After 125 years of developing into a major player in Europe, add German backpack brand Deuter to the growing list of European outdoor companies making a dedicated push for market share in North America.
Deuter began in North America as a distributor in 2001 and is now a wholly owned subsidiary with about 20 employees and products in approximately 300 doors.
The company sells a wide range of packs for hiking, backpacking, skiing, trail running, and more. It’s also well-known for its child carriers.
Deuter is on a push to expand its employee headcount and its product offerings in the U.S., according to Jonathan Degenhardt, U.S. managing director for Deuter and sister brand Ortovox.
He ranks Deuter in the top handful of brands for technical outdoor packs in the U.S., and the company wants to “move up a notch.”
The Daily spoke with Degenhardt about Deuter’s business in the U.S., expanding its operations, and its retail strategy.
Comparing Europe Business to U.S.
Some outdoor industry analysts assert that U.S.-owned companies are better at marketing than their counterparts in Europe.
Degenhardt said there’s a subtle difference. “There’s a willingness to promote product in the U.S., whereas in Europe it’s about promoting brands,” he added.
For instance, in the U.S., brands have no qualms about promoting products as sustainable, Degenhardt said.
In Europe, the caution around greenwashing “is real,” he added. “People would rather be 110% sure of something or maybe only hint at it. In the U.S., people will lead with environmental statements then worry about backing it up later.”
Third-Party Warehouse Solution
To help set up the company for the growth potential in the market, over the past year and a half Deuter has expanded its footprint in the U.S. and moved its distribution to a third-party logistics provider.
Deuter had its own warehouse in Longmont, Colorado, but its stock outgrew its available space by 400%, Degenhardt said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of products coming through the supply chain was “feast or famine,” according to Degenhardt.
The famine periods meant the staff could handle the work, but there wasn’t enough revenue with the low amount of product coming in. During the feast periods, they had so much supply they didn’t know where to put it.
“Between all of those pressures, we decided that we were going to move our distribution to something that we could scale for,” Degenhardt said. The company outsourced the warehousing to a 3PL in Fontana, California, called NRI that’s been around for more than two decades.
NRI had ample space to store some of Deuter’s larger SKUs and its proximity to the port of Long Beach was another plus. Eliminating a train and truck step in the supply chain in the middle of the pandemic saved up to six weeks in go-to market time, Degenhardt said.
Boulder Office Relocation
Along with the warehouse, Deuter was running an office in Longmont, Colorado. When it moved the storage, it started looking for a new office, settling on Boulder after making a map of all its employees’ zip codes and deciding the city was the best located.
The new office is under renovation and will have a showroom for both Deuter and Ortovox when finished. There’s also plenty of room for the business to scale up, according to Degenhardt.
Deuter’s retail strategy is split into a few prongs, including selling into outdoor chain stores, outdoor specialty brick-and-mortar retailers, and outdoor specialty online sellers.
Deuter sells into some stores that are more on the hunting and fishing side, such as Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, and Scheel’s.
As more of a traditional outdoor brand, Deuter isn’t focused much on e-commerce, according to Degenhardt. “Even in Europe, we didn’t have a direct e-commerce channel until about four years ago,” he said.
Deuter doesn’t want to directly compete with its retailers, he added.
“We’re a premium brand in quality and price point, and we’re not looking to undercut them,” he said.
The brand also has a small division of special projects that it calls direct sales, where it makes one-off solutions for brands.
For example, the NOLS Expedition Pack was designed by Deuter specifically for the National Outdoor Leadership School. Deuter also works on projects for Swarovski’s spotting scopes and for the National Ski Patrol.
New Products in the Pipeline
At the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect show in Kansas City, Missouri, in November, Alexander Cernichiari, marketing manager for Deuter, said many of Deuter’s up-and-coming products were geared to backcountry users.
Deuter featured the Alproof avalanche airbag backpacks, including 36- and 38-liter options.
While Deuter has had airbag systems for about a decade, the company is reinvesting in the technology and development process for the airbag-style packs, Cernichiari said.
The rise of people getting into the backcountry during the pandemic helped spur this product development, as well as Deuter’s push to position itself as a premier technical brand, according to Cernichiari.
Deuter is also updating its travel line, using fully recycled main body fabric that is Bluesign certified.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.