Columbia…out with the old in with the old

The Columbia we have come to know is nothing out of the ordinary or a brand that seems like a must have. Although the company was established in 1938, it put itself back on the map in the mid-80’s with the innovative Bugaboo parka which was the first jacket to utilize the zip in mid layers. Well, that was a long time ago and Columbia has taken upon a culture shift to get back to their innovative ways by developing some really out of the ordinary technologies such as Omni-Heat. This thermel technology functions on three levels: electric, reflective, and insulated across the line from base layers to outer layers.

I attended their media event this past week in NYC which provided a further glimpse into the excitement they feel about the resurgence of a revitalized product offering.  I had a conversation with Dan Hanson-VP of Marketing during which he noted that they had rested on their laurels and have truly embraced change to propel the company’s development to the next level. I couldn’t help but think how so many companies have been “innovating” recently by going back to the roots of their original success. Columbia is truly innovating while embracing their roots. You may have noticed other companies follow this pattern in the last year such as Woolrich, Levi’s, Eddie Bauer (hired a historian), and LL Bean- Signature Collection…another post for another day.  As a company, Columbia holds themselves responsible for not giving the person with a 10 year old jacket a good reason to replace it for something new.

The shift Columbia made was driven by getting out to hear what customers thought of their product, listening to their feedback and understanding their placement in the retail market worldwide. The new line has been creating a buzz; outdoor industry folks are taking note. I didn’t get a chance to stand in their touring freezer set at -20°F  but I did get to try out the gloves that utilize OutDry membrane to keep things dry, and they were up to task pulling beers out of the cold ice water. That there  is some solid product testing.

While Columbia is starting to get back into the game with their Omni Heat line up, they still feel that companies like lululemon athletica  are a visible threat in the sportswear market and they intend to charge forward to reestablish themselves as a sportswear industry leader.

The jury is still out on the success of the Columbia campaign but they are most certainly making waves. I do look forward to revisiting this post in Spring 2011.

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