Twenty years in the outerwear industry have proven to be eyelid lowering for many executives, but that degree of tenure has only made Weatherproof president Freddie Stollmack more inquisitive.
Not one to adhere to “Freddie, you can’t do that” — a plea he often hears from colleagues — Stollmack has rocketed his brand’s awareness with some off-the-wall strategies in the past year or two. Featuring an unauthorized photograph of President Obama wearing a Weatherproof coat on a Times Square billboard, sending a similar style to 200 world leaders and every U.S. governor, buying the rights to put the brand’s logo on a Yankee Stadium tarp and staging publicity stunts with Times Square’s Naked Cowboy are just some of his ploys.
Recently, he was so impressed by a Babson College workshop about creativity and entrepreneurship that he trekked back to the Boston campus a few weeks later just for a morning session. “More than anything, it confirmed to me that, in this market, you have to trust your gut and your intuition. The old way of doing business isn’t working, but there is room for the new,” Stollmack said. “Much of my efforts today are leaning more toward the creative side through my initiatives in marketing and public relations.”
At this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, Jay Leno spoofed the Obama initiative (with the President present) with a video clip of the outdoor ad, which then was televised by a battery of media outlets. In total, the Obama ad resulted in an estimated 1.7 billion impressions worldwide, but more important, it convinced Stollmack that politicians are the new celebrities, he said.
After receiving a thank you note from French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his unsolicited Weatherproof coat, Stollmack sent three coats to his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, and asked her to model in an ad campaign. (She declined.) In step with that, Weatherproof teamed up with The Huffington Post for a “Style vs. Substance” survey in which 17,000 participants were asked whether they vote for a candidate based on his or her appearance or qualifications.
Such offbeat ideas have helped to make Weatherproof a $125 million wholesale business. That is quite a leap from Stollmack’s not-so-promising start in 1990, when he initially pitched Paul and Eliot Peyser of David Peyser Sports, Weatherproof’s parent company.
“I told them my idea for the collection, and Paul said, ‘Go have your fun, but I’m not paying you a salary or giving you benefits. What I will do is give you a showroom, make your samples and deliver whatever product you sell at an agreed-upon commission rate,’” Stollmack recalled. “I took a shot because I liked them and I liked the company.”
Today, there are 50 Weatherproof staffers in its Manhattan office and 300 in David Peyser Sports’ Bay Shore, N.Y., location. With 15 licenses, Weatherproof is pursuing new ones for eyewear and fragrances for women and men.
Besides expanding its 32 Degrees label with 32 Degrees Dry, moisture-wicking T-shirts and hoodies, in the next few weeks, the brand plans to hire an international licensing director, with Europe and the U.K. being areas of particular interest. This month, Weatherproof’s chief executive officer, Eliot Peyser, checked out office space in London. He and Stollmack have worked together, although not always in agreement, for two decades.
“He understands me, and I understand him. I’m a very difficult person to work with. I’ve always had the attitude that it’s my way or the highway,” Stollmack said. “Eliot knows just how to handle me. Eliot’s strong point is sportswear and mine is celebrities and politicians. He makes sure I don’t take the whole company down with some crazy idea.”
Both executives agree Weatherproof should have a New York flagship, and they are scouting 3,000-square-foot locations near Union Square and on the Upper West Side. By plugging the new store and special events via Facebook and Twitter, Stollmack hopes to make the store a destination for singles who share an interest in outdoor activities.
Taking a page from Uniqlo’s successful Heattech thermalwear, Weatherproof has introduced a similar offering under the 32 Degrees active-inspired label, which is being expanded and shown at MAGIC this week. Initially tested at select Macy’s and Lord & Taylor stores, 32 Degrees Heat is being rolled out internationally for fall with a print ad campaign and in-store signage. First-year projected wholesale volume is $15 million.
By not being bogged down with layers of senior management, Weatherproof can react quickly to trends, Stollmack said. “Here, we have a rule: We limit meetings to 15 minutes,” he explained. “We’re planning 20 minutes in advance. This is a fast-changing market. People must be able to change to succeed. This company doesn’t have a lot of politics.”
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