For the past four years, Eddie Bauer’s management has kept its head down while it quietly focused on returning the company to its roots as an outdoors brand. And now, it’s ready to crow about it.
Today, Eddie Bauer will launch the most comprehensive marketing campaign in its history, one that includes a national television ad for the first time since 1999. The 30-second spot gives a quick overview of the company’s founder who was an outdoor guide and seeks to encourage people to get up and enjoy the outdoors.
The television spots will run through Dec. 18 on 17 national networks including ABC, ESPN, Bravo and History. There will also be print ads in outdoor, active lifestyle, men’s and sport publications. The campaign also includes a digital component and marketing initiatives with social media influencers, partnerships with Hipcamp, One Tree Foundation and Pendleton, and celebrity engagements with Ilaria Urbinati and Ryan Reynolds.
“Four years ago, we started with a lot of deep consumer insight research into how our brand was perceived — its strengths and weaknesses,” said Mike Egeck, chief executive officer. As a result of those findings, “we refined our positioning” as an “active outdoor brand.”
“We had gotten off-track,” he continued, offering casual outdoor-themed product instead of technical pieces that spoke to the history of Eddie Bauer, an outdoorsman and businessman from Washington State who founded the company in 1920.
First up was to “transform the product line,” Egeck said. Four years ago, performance product was less than 20 percent of total sales, but it’s now slightly more than 50 percent and growing at 15-plus percent a year. “And we’re targeting 70 percent,” he said.
Athleticwear is a growing part of the apparel market, but rather than focus on competition and the pain and suffering of sports as many of its competitors do, Eddie Bauer is taking a more-gentle path.
“Eddie was a guide, he showed people how to get outside, have fun and get back safely,” he said. “Our competition looks as the outdoors as an arena for pain and suffering. Our customer looks at the outdoors as a playground, not a place to compete, but a place they can enjoy with their family and friends.”
This carries through to the product as well, prompting Eddie Bauer to exit many categories including jewelry, handbags and cotton-based casual apparel to home in on performance merchandise. Egeck admitted this has impacted the top line, “but our gross margin is growing.”
Now that most of the major merchandise shifts are complete, “we’re ready to invite people in,” he said. “This is our coming-out party and represents the next step in our transformation of the brand.”
That also involves the update of the company’s store fleet. Eddie Bauer operates around 330 stores and although 40 percent of sales now come from online, retail is still “very important” to the company, Egeck said. But they’re smaller, averaging 4,000 to 5,000 square feet, down from as big as 30,000 square feet. “With fewer categories, it’s a very curated shopping experience,” he said. And instead of a backwoods lodge, they offer more modern elements tied to its roots including the Eddie Bauer Ice Box, a cold chamber recently installed in its Seattle flagship where customers can test product. “It’s really cool — literally,” he said.
Since 2009, Eddie Bauer has been owned by Golden Gate Capital, a private equity firm, and Egeck knows that someday the group will want to cash in. “But they’re patient investors and will to wait for companies to mature so they get more out of their investment.”