Columbia Sports­wear de­fies gloom by open­ing first Ir­ish stand­alone store

The Irish Times - - Business Today - MARK PAUL Busi­ness Af­fairs Cor­re­spon­dent

Columbia Sports­wear, a Nas­daq-listed man­u­fac­turer of out­door cloth­ing, will open its first Ir­ish stand­alone re­tail out­let to­day, as it brushes off the threat of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic by declar­ing it has “faced big­ger chal­lenges in our 82 years of busi­ness, and we per­se­vered”.

The 1,200sq m shop on Trin­ity Street in Dublin city cen­tre will open as a part­ner­ship with Ir­ish-owned re­tailer Great Out­doors which will run the busi­ness. De­spite the wide­spread col­lapse in re­tail sales due to the pan­demic, the new Columbia store aims to cap­i­talise on a post-virus con­sumer de­sire to en­gage in more out­door ac­tiv­i­ties.

Columbia’s Ore­geon-based pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive, Tim Boyle, whose fam­ily still owns a ma­jor­ity share, said its first Ir­ish store open­ing was three years in the mak­ing since it first struck a deal with Great Out­doors direc­tors Derek Moody and Ken Costi­gan. Columbia was pre­vi­ously only a sup­plier to Great Out­doors.

“When your last name is

Boyle, you had bet­ter have a pres­ence in Ire­land,” said the bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man, who is also well-known in the US an arch critic of its pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump. Mr Boyle’s Ir­ish roots in­clude his grand­fa­ther, whom he says im­mi­grated il­le­gally to the US in the last cen­tury.

E-com­merce vs ana­logue

Al­though Columbia has in­vested heav­ily in e-com­merce sales in re­cent years, Mr Boyle ar­gued it is still im­por­tant for brands to main­tain a phys­i­cal re­tail pres­ence. The com­pany, which has an­nual sales of more than $2.9 bil­lion (¤2.6 bil­lion), has a Euro­pean net­work of 36 stores. Most of its prod­ucts, in­clud­ing jack­ets and Sorel boots, are sold by third-party re­tail­ers. Mr Boyle joked that Ire­land’s rainy weather should boost sales of its brand, which vies with its ri­val North Face for out­door ap­parel cus­tomers.

“Hav­ing a stand­alone store for the brand gives cus­tomers the op­por­tu­nity to touch and feel the mer­chan­dise. You don’t get that with on­line,” said Mr Boyle. The 71-year-old busi­ness­man said, how­ever, that he had be­come a mem­ber of “the AA –

ana­logues anony­mous. We’ve got­ten more used to on­line sales and they are now a big part of our busi­ness.”

He said the pan­demic af­fected some of Columbia’s Asian sup­ply chain, but the com­pany en­tered the cri­sis with $750 mil­lion in cash on its balance sheet and no bank debt, “so we’re in bet­ter shape than our com­peti­tors”. On the re­tail side, Columbia be­gan re­open­ing its locked-down US stores in mid-May.

Mr Boyle said a hard Brexit later this year could com­pli­cate its UK op­er­a­tions, as its Euro­pean dis­tri­bu­tion hub is in France. It would not af­fect its Ir­ish op­er­a­tions, how­ever.

The out­spo­ken critic of the US pres­i­dent said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is “in­sane . . . and just ter­ri­bly wrong” in its ap­proach to sev­eral is­sues such as trade and im­mi­gra­tion. He be­lieves the US pres­i­dent may be beaten in the up­com­ing elec­tion.

‘Swayed by a con­man’

“Trump, with the help of other coun­tries, ap­pealed to the basest part of the US pop­u­la­tion. They were eas­ily swayed by a con­man, which Trump is. He fo­cuses on topics that are red meat to them. Hope­fully it will be all over in Jan­uary.”

The new Dublin Columbia store opens on US In­de­pen­dence Day, after three years and 20 sep­a­rate prop­erty view­ings by the Great Out­doors team. It will in­clude a “his­tory wall” from the Boyle fam­ily’s archives, as the fam­ily-con­trolled com­pany tries to high­light its Ir­ish links with the new ven­ture. The Great Out­doors direc­tors said Mr Boyle had made them “part of the fam­ily”.

Columbia’s Ore­geon-based pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive, Tim Boyle: “Hav­ing a stand­alone store for the brand gives cus­tomers the op­por­tu­nity to touch and feel the mer­chan­dise.”

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