The North Face (TNF) is preparing to more intensely target female consumers in Europe next year, after the integration of the former Lucy brand into the outdoor company's range. Women's products currently make up about 30 percent of TNF's sales in the region across all product categories.
VF Corporation, the owner of TNF, decided earlier this year to wind down Lucy and integrate its ranges into TNF's former Mountain Athletics category, which has been renamed Run and Train. The Lucy brand, which has been focusing on women's training, will disappear from the market.
Anyhow, consumer awareness of the brand was relatively weak and restricted to North America, and its performance had been uneven over the years. VF figured out that it could leverage the TNF's brand appeal and distribution to cover the same category more efficiently.
The Run and Train category makes up about 7 percent of TNF's global sales and 3 percent of its turnover in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). This compares with 58 percent of European sales for the Mountain Sports category, 30 percent for Mountain Lifestyle and 9 percent for Urban Exploration.
The integration of the Lucy's product range into TNF should be all the more effective in Europe and other international markets, since Lucy products were not distributed in these countries. The interest of female consumers in TNF is confirmed by the performance of the brand's own stores, where sales of women's products are higher than average.
Lucy's input should become clear in an aspirational campaign being prepared for spring 2018. An array of new TNF-branded products designed for women will be launched across all product groups for the season, and the outdoor brand's marketing activities will more strongly put forward the female athletes who endorse it, participating in product testing and appearing on social networks.
The target set out at VF's investor day earlier this year for TNF's former Mountain Athletics category is to reach an average annual growth in the low-teens percentage rate, in order to double its size in the next five years. TNF's three other categories focus on mountain sports, mountain lifestyle and what the company describes as “urban exploration.” An overarching target is to increase sales of footwear, which make up 11 percent of TNF's sales in EMEA, compared with around 10 percent globally. TNF's management wants them to represent 18 percent of sales in the region.
The stronger emphasis on women's products in Europe is one of the initiatives driven by Kath Smith, TNF's vice president and general manager for EMEA since March. She joined TNF in October 2015 as vice president in charge of sales in the same region, after assignments with international consumer goods companies such as Mars, Diageo and the Adidas Group.
Smith wants to take advantage of TNF's wingspan by pursuing a segmentation strategy started in Europe last year – along the same lines as the tactics adopted several years ago by leading sports brands such as Nike and Adidas. It contributed to a double-digit sales rise for TNF last year in EMEA and probably encouraged VF to appoint Smith's predecessor, Arne Arens, as global brand president for TNF in May.
For this purpose, TNF has recruited several European managers from leading sports and outdoor companies. They include Carola Arnold, who became sales director for the German-speaking countries in February. She previously spent several years at Nike, ending up as category sales director in Western Europe. Another newcomer is Darren Shooter, who became design director for TNF in June. He is a design consultant who has worked for a number of sports brands and previously created the Black Mountain Clothing Company.
Another important aspect of TNF's strategic development in Europe is sustainability. Julian Lings switched from Tesco, the British retail group, in December 2015 to lead sustainability and corporate social responsibility efforts at TNF in EMEA. Among the sustainability initiatives that are set to be expanded next year is Clothes the Loop, a program that encourages consumers to bring used clothes to participating stores.
The 26 percent increase in TNF's sales in the EMEA region during the second quarter of this year (see separate article on VF's results in this issue) was partly attributed to a number of initiatives taken in the last 18 months to improve the product development process, sales and merchandising. They have been partly aimed at enabling greater differentiation among major retailers, including big e-tailers such as Asos and Zalando.
New technical experts have been appointed recently to work with retailers in Austria and Northern Italy. At the same time, TNF stores in major European cities and resorts - including London, Paris, Munich, Berlin, Milan and Chamonix - have started weekly programs to engage the local communities.