By  on August 27, 2007

When a novice paddles into southern California’s fiercely competitive surf lineups, he is mercilessly mocked. Seasoned surfers hoot at his every error, and he is sometimes even driven off the beach in shame. If he happens to have a lot of money and has outfitted himself with the latest board and gear, he’s even more subject to intense derision. Winning acceptance can take many seasons.

Not so for VF Corp., the Greensboro, N.C.–based apparel conglomerate that posted $6.2 billion in sales last year. In 2004 VF burst onto the boardsports scene with its $396 million purchase of Vans, the favored footwear maker of surf rats and skater boys. Not one to sit idle, the moneyed arriviste then scooped up another footwear label cherished by surfers, buying sandal powerhouse Reef for $188 million. By the end of this year, VF Corp. projects that the two brands will have doubled their annual revenues since their respective acquisitions, both bolstered by rapidly growing apparel programs. The secret to VF’s SoCal success? Empowering existing personnel to grow the brands, and respecting action sports’ hallowed culture.

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