Kevin Bailey doesn’t skateboard, but he oversees a more than $2 billion empire that’s become an industry case study on smart distribution that avoids brand dilution. The company will soon begin its Warped Tour music festival and in July will host the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing. Plus, all employees are preparing for a move to new global headquarters in Costa Mesa, Calif., that Bailey envisions as a connected space aimed at inspiring workers to continue building a brand he said is “about way more than making sneakers and T-shirts.”
Vans recently announced its U.S. Open of Surfing sponsorship renewal. Why was that important for the brand?
For the Vans brand, we talk a bout two things: defend and extend. And that’s our backyard, right? It’s a chance to bring to life the pillars of the brand, whether it be through the surfing competitions or the Van Doren Invitational BMX competition or, now this year, we’re adding the Pro Skate Park Series.
Being able to have all those things in one place enables us to display who our brand is comprehensively…for consumers to get to know the brand rather than going, “Oh, that’s the 15-year-old skateboard-boy brand.”
This is year 21 for the Vans Warped Tour. What approach was taken with the lineup?
We’ve always tried to bring together diverse views of music and this year, we’re really looking into the vault of people we’ve had relationships with for years and trying to mix it up. It probably was getting a little too much toward the pop version of what was out there and I think we decided to bring it back, with [Warped Tour founder] Kevin Lyman, to a better place.
Vans hit its $2.2 billion sales goal early, so what’s next?
We’re continuing to push against a number of different things. In our eyes, Vans should always be a part of the fabric of the youth culture. The reality of youth culture today is it’s extremely diverse. For us, as we’ve gone global, it’s taking those diverse points of view and coming up with one point of view that’s global. We don’t want to ever be about selling California to the world. That’s not what the world wants.…So geographic expansion is one of our key growth drivers and then thinking about production innovation.
How do you personally stay tapped into youth culture?
I joked somewhere recently that I was the world’s oldest teenager, and I’ve actually had it repeated back to me by people, which is goofy. But music’s always been really important to me. I read a lot.
I love design and curation. I went to art school briefly. Not good at it. So Vans always felt like a great fit to me because art and music drove me here, not skateboarding. Your move (from Cypress, Calif.) to new offices next year will be the first time Vans will own its headquarters.
How does that feel?
That’s exciting because it’s our home now instead of a rented space. We’re looking to do some things to create an environment that fosters creativity and collaboration.…We have to make sure we build a world that makes sense to young people coming in, which means they want to work anywhere they want, however they want, with whoever they want.
So how do we do that and not feel like Dilbert and “Office Space”? That’s really important to us.