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Tim Boyle charts the future as Columbia Sportswear turns 75

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Articles - February 2013
Monday, January 28, 2013


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// Photo by Anthony Pidgeon

Boyle has heard the criticism, seen the numbers and is making adjustments accordingly. Today “elevating the brand” is the company mantra, he says. “But could we have better financial results if we took a slightly different approach? To the extent we think we can, we will be modifying our behavior.” In fact, last fall the company began tweaking its innovation strategy, aiming to roll out new products at a more sustainable pace.

The plan has lofty origins: Diffusion of Innovations, a widely acclaimed book based on a study of hybrid-corn adoption in the 1950s. The model shows how new ideas and technologies are diffused throughout the population. “There are the early adopters, the early and late majority, and then there are the laggards,” says Boyle, pulling out a chart summarizing the concept. “Laggards are the people who are going to get a phone call from the phone company saying we’re taking away your rotary now.”

Where is Boyle on the Diffusions of Innovation scale? A self-identified laggard, on account of his Twitter- and Facebook-free status. Boyle also owns a 7-year-old hunting jacket “not because we don’t continue to improve, but because I know where stuff is and it’s still working great.”

The Columbia plan is to spend more money on sales and marketing so consumers have more time to learn about and latch onto Omni technologies. “It’s all about timing, cadence,” says Boyle.

It’s also about getting the company’s entrepreneurial rhythm back. Between 2001-04, Columbia was producing profit margins in the 20% range, the kind of surplus that allowed the company to build a great balance sheet, Boyle says. The company has no debt and holds about $200 million in cash. “But you could argue,” he says, “that we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, and should have plowed more money into marketing to forestall other competitors from coming into the marketplace.”




0 #1 RE: Tim Boyle charts the future as Columbia Sportswear turns 75Guest 2013-01-28 20:18:46
Well written article about an iconic Oregon company.
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0 #2 family roots/made in americaGuest 2013-01-28 20:24:09
Tim Boyle is certainly one of the smartest outdoor ragman since the Bishops built woolens before him at Pendleton. Having been an important supplier to Columbia in insulations and fabrics when Columbia was made in America the present duck blind he is facing might be better viewed in a study of the older and more iconic denim brand Levis. The family bought back the company from Wall Street rather than keep shifting sand into more items to attach its famous brand.
Keeping things in Oregon gives a special meaning to Columbia who then could begin to build things again in America with american manufacturing to create jobs and mote intelligent sourcing and product development. The bittersweet loss of Columbia not making things in America finds sweet chocolates in that old building and the empty hollows of a famous woolen mill across the street. Kids today need jobs not plane tickets to be global and one tough mother might really pay attention to the nest called made in America.

Doug Hoschek
inventor of Polarfleece
(owner) Wiggy's Oregon made in America retail store
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0 #3 Technology DrivenGuest 2013-02-25 17:45:02
Their IT group spends WAY too much for their size - the numbers do not lie. SAP is repaving the same old cow path and they buy technology because it's 'cool'. Columbia is really an IT company disguised as an apparel company. They will never break through because of the weight of their cost structure.
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