology is also being considered.

But the SoHo opening, he stressed, underscores efforts to get Timberland “back on top in North America. This is our homeland.”

In its long and narrow layout, the store seems heavily merchandised. It’s stocked with 165 footwear sku’s — 65 to 70 percent of which are boots — as well as 100 apparel sku’s and accessories including watches, socks, and for the first time, women’s handbags, with about a dozen in suede and leather displayed in front. Also close to the front is the Abington Collection of footwear (Abington was the original name of the company) composed of a subtle, rich leather called Horween and a tough rubber sole made of Vibram. Farther into the store is the best-selling Earthkeeper Collection, followed by pants, khakis, denim, shirts, outerwear and a new group of patent leather boat shoes.

Toward the back is the Shackleton Collection of outerwear and footwear, named after the polar explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton.

The oak floors and hanging barn beams are reclaimed; a large leather curtain to the dressing room is made from scrap pieces; a pallet displays hats and shirts, and seven layers of dry wall were peeled off to expose the original brick walls. Even the wood cuts from ceiling joists were used to create a cash wrap, and, according to one employee, the brand is contemplating enhancing the natural, rustic ambience with a subtle scent of leather.

Timberland owns and operates around the world 82 stores and 96 outlets, including nine stores and 62 outlets in the U.S.

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