Hikers want fast and light footwear, but they also want stability and durability. Hiking footwear company Oboz is trying to hit that sweet spot with several new products.
Oboz posted strong sales growth this year, added key outdoor accounts, and plans to expand its geographic footprint.
The brand originated in Bozeman, Montana in 2007, and was purchased by New Zealand-based KMD Brands in 2018.
The Daily spoke with Oboz President Amy Beck about current business trends, making that lighter, quicker footwear, and future plans for the brand.
Beck said the brand has just ended one of its best years, coming off a roller coaster during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, Vietnam shut down its factories as part of its pandemic lockdown protocol. Oboz lost production for 100 days and inventory ran down to nothing, Beck said. Not long after that the brand launched two new products.
“We’ve been having a lot of whiplash,” Beck said, and while last year didn’t meet order book expectations, it was still a “nice growth year.”
For the full year ended July 31, 2023, Oboz net sales grew 62% to NZ $99.3 million (US $59 million), according to parent company KMD Brands.
EBITDA grew 137% to NZ $7.9 million (US $4.7 million).
Looking ahead into the current fiscal year, Oboz and the footwear category overall has seen a softening of preseason orders. Beck chalks that up to the buying community dealing with canceled and revised orders for the past few years. Buyers want to stabilize their ordering, she said.
But the footwear category, particularly hiking, is still performing well, despite the leather hiking boot category slowing down.
“It peaked during those times when people were getting outside and hiking and buying their first pair of hiking boots,” Beck said. “We’ve definitely seen that slow from a traffic and a turn perspective.”
In response to consumer preference turning away from the more traditional leather hiking boot, Oboz launched shoes and boots designed to be quicker on the trail.
The main example of that is the Katabatic collection, which is lighter-weight hiking footwear.
In April, the owner of Jax Outdoor Gear in Colorado said the Katabatic shoes were getting strong interest.
“It’s faster, lighter, more athletic in feel and in nature, but has the same great attributes of the tried-and-true hiking product that we’ve delivered to folks,” Beck said.
Oboz has more in the pipeline from that same collection, targeting the crossover consumer who is wearing its style of shoes both on the trail and in town.
The success of the Katabatic has given Oboz some good intelligence on what to work on for future product categories.
The goal with the lighter products is to make footwear where the user can still carry a backpack and have stability but not lug around heavy boots.
To stay relevant, the brand has also updated its Sawtooth franchise. The Sawtooth X comes in both low and mid-height versions.
Oboz streamlined the design lines and changed the outsole-midsole package with more grip on the outsole to prevent slipping on wet surfaces.
“The old Sawtooth was a little meatier and toothier in the outsole and a little stiffer, so we softened the ride,” Beck said.
Beck admits that Oboz was late to the e-commerce party. It has always had a brand and information site online but didn’t start a site for business transactions until 2021, in the middle of the pandemic.
“Then we didn’t have any products,” she said. “You can image that didn’t go as planned.”
Since they set up the site, they have seen high demand, but the company is careful to make sure e-commerce lines up with its wholesale strategy.
“We’re not discounting continuously,” Beck said. “We’re not doing the things that are really challenging for our wholesale partners.”
For the year ended July 31, 2023, Oboz e-commerce sales grew 366% to NZ $5.6 million (US $3.3 million) according to KMD.
Oboz doesn’t have any of its own retail stores, and if the company went that route, it would mainly be for brand building, she added.
Oboz footwear is primarily sold through outdoor specialty retail and in fit-and-sit shoe stores.
Bright Spots Ahead
Looking toward the rest of the brand’s fiscal year, Oboz expects to navigate the same inventory challenges as the rest of the industry.
Beck hopes the issue doesn’t persist longer than about 12 months.
“The promotional activity is really high right now,” she said. “I think we’re going to see that continue for the second half of this calendar year. I’m hoping it starts to regulate itself going into 2024.”
Beck also pointed to the brand recently receiving its B Corp status. B Corps are for-profit organizations whose performance is measured across five impact areas: governance, workers, customers, community and the environment. The company is also proud that any product it’s shipping in 2023 and beyond is PFAS-free.
Oboz is pushing a new product for Spring 2024, the Cottonwood, that bridges hiking and casual wear. Beck said the footwear has all the usual hiking attributes but can also be worn off the trail.
The brand is also marketing its products through what it calls Oboz trail experiences. Oboz works with a retailer and a non-profit to challenge people to hike trails selected by Oboz’s local partners.
“We are trying to invite and excite people to get outside on the trails, whether it be for mental health or exercise, all the things that the outdoors does for us,” Beck said.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.