SALOMON SHARPENS ITS EDGES
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — At this winter’s Olympics, 33 alpine skiers wearing Salomon equipment picked up medals, which is not bad for a company that didn’t even make skis 10 years ago.
The brand also scored seven snowboard medals, even though it has only been making them for five years.
Despite that progress, Salomon chief executive officer Jean-Luc Diard said he is focused on the future and asks his employees to be equally introspective.
“You can never have peace in your sense of achievement,” Diard said. “When I look in the mirror five years from now, I want to know, ‘What has been my real contribution to sports, and what can I be absolutely proud of?”‘
Having worked for the company for the past two decades, Diard isn’t swept away with idealism and recognizes from where the bulk of his business is derived.
“Ninety percent of the time, what we do will be for the everyday consumer,” he said.
Four-and-one-half years after Adidas acquired the Salomon Group, which includes the Salomon, TaylorMade, Mavic and Bonfire labels, Salomon is hustling to build its core business. In December, Salomon acquired Arc’teryx, a Canadian company that specializes in backpacks and climbing gear.
Now, Salomon — the $714 million ski brand — has branched out beyond bindings, other equipment and footwear, adding apparel to its mix last fall. First-year apparel sales topped $1 million, which is “enough to make a dent,” according to James Curleigh, president and ceo of Salomon North America. Annual apparel sales are expected to at least double every year for the next three years, and a move is under way to unify the brand’s design and work force, he said.
In September, Salomon will relocate to a 23,000-square-foot building in the Adidas-Salomon AG four-building “village” in downtown Portland, instead of sharing a building with Adidas, as is the case at their old space in nearby Beaverton. There will also be a soccer field, tennis and basketball courts that will be open to the public at times.
To try to rally the troops, Salomon included a wide scope of its employees in its Olympic festivities. Instead of relying on sales and marketing executives, the usual suspects for support staff at special events, the brand called in administrative, production and technology types, as well. The aim was to boost morale, encourage greater pride in workmanship and bond with the consumers, stores and athletes they serve, Diard said.
“When you’re in the front office, there’s only so much team spirit you can bring out,” he said. “But when you’re in front of athletes and customers working 15 hour days, you get a whole new view.”
Salomon is relocating its U.S. design center to its global offices in Anisee, France, from Boulder, Colo. About half of the 50 members of the design team who currently work in the U.S. are moving to France.
The 35-year-old Curleigh, who left TaylorMade in Europe about 18 months ago to head up Salomon in the U.S., said of the apparel effort, “In some cases, our sales were better than 50 percent in favor of women. That’s an indication that women are picking up on our trends, styles and colors more than men.”
Despite being a performance-driven company, Salomon sees the opportunity in apparel beyond the sports world. Schoeller’s wetsuit-type jackets and other coverups are offered in white, aqua, cantaloupe and a variety of other colors that aren’t typically found on the mountain. Last month, Kim Speed, founder of the Below Zero snowboarding line, joined Salomon as apparel category manager. In recent years, she designed apparel for Fila, Ecko, Moncler and Gravis.
Building on last fall’s strong points, this fall’s stylish, highly technical line has items with hidden pockets for MP3 players, cell phones, sunglasses and iPods. Jackets have hoods with molded bills to wear over ski helmets, fleece-lined neck gators, pants with scuff-guard insets and side-zipper panels to improve ventilation.
Kristi Brown, sports marketing director of apparel, said, “We can make a waterproof product, but we want it to be one people will want to wear all the time.”
Many nonathletic shoppers at Princeton Ski Shop on East 22nd Street in Manhattan, picked up Salomon jackets to wear around town, even though they are totally functional for the mountains, said Tricia Casale, clothing manager and buyer at the store. The $280 Schoeller jacket was a favorite item since it can be worn nearly all year round. The brand’s sweaters were also popular, Casale said.
“It’s definitely very cool looking and sleek, and it keeps you warm,” she said. “People are catching onto it. They also like that it doesn’t have a huge patch that says ‘Salomon.’ The logo is embossed. It’s more low-key.”
Troy Ballard, Salomon North America’s softgoods activity director, said, “Our consumer is influenced by a much broader world than alpine sports, surfing or snowboarding. We’re also looking toward a younger, more progressive and aggressive consumer.”
One of the more impressive items is what the company calls “the desktop,” a shell jacket with a zip-front vest that has multiple pockets and is designed to hug the body like a climbing pack does.
“This person doesn’t want to scream, ‘I’m a techie.”‘ Ballard said.
Salomon’s greatest challenge, perhaps, is that its designs could be too advanced for these conservative times. Evan Josloff of Blades Board & Skate, said, “As a buyer, right now their stuff is too far out there because business is a little soft. Before everything hit the fan last fall, we were superstoked about how different their line was, even though it wasn’t for us.”
But Curleigh isn’t worried that stores didn’t get it with the first go-round. He said, “Our unofficial motto is, ‘Work in an aggressively patient way.”‘