When VF Corp acquired adventure travel brand EAGLE CREEK in 2007, it had high hopes for its development. In June 2021, it announced that the brand would cease business operations by the year-end because of strategic and financial considerations.
When no announcement about a possible sale was made, retail partners and brand fans were resigned to the likely demise of a major outdoor brand, founded in the heady days of the mid-70s by Steve and Nona Barker. However, its future now looks bright with the announcement that an independent holding company, Eagle Creek Holdings LLC, acquired Eagle Creek from VF Corp in Sept 2021.
The new company is owned by Travis Campbell, a longtime executive in the outdoor industry, most recently holding leadership positions at VF (President of Emerging Brands, GM Americas for The North Face, President of Smartwool). John Traynor caught up with him in Munich.
How did you feel when you heard VF Corp were closing down Eagle Creek?
I knew Eagle Creek before my time at VF, just as an average outdoor industry and travel user. Then through my time at VF, I got to know the brand and the business and lots of people. When the decision was made to get rid of the brand, you know, I took a lot of phone calls from a lot of people who were disappointed in the decision and, at the end of the day, I was in a unique position to be able to do something about it.
In what way unique?
I mean it ultimately was the VF connection. So I knew the benefits and the costs of what they were trying to do and how they were trying to do it. And so, the fact that they knew me and I knew them allowed us to have a very transparent and fast conversation around the future for the brand and how we might be able to screenshot this.
Trust is the grease that makes the world go around. I felt incredibly fortunate to be able to have that level of trust. Once we actually closed the transaction, then we had a six-month window where VF continued to run the backend of the business for us and that’s what gave us the platform and the time to be able to hire new people, instead of considering all that stuff in the middle of a pandemic.
Did you think travel had a future?
Yeah, it’s a great question. I would say first and foremost, I believe that the brand had a future and I say that because that’s probably the genesis of what gave me that comfort to actually go ahead and do the transaction.
Like, there’s this emotional engagement between the bags that have taken people to, to Europe or to Africa or, you know, and their honeymoon, or whatever it is. That was like, oh, we can rebuild this business. I think many brands underestimate how we look at performance as opposed to emotion. And it has to be both, right?
Where do you see the brand in five years?
I think that’s a great question. I’ve had people ask me, what does success look like for us, right? I’d like to think that that is too narrow of a question, right? Because we’re trying to judge success on so many different levels.
We want to, at the end of the day, be a good business and at its root you have to be a good business to be able to then do good outside of just being a business. And so I think we’re going to start telling that story more visibly again and talking about responsible travel and how we can play a role that and in addition to making sustainable product and things like that.
That’s a long way of not answering! I think what we will look like is a lot of what we are today, you know, which is a business at that nexus of outdoor and travel, and sort of uniquely positioned between those two.
Where does the balance lie?
We’re not purely an outdoor business. We’re not purely a travel business and I think that’s been the unique thing I want about distribution. I would say probably less distribution than we have today in a lot of ways.
I think, like lots of long-term businesses, we were showing up in places that are not appropriate. I always say we want to be partnered with retailers that are investing rather than harvesting. And what I mean by that is the best retailers in the world understand their brand and the brands that they curate in their shops and online and they’re investing in the overall ecosystem of either travel or outdoor and fundamentally giving back.
And those are value, added transactions. And then there’s transactions that just happen and they’re purely economic. And we’ll also sell more of our line direct because there’s a big component of being able to control your assortment such that it fits in with your brand and, ultimately, control what’s going on.
So that brings us to Eagle Creek innovation.
Maybe we’re in the mix of it. You know, the great thing is we actually inherited a few products that had not been brought to market that we were able to commercialise and now we’re launching here for Spring 23. And we’ve hired a product team now that’s focused on kind of spring 24 and beyond.
You know, I think we’ve got lots of opportunity around continuing to bring fabric innovation into the space, both in terms of sustainability and durability and sort of all the traditional things that we’ve been known for. So, probably not a lot of new categories. I actually think we’re in basically the right categories and so it’s really about refining, what we’re offering within those categories.
What’s your favourite?
That’s a difficult one. I, you know, I think if I had to answer that right now, I think our duffel product. I think between our Migrate duffels and our cargo hauler duffels when I look at what we’re doing there, I just think it’s great product. It’s super sustainable and very relevant to where we should be from an offering standpoint.