Brand History at the Root of Filson's Success
Staying true to its 115-year-old brand heritage while evolving to remain relevant to today's consumers is the challenge facing cross-channel retailer Filson. The company's Vice President of Direct Sales Harold Egler outlined those challenges as well as how the company embraces its history in a keynote presentation yesterday at NEMOA's directXchange conference in Groton, Conn.
If you haven't heard of Filson, a manufacturer, wholesaler (the brand's clothing is carried by Nordstrom, Cabela's, Orvis) and direct retailer (three stores, e-commerce site, catalogs) of rugged outdoor clothing, gear and luggage, you're in the majority. Brand awareness is a struggle for Filson, Egler said. He asked the crowded ballroom via a show of hands who knew of the brand, and very few hands went in the air. Egler said on average one in 10 consumers knows of of Filson.
Consumers that have heard of Filson, especially its customers, are likely to have a passionate attachment to the brand, however. That attachment comes from the history of the brand — it was founded by C.C. Filson in the Pacific Northwest in 1897 as a place to outfit miners coming to the area for the Klondike gold rush — and its products, which are made by hand in Filson's own factory from quality materials.
Product is the key to our brand, said Egler. Filson's customers are willing to pay more for better quality products. It's common for the brand's coats to last customers 50 or more years. And these coats aren't just hanging in closets, taken out for special occasions. They frequently serve as uniforms for the miners, loggers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest, where winters are frequently harsh.
Our products aren't for disposable fashion shoppers, Egler said. Their high price point presents a challenge for customer acquisition.
To deal with its acquisition problem, Filson has opened three brick-and-mortar stores in the Pacific Northwest, and has plans to expand its retail presence in the years ahead. What Filson won't do is deviate from its roots. Egler said the plan is for "controlled growth" while remaining true to the brand.
Our customers are passionate about the brand, Egler said. The company's products often conjure up memories of their great-grandfather or grandfather wearing a Filson coat mining for gold or tending to the family's cattle. In fact, Filson customers frequently send their apparel back to the brand after putting it to use for 40 years, 50 years. The company couldn't create a better advertisement, Egler said. The retailer's marketing team (which consists of all of five employees) takes photos of these products and tells the stories behind the ranchers, loggers and miners that wore them.
Marketing History in a Modern World
While connected to its past, Filson realizes it must evolve with the times to continue to grow its brand. The retailer uses multiple marketing vehicles — email, catalogs, paid and organic search, behavioral retargeting via banner ads — to tell its story. One area where Egler sees an opportunity for Filson, and one in which he plans to invest, is video. The fact that Filson is one of the very few apparel retailers out there that also manufactures its products is a differentiating factor that consumers need to be aware of.
We have the opportunity to use video to tell our manufacturing story, including profiling the workers in our factory (many of whom have been with the company 30-plus years) and showing our products being made, Egler said. There's a tremendous amount of detail and craftsmanship that's put into our products; this message needs to bleed into our marketing, he added.
That said, Filson doesn't spend a lot of money to market its brand and products. It leverages the tremendous passion its customers have for the brand to help spread its message (e.g., customer reviews). Being a Filson customer is like being in a secret handshake club, Egler said.