North Face Looks to Training Gear to Boost Sales Beyond Winter

North Face

North Face

The North Face, whose jackets are ubiquitous on ski slopes and climbing expeditions, is making its biggest push yet to get consumers to wear its gear in the gym.

The clothing brand is airing its first-ever spring TV commercial on Wednesday to promote its Mountain Athletics apparel for strength and conditioning training. The company, which is owned by VF Corp., has boosted marketing spending for the line by 50 percent since its introduction last year, aiming to win over weekend warriors preparing for a long-term goal.

“If you want to be a better skier or run your first half-marathon, there are specific workouts you can do to be better at that sport,” Todd Spaletto, North Face’s president of the Americas, said in an interview. “It’s not like someone goes and climbs Mt. Ranier one day because they have flex Fridays -- there’s an emphasis on everyday training that goes with that.”

Sales of North Face’s performance apparel, including training and running gear, jumped more than 30 percent last year, Spaletto said. And while North Face expects the segment to continue to be the fastest-growing part of its business for several years, it’s facing a crowded market. Brands like Nike Inc. make gear for almost any sport, and niche players such as Lululemon Athletica Inc. are muscling in on general workout gear. Even traditional apparel retailers like Urban Outfitters Inc. are offering their own workout clothes.

To stand out, North Face must capture outdoor enthusiasts and capitalize on the general trend toward healthy living, said Corinna Freedman, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets.

Social Media

“If you’re going to climb a mountain, you’ve got to train before then, and they’d rather have you train in their apparel than Nike or Under Armour,” said Freedman, who has a buy rating on VF Corp.

In 2014, North Face brought in $2.2 billion in revenue -- an 11 percent increase from the previous year -- for Greensboro, North Carolina-based VF Corp. This year, the company expects a low-double-digit percentage rise in revenue, excluding currency fluctuations. The hope is that a greater portion of those sales will come outside winter.

Following the example of brands from Nike to Lululemon, North Face is looking to connect with consumers in local communities. As part of its campaign, North Face has formed a partnership with the November Project, an organization that promotes free fitness classes, to host strength and conditioning workouts twice weekly in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston.

IPhone App

The brand has also unveiled a free IPhone app that provides six-week training programs specific to several outdoor sports, including video tutorials, from North Face-sponsored athletes.

The approach represents a stronger push toward becoming a lifestyle brand, said Bridget Weishaar, an analyst at Morningstar Investment Services.

“This is really specific and focused on being a better climber or skier or hiker -- they’ve differentiated as much as they possibly can,” she said.

North Face already has products in more than 500 specialty stores, giving it a way into the fitness market. But it doesn’t want to court gym rats. The company is targeting consumers who are looking beyond a CrossFit class and toward a finish line, Spaletto said.

“We’re not about maxing out on a bench press or looking at yourself in the mirror,” he said.

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