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Monday, Aug 15, 2022
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Vans’ Action Man

Action sports might be the equivalent of a four-letter word for some apparel brands these days as everything from music and street influences encroach on the segment’s traditional territory.

Not so for Vans Inc., whose parent is looking to the boss of the Cypress-based brand to lead a newly formed group of its action- sports businesses.

Vans’ heritage is in skate shoes, and it also sells apparel. Its $1.7 billion in sales last year made it the second biggest brand in the stable of Greensboro, N.C.-based VF Corp., a 115-year-old stalwart in the apparel industry.

VF appears to be downright bullish on action sports, even as many competitors in the segment scramble to broaden their horizons as “lifestyle” brands. It recently gave Vans President Kevin Bailey the top post for the new group, which brings responsibility for two other brands: Reef sandals, and luggage line Eagle Creek. He’s now responsible for global operations of all three brands and will also shepherd other VF lines in Mexico that are considering converting businesses operated by licensees into direct-to-consumer, or company-owned operations. It’s a process Bailey is familiar with, given Vans’ recent experiences going direct in Mexico.

Bailey, who came to Vans in 2009 from Lucky Brand Jeans, spent last week juggling four sets of meeting calendars—for VF, Vans, Reef and Eagle Creek.

“It’ll be a hectic year getting my rhythm going,” he told the Business Journal.

His new role was mirrored in VF’s outdoor brands division with the promotion of Timberland President Patrik Frisk to coalition president of the outdoor division, which includes The North Face, Timberland and JanSport.

Both Frisk and Bailey report to Steve Rendle, who was promoted to a senior vice president’s post at VF.

A plus for Bailey as he starts his new duties: Both of the brands, with a shared Carlsbad headquarters and combined workforce of about 130, added to his roster are basically sound.

Reef, a 30-year-old premium sandal brand sold in surf shops, is building its business in the closed-toe footwear category and dabbling in apparel.

Eagle Creek has been growing its travel bag and luggage business with innovative products, such as radio-frequency identification blockers on money belts and wallets that protect the transfer of personal information.

“Neither are broken, so there’s no urgency to do anything with them,” Bailey said. “They have good leadership. I’m really going to act as more of a thought coach for the leadership of those brands.”

Vans, meanwhile, has been hot and is aiming to stay that way. It now has about 400 local employees, more than 400 company-owned stores, and the confidence of its parent. VF said in its annual report that it expects Vans to add $1.2 billion in annual sales to reach $2.9 billion by 2017.

“I’m keeping my eyes on this prize,” Bailey said, “and staying focused on Vans.”

The gains are expected to flow from new stores and international markets.

Vans restructured the leadership team roughly a year ago to bring more of a global viewpoint as it expands.

“The global structure that sat here at corporate had sort of a dual functionality,” Bailey said. “The global strategy came out of this [Cypress] office, as well as strategies and tactics for executives in the Americas—north, central and south. Europe had a specific structure in place. Asia had a specific structure, and I think, from their eyes, their business was growing rapidly, and the team based here was spending too much time being what I call ‘Ameri-centric’ and not enough time thinking about the global needs of the brand.”

He also said he was being spread too thin, which led to Doug Palladini’s promotion last year from vice president of global marketing to vice president and general manager of Vans Americas.

Last week the company announced the hiring of Fara Howard, the former executive director of consumer and small office marketing in North America for Dell Inc. of Round Rock, Texas.

“I’m really looking to elevate the key attributes from our marketing team from traditional, endemic action sports to more global thinking,” Bailey said.

The basics of the Vans brand are expected to remain in place as Bailey takes on his new duties.

He said he’s not planning to fill his prior job of Americas president at Vans for at least a year and will focus in the meantime on developing internal candidates for the post.

His timetable could be moved up if VF considers additional action sports acquisitions. Otherwise, it will be business as usual, if there is such a thing at a company expected to generate sales increases of about $300 million a year for the next four years.

Executives in Cypress say they’ll continue to remain in tune with their customers as Vans expands and as shoppers demand more from action-sports labels—a segment of the apparel industry that gained much of its market share printing logos on T-shirts.

“We’re seeing more of a return to consumer values around quality and brands,” Bailey said. “The days of big logos across your chests are long gone. Consumers are looking for brand styling that speaks to the brand but also speaks to them.”

Bailey’s also banking on high-fashion’s street-inspired sneaker looks to be a potential boon for Vans in the near-term.

So are a few companies that are looking to share in Vans’ general successes with its bread-and-butter footwear business.

Andy Mooney

Quiksilver Inc. Chief Executive Andy Mooney has been vocal about pushing his company’s DC Shoes business into the canvas vulcanized footwear segment and offering an entry-level priced shoe—an area around which Vans and competitor Converse have built billion-dollar businesses over several decades. Vulcanization is the process that converts rubber into a more durable and flexible material for a shoe sole.

“They’ve talked about it before,” Bailey said of the DC Shoes’ strategy. “It’s a difficult sector that’s really dominated by two brands. You have Vans and Converse occupying the canvas vulcanized space. Several other brands have tried to enter that space, with limited success. I think youth culture really gravitates towards certain brands. I think it’s a difficult space for a brand like DC. It’ll be interesting to see. Andy’s a smart guy.”

Bailey said he’ll remain focused on his own game plan for Vans.

“It’s an interesting time for Vans with what we’re going through and our rapid growth,” Bailey said. “We’ve been on a good ride, and I don’t see any reason for it to slow down, and now I’m hoping to more broadly contribute to the two other brands and the rest owned by VF” n

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