Certain U.S. outdoor consumers are always looking for the next, cool new thing, especially when seeking out high-quality technical outerwear.
As established brands grow more successful and more visible, retailers tell us some discerning consumers start to believe brands are watered-down, or simply not as cool as they used to be, and move on.
Those customers are perfectly poised to discover a brand like Norway’s Norrøna, which has a small but growing presence in the American market and is working to gain market awareness by adding a couple of employees in Boulder, Colorado, and expanding its reach.
Founded in 1929 in Oslo, Norrøna makes a vast range of outdoor products for the European market. In the U.S., however, its assortment is much more limited and targets technical outerwear.
“The brand is strong and growing in the U.S.,” said Andi Malboeuf, U.S. national sales manager for Norrøna and an outdoor industry veteran. “It’s also niche.”
While Norrøna is sold in about 150 wholesale accounts across the country, the overall lack of awareness is a big hurdle.
“I’m shocked at how many people do not know this brand,” Malboeuf said.
The Daily spoke with Malboeuf about the company’s plans for the American market, the challenge of growing brand awareness, and tailoring products to U.S. customers.
Raising Brand Awareness
In May, Malboeuf replaced Adam Chamberlain when he moved to lead another brand on the rise, Rab.
As someone with an extensive outdoor background, Malboeuf said she got a lot of compliments about the move from other industry professionals and thought everyone, including mainstream consumers, knew the brand as well as she did.
“I came in just assuming that you walk into a store, and you look for Arc’teryx and you look for Norrøna and you make a choice,” she said. But that hasn’t been the case. “I walk in and they’re like ‘what’s Norrøna?’”
Overall, about 70% of the territories that the brand is selling into don’t know much about the brand, she added. To help with that, Norrøna has 13 reps that have opened specialty retail around the country and are constantly working on opening more.
So far, Norrøna’s market penetration is better in Western states including Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana, Malboeuf said. The plan is to expand into the Midwest and the Southwest.
The Northeast is also ripe for expansion, though Malboeuf sees it as very weather dependent.
Her goal is to build on the “solid” distribution Norrøna already has, including a successful partnership with Backcountry.com.
“The brand has a long way to go,” she said. “It’s still very small and exciting.”
Malboeuf highlights Norrøna’s craftmanship and its sustainability story, including its repair policy, as two factors to lean on when pushing for more distribution.
Modest Growth Strategy
Despite the brand’s ambition to grow market share in the U.S., there isn’t a plan to grow distribution by discounting or lowering price, according to Malboeuf.
“We are very cautious about loyalty, about staying true to the brand and holding price,” she said. “Norrøna is one of the few companies that I have ever seen that will not discount on their website and will not discount in their retail stores.” The brand is also very strict with its MAP policies, Malboeuf added.
Norrøna’s full-price retail fleet includes one store in Soho in New York City and one on Pearl Street in Boulder. In addition, the brand has an outlet store in Castle Rock, Colorado, and plans to open another on Newbury Street in Boston this March.
The outlet store in Castle Rock is another way for the brand to control price, sell expired samples, and avoid discounting excess inventory.
Globally, the company operates 35 Norrøna banded stores, five partner doors, and sells in 1,500 specialty wholesale accounts. The company has about 175 full-time employees.
Norrøna’s growth goals are modest. The company isn’t expecting a 50% increase in sales in six months, Malboeuf said, but wants to continue to grow at a steady rate.
“It’s been a slow introduction into the U.S. because we want to do it right,” she added.
Targeting the U.S. Consumer
At Bill and Paul’s Sporthaus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Norrøna has been a standout.
According to Jon Holmes, director of marketing and e-commerce, the brand is attracting the Arc’teryx customer who is searching for the next hot brand that offers premium performance.
“They’re the early adopters who don’t want to look like everyone else,” he added. “They want a brand that nobody else is wearing, but they also expect performance.”
One challenge for the brand is that European fits and sizing don’t always match up with American body types. Norwegians are typically tall and slender, according to Malboeuf.
To accommodate that, Norrøna is focused on tweaking some of the best sellers in Norway to make sure they fit customers here. The brand also offers two options in each of the lines it sells in the U.S.: technical and regular fit.
Technical products are the brand’s specialty. Malboeuf said when she’s working with outdoor specialty retailers, the goal is to get Norrøna’s products displayed next to the top five or six similar brands in the market.
“Brands that have good technical quality, high-price point clothing that is functional and that has a lot of craftsmanship,” she said.
While several European outdoor brands, including Mammut, Rab, and Deuter, have said they are targeting the U.S. market, Malboeuf admits that breaking in isn’t easy.
“We’ve seen a ton of brands, over many, many years, not really be able to do it, or at least do it the way they had hoped,” she said.
But when European companies look at the data, including the sheer number of outdoor industry participants in the U.S., it makes sense that they would try to grow their business here.
The trick is finding that angle on the market, and for Norrøna, their approach is to focus on certain areas, including skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and mountaineering.
“We’re trying to really focus on what are our best products with the most growth opportunity in the U.S.,” Malboeuf said.
Like the European fits, not all aspects of Norrøna’s products immediately translate to U.S. market. For example, its summer collection is designed for Norway’s relatively colder, wetter conditions, and is heavier than what American consumers might want or need in the blazing heat.
GORE-TEX jackets and softshell pants aren’t what people are packing on a visit to Moab in July, Malboeuf said.
To cater to that summer U.S. outdoor enthusiast, Norrøna introduced 12 new pairs of lightweight hiking pants and shorts.
“Things that are a little bit less technical but still extremely active,” Malboeuf said.
As for the company’s three-year future growth plan, Malboeuf is keeping that under wraps for the moment.
“We’re just excited to grow financially in the U.S., but also grow responsibly and keep that customer base true to who we believe we sell to,” she said. “In general, I think we have a good plan. I think we have a good base for distribution, and we know where we need to be.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.