Vasque, the outdoor footwear brand of the Red Wing Shoes group, is moving ahead with plans to return to Western Europe after an absence of about three years. The company pulled out due to product issues that have since been resolved. It wants to set up a full-fledged European platform, including local production, and to get distribution started again in two to three years' time.
The plans are to be steered by John Irvine, who joined Vasque as director of international sales earlier this month. He replaced George Brown, a long-time international executive at Vasque, who retired earlier this year. Vasque will be searching for a European sales director to spearhead the company's return to that market.
It remains uncertain in what way exactly Vasque will organize the distribution of its products in Europe – either with its own structure or with sales agents supervised from the U.S. It will start by focusing on France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Spain and Scandinavia, among others, competing most directly on the European hiking footwear market with local brands such as Lowa, Scarpa and Hanwag.
For the time being about 80 percent of Vasque's turnover comes from North America. The remainder is chiefly generated by Japan, China and South Korea, plus some sales in Russia.
Three years ago, Vasque had appointed two distributors in Europe to cover most of the countries in the continent, but it did not work out, partly perhaps because the product was not quite competitive and adapted to the market at the time.
A company in Barcelona, Snow Factory, had agreed to take orders of Vasque shoes from clients in the Iberian Peninsula, France, Belgium and Italy through a network of agents, but then the Spanish company switched to Asolo at the beginning of 2012. Another partner in Germany, Euro Hunt, which was already distributing Red Wing's Irish Setter brand, agreed to cover the German-speaking countries and others in Eastern Europe, but the deal did not go very far, partly because of the company's specialization in the hunting market.
Irvine joined from Arc'teryx, where he was supervising international markets based out of Vancouver. For several years he worked with George Curleigh, a former Salomon and Arc'teryx manager who became Vasque's vice president and general manager in May 2012. In his new job, Irvine will continue to be based in Vancouver.
Vasque was established 50 years ago in Red Wing, Minnesota by William Sweasy, who spotted the spread of trekking and mountaineering on his travels in Europe in the early ‘sixties. Irvine noted that the company actually has had production in Italy for nearly two decades.