Colombia Sportswear Company (NYSE: COLM) is one of the largest wholesalers of outdoor sportswear and equipment in the U.S. Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, Columbia sells clothing and equipment for a variety of outdoor sports, including hunting, fishing, hiking, and snowboarding. Its products are sold mostly in sports and specialty stores, in addition to mid-tier department stores and online. The company earned $1.2 billion in revenue and $67 million in net income in 2009.
Columbia relies on department stores for a large portion of its sales. But, as department stores and other specialty stores continue to focus their efforts on increasing their own private label offerings, Columbia may find its efforts grow through increased department store sales frustrated. In addition, Columbia faces risks from a struggling global economy as consumers cut back on spending on new sports-related goods.
Columbia Sportswear’s business segments have on the whole remained stable as percentages of net sales. The core of Columbia’s sales comes from its sportswear and outerwear business. Colombia’s coats, vests, and parkas are popular among active, outdoors-oriented consumers. Its sportswear lines complement the company’s outdoor ethos with hunting, hiking, and fishing gear.
Recent trouble in the credit markets, coupled with high gasoline prices, have the potential to depress consumer spending, thereby impacting Columbia’s bottom line. Such factors may lead consumers scale back on camping vacations and other nature-oriented trips, rendering Columbia's equipment, outdoorswear, and sportswear businesses particularly vulnerable to such a downturn.
However, Columbia’s lower price point (relative to its competitors) may support earnings in times of economic downturn: the price range for a Columbia jacket is around $100-$250, while a typical North Face jacket can set consumers back $250- $500. Shoppers may seek out lower-cost outdoor apparel during a softening economy, potentially attracting competitors’ customers to Columbia’s brands.
Department stores in the United States have undergone significant changes in recent years. As Columbia seeks future growth through increased department store sales, the company will have to contend with these changes in the future. In response to declining margins, stores have implemented tighter inventory controls and have scaled back the quantities of merchandise that they purchase from wholesalers like Columbia. As a means of increasing market share, companies have also sought to differentiate themselves from the competition by demanding exclusive contracts and store-specific private labels (e.g. Ralph Lauren's "American Living" line for J.C. Penney). Columbia itself has admitted that some of its strongest competition comes from its own clients private label merchandise, as they have a strong incentive to prefer private labels wherever possible because they can be sold at higher margins than outside brands.
In addition, Columbia must deal with the widespread consolidation that is present among department store changes in America. A series of mergers and acquisitions in the industry (e.g. Federated Department Stores' takeover of Marshall Field's) give the businesses that remain potentially greater power to negotiate lower prices with Columbia, thereby lowering profits.
Columbia Sportswear competes with several similarly outdoor-oriented brands, like The North Face, Timberland, and Patagonia. In addition, the company argues that often its biggest competition comes from its own clients’ private label merchandise, as big department stores like Kohl's, The Sports Authority, and J.C. Penney have better marketing, distribution, and financial resources than Columbia