TreeLAB 2

Timberland’s Answer to the Retail Apocalyse

Timberland, the New England-based outdoor lifestyle brand owned by VF Corporation, has long been a trailblazer in fashion. Famous for its iconic yellow boot, designed by Timberland’s founder Nathan Swartz and introduced in 1973, Timberland initially became the work boot of choice for rugged outdoorsmen (and outdoorswomen in 1984) and blue-collar workers. Then in the 90s Timberland boots were adopted by the hip-hop crowd, and became “the” footwear for urban hipsters both in the States and across the globe.

After growing to a global footprint of some 260 stores, including 16 full-priced branded stores and 41 outlets, Timberland is striking out to blaze a new trail at retail with two new initiatives: a “flex retail” concept to pop-up stores where and when its customers need them and a new experiential concept store called TreeLAB.

Early signs are that Timberland is onto something. It may have discovered a path out of the impending retail apocalypse. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” That is exactly what Timberland plans to do.

 Speaking to the need for retail innovation and how Timberland is addressing it, Kate Kibler, Timberland’s vice president of direct-to-consumer retail, said, “The thing with retail today is every store shouldn’t be the same. Every store can’t be the same. This isn’t the retail of our fathers. This is a new day.” She stresses that retail concepts need to continually evolve and Timberland is answering that need.
 “A couple of years ago you created a store design and then rolled that store designs to 1,000 stores and every store experience was exactly the same. That can’t be retail anymore. Look where it’s gotten us? Retail must factor in specific markets. Conventional retail wisdom would say let’s do more of the same and make it successful. That one-size-fits-all approach is thing of the past,” Kibler said.

For Timberland flex retail is fast pop-up stores focused on local market needs

Timberland’s new “flex retail” pop-up concept launched first in Bloomington, MN Mall of America as a pop-up store early in September, followed by locations in Atlanta, Detroit, Long Island and Quuens, NY. “Our ‘flex retail’ stores are about being fast and light and being there for the consumer when they need us,” Kibler explained. “Flexible retail has been exceeding expectations since opening.”

The “flex retail” store is a component-based, modular design with built-in cost and time efficiencies. Rather than taking weeks, or months to design, build, furnish and finish a store, it takes only 3-to 6 days from white box to store opening. “Timberland’s store environments team did an incredible job of transforming these spaces into brand-building Timberland brand experiences with limited resources,” Kibler said. “You hear a lot in the market about being agile, and I can tell you, this project defines agile.”

The “flex retail” stores will offer the complete range of Timberland products as in a full priced store, but be designed as pop-up shops with a local and seasonal flavor. It allows the brand to test the waters in a particular market, without a heavy investment or lease commitment, and if the concept works, it can remain. If the fishing looks better elsewhere, it can pack up and move to a new location.

Along with the utmost flexibility in locations, the “flex retail” concept also gives Timberland flexibility to match its product offerings to the store’s location and season. Its first round of stores are coming online with a holiday gifting focus, which is why they plan to shutter them after Christmas, though the MOA location will stay open until after the Super Bowl 2018 which will be hosted by Minneapolis.

“Like so many other retailers, Timberland’s core business time period is Q4. Seasonality is a big part of our product and our shopping experience. Timberland is a big gift brand,” Kibler said. After the holidays, these stores will be ready to be moved to new locations as the customer’s needs change from gift shopping to outdoor living.

TreeLAB is an experiential, story-based experiment for Timberland

Joining the retail innovation initiative at Timberland is TreeLAB. Located in the King of Prussia Mall, outside of Philadelphia, it’s described: “the experiential TreeLAB features carefully curated product collections and brand stories in a gallery-style setting that will completely change every 6-to-8 weeks.”

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Rachel Shechtman, founder of the STORY store in NYC, must feel the love. While Rachel paved the way in transforming retail from a store to sell products into a place to tell stories, to my knowledge Timberland is the first brand to take the initiative and dedicate their own store to tap the power of brand storytelling in a standalone dedicated space.

TreeLAB is small in footprint, but big in ideas. It offers a radically slimmed down selection of products, containing 70% fewer SKUs than a typical Timberland store, carefully curated to tell one story at a time. “We wanted to create a simple, easy to navigate environment for the brand to tell a great story,” Kate said. “The idea was to simplify to amplify the Timberland brand message.”

Its first story is “Streetology,” showcasing its FlyRoam streetwear collection that is described as the “Heart of a Boot. Soul of a Sneaker,” as well as the new line of other sneaker/boot combos with SensorFlex comfort technology. These innovative mashups of a boot and sneaker yields a super flexible and comfortable footwear experience, which is brought home by the in-store video showing dancers doing their signature moves.

The next story on deck is “SHEvolution,” which launched at the end of September, dedicated to women, the company’s first ever “women’s-only concept come to life,” she said, then followed with a gift-themed story going into Christmas. “King of Prussia mall is pure holiday chaos,” Kibler noted. “The simplicity of the TreeLAB store will bring people in and give them a place to relax and step away from the noise and bustle to become an oasis.”

For now TreeLAB is a test concept and the company is waiting to see the results at least through the holiday season to decide if others will follow. On results from the first installation, Kibler said, “TreeLAB has been an exciting project filled with learnings for both the Timberland brand and our consumers. We are happy with the early results,” she said, “But at the same time we have lots of ideas for how we can evolve the concept to make it even more successful. With the store changing every 6-to-8 weeks, we are able to take these learnings and implement them in the next installation.”

King of Prussia was carefully chosen as the test market for the concept store because it has long been home to a full-priced Timberland store. That means they will have real historic data in order to read its results.

But actual sales out of the store will not be the only metric that is measured. “Philadelphia is a key market for the brand,” Kate explained. “We will measure success not only based on things like revenue, but also foot traffic and conversions on Our analysis will also include how it affects our wholesale partners in the area and chatter on social media in the Philadelphia region.”

The goal then is not just generating sales and transactions, but customer engagement and excitement. “We want people to learn more about the brand,” Kate said. “For us having that customer feedback and one-on-one experience with the TreeLAB team becomes really important. It’s more than transactional, we want this to be all about the brand. It’s a real-life billboard in the mall.”

In its thinking about “flex retail” and TreeLAB, Timberland is out in front imagining what the store and brand experience can be in the future. I look forward to circling back with Kate next year to see what she and her team have learned through these innovative retail concepts and where Timberland will adventure next.

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