Timberland, the outdoor brand best known for its sturdy tan nubuck boots enveloping the the feet of hip hop icons, is in the midst of a hugely successful turnaround after years of lackluster sales. Timberland’s revenue was basically flat from 2006 to 2012, and it was losing market share here in North Americas (the brand’s home turf) as it staggered forward under a confusing welter of different marketing and product strategies.
In the past year, though, Timberland has staged an impressive turnaround, with sales climbing 15% in the most recent quarter even as the broader retail industry posted only modest growth. Sales have improved in every global market and every product category, delivering a juicy profit margin — up from 8 percent in 2011 to around 13 percent in 2014.
Bought in 2011 by VF Corp., an $11 billion apparel company based in Greensboro, N.C., Timberland’s brand reboot has been the result of a two-year qualitative and quantitative study of customer data and insights. The company used information from about 18,000 customers in eight countries to help identify its ideal customer: “an urban dweller with a casual interest in the outdoors,” or what Timberland calls an Outdoor Lifestyler. That revelation led to a seismic shift in Timberland’s design and marketing from performance and utility to fashion and style.
Who is an Outdoor Lifestyler and what do they want?
Timberland surveyed thousands of current and potential customers about their preferences and lifestyles. How much did they care about what other people thought of their look? How important was it to get a good price? How much were they into the outdoors?
“[The Outdoor Lifestyler] is definitely connected to the outdoors, but in a more casual, everyday way,” Timberland’s VP of global marketing Jim Davey told the Post. “They care about the outdoors, but they also care about style. It was really important to them to look right for the occasion.”
The Outdoor Lifestyler, in other words, is a city dweller who goes for a casual afternoon hike or someone who leaves her house in the morning not knowing if she’s going to spend her afternoon at the park or at the movies. It’s someone who wants versatile clothes that blend in rather than stand out.
In pursuing this new persona, Timberland is also able to leverage other social trends (lumbersexuals anyone?) as well as fashion trends like athleisure. Gym clothes are making their way out of the gym and becoming a larger part of people’s everyday wardrobes, and Timberland is tapping a similar desire for clothes that offer flexibility and versatility. Plus, with the emerging popularity in cities of bike-sharing programs and farm-to-table restaurants, it seems plenty of city dwellers prefer an urban life that remains tangentially connected to the outdoors.
Timberland’s switch to a consumer-data-driven approach reflects a broader change in an industry where the power dynamics between retailer and customer have shifted to favor the shopper, and armed with a better understand of who shops for the brand and why, we expect this iconic American brand to continue its hike back to relevancy and profitability.