Thule's first line of technical backpacks, which was launched at the OutDoor fair in Friedrichshafen last July, is making its retail debut this month at specialty outdoor stores like Naturkompaniet and Outnorth in Sweden or Globetrotter in Germany. The distribution of the packs, which are protected by several patents, is going to be extended gradually to other retailers in other countries over the next seasons.
These retailers and others, including for example Décathlon, are already clients of the Swedish company for its clever child carriers, which have been developed for different sales channels. One of the newest models, including a functional carrier that can be transformed for hiking, running, skiing and other activities, was shown at the recent Ispo Munich show along with other new products including a new line of functional daypacks, a ski backpack and one specifically developed to contain a camera case for GoPro action cameras.
A few days ago, Thule won a gold award for a front-mounted child bike seat in the iF Product Design Awards, joining other gold winners such as the Apple Watch, the Sony Xperia Z2 tablet, a new road bike by Canyon Bikes and the Urbanite headphones of Sennheiser. It won another iF award for a jogging stroller, the Thule Urban Glide.
All these new products belong to Thule Group's Outdoor & Bags segment, which raised its sales by 10.0 percent to 4,205 million Swedish kronor (€460.3m-$484.6m) in 2014, with growth of 5.1 percent in local currencies. Sales were flat in the Americas but grew by 8.4 percent in Europe and the rest of the world in constant currencies, reaching SEK 2,761 million (€302.1m-$318.0m). The operating margin (Ebit) of the division improved to 18.4 percent from 17.4 percent in the previous year.
Including other operations, some of which have been divested, the Swedish group reported an adjusted sales of 3.5 percent to SEK 4,693 million for the year. The gross margin improved to 39.0 percent from 37.3 percent, and the operating margin to 12.8 percent to 11.9 percent. Before accounting for discontinued operations, the bottom line showed a consolidated net profit of SEK 199 million (€21.8m-$23.0m), down from SEK 299 million.
Thule went public last November. In the fourth quarter, sales went up by 11.4 percent in the Outdoor & Bags segment, but only by 1.9 percent on a currency-neutral basis. Total sales rose by 5.6 percent to SEK 976 million (€106.8m-$112.5m), but they were off by 3.3 percent in local currencies because of lower sales of snow chains due to limited snowfalls in Central Europe. Increased expenses associated with product development and the launch of new products led to decline in the underlying quarterly operating margin to 3.8 percent from 4.9 percent in the year-ago period.
Meanwhile, Thule announced its partnership with Bluesign Technologies to ensure that the textile products it uses in its packs, bags and cases adhere to the highest environmental standards. The company has also released its third Environmental Report, which shows it reached a mid-term goal last year of having more than 50 percent of all the electricity used sourced from renewable sources. The ratio should grow to 60 percent by the end of 2016. Furthermore, the recycling rate has improved to more than 90 percent, approaching the 2016 target of 95 percent.