Adidas’ Greg Thomsen talks outdoors

NEW YORK (AP) — When 40-year outdoor industry veteran Greg Thomsen launched Adidas’s U.S. outdoors business back in 2010, he faced some big challenges.

The outdoors market was overcrowded, and retailers were skeptical of the German company’s youthful, brightly colored designs that contrasted with the muted tones then offered by rivals. Its European tight fit also stood out. But Thomsen, whose diverse experiences include roles as entrepreneur, product designer and marketer, had to prove the outdoors division wasn’t just a flash in the pan. He first concentrated on selling to specialty outdoor merchants to gain authenticity before branching out to big chains. Other suppliers later adopted bright colors. And Adidas tweaked the fit for the U.S. customer to make it more forgiving. Now the products, including shoes and clothing, are in more than 800 outdoor specialty and sporting goods retailers. Thomsen declined to comment on specific sales but in the last few years, Adidas Outdoor has had a compounded growth of more than 25%.

In January, Adidas Global confirmed that the management of the Adidas Outdoor business will move in-house and operations will move from Los Angeles to the division headquarters in Portland, Oregon by Dec. 31, 2020. Thomsen, chief outdoor officer of the division, says he plans to focus on making the transition as smooth and organized as possible.

The Associated Press recently spoke with Thomsen about the highly competitive outdoor market and other new challenges. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

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Q. Can you describe the scene when you first launched Adidas Outdoor in 2010?

A. At the time, no camping, footwear, apparel company had ever been able to break into the outdoor industry even though many have tried, including Adidas in the past. And what we found was the market was rather saturated with really good brands that had been around for 30 or 40 years. And all the retailers had all the space covered with the products that they were currently selling. So for us to break in, we actually had to take space away from existing brands, which is very difficult to do. The initial reaction was very skeptical. It was just a long hard discussion to prove that we weren’t going anywhere. That took about five years. Then it started to really take off because the product is really good.

Q. What are some of the trends in outdoors?

A. The blending of classic performance outdoor design with a new generation, streetwise details and sensibilities. In footwear, a good example of next generation design is the Free Hiker — a hiking boot that uses the newest technical performance materials and constructions that is equally suited for a backcountry trail or a fashion-forward city street scene.

Q. What about the trend of getting back to nature?

A. Similar to the rise of backpacking and adventure travel in the 1970s, the growth in car camping, van life, glamping and cultural travel are all growing areas of activity. Experiences over possessions. A growth in storytelling and experience-sharing, with everything documented on Facebook or Instagram as a means of identifying (and being labeled) as an environmentally-minded, active outdoor enthusiast.

At Adidas Outdoor, we see a rise in interest in long-distance hiking, indoor and outdoor rock climbing, mountain biking, trail running and viewing the outdoor experience as essential and beneficial to a healthy lifestyle.

Q. What are some of the steps you’re taking to make outdoor activities like hiking more accessible?

A. Adidas Outdoor is making a substantial investment in bringing indoor climbing walls to Boys & Girls Club facilities. This year, Adidas will begin to roll out the first of 10 facilities in association with One Climb, spearheaded by Adidas athlete Kevin Jorgeson. These climbing walls, along with their connection to a local climbing gym, will introduce the sport to a number of kids who have never dreamed of climbing before.

Q. How has Adidas been impacted by higher tariffs on imports from China?

A. The tariffs are relatively new and currently affect specific categories of outdoor products, like backpacks, and everyone is working hard to try and minimize the impact to the consumer. But if higher tariffs on a broader range of products are put in place, cost will have to rise to the consumer. Most of the outdoor products made are also dutiable products that U.S. Customs charges from around 10% to 38% duty on already. The tariffs are in addition to those costs. It is a big tax on the U.S. consumer.

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