Timberland started as a blue-collar company. The Timberland Company is a world-renowned manufacturer of apparel and footwear. This brand offers boots that quickly transcended class and race to become a wardrobe essential. Therefore, it is crucial to dive into Timberland history to understand the brand’s growth into fame. Today, Timberland is a billion-dollar company whose products are available worldwide. This article is a Timberland history case study; follow us as we deep dive into the brand’s beginnings and growth over the years. On that note, let’s begin.
Timberland’s journey to becoming a revolutionary brand wasn’t always smooth. However, the company owes its success to excellent marketing strategies, quality products, and impressive luck that turned the brand into a worldwide symbol of rustic chic. As a result, Timberland is a footwear company that quickly became a household name and became synonymous with dependability and quality. Below is a breakdown of Timberland history from the early years to date.
Timberland’s Early Years
In 1952, Nathan Swartz, a stitcher, bought half interest in Abington Show Company. This was a company founded in Massachusetts. Within three years of acquiring the first half, Nathan purchased the remaining half of the company’s interest and brought his youngest son aboard. Within the year, his eldest son also returned from a stint in the Navy and joined the family business. For a decade, the family produced and sold handmade footwear to stores that would usually put house labels on them. Then, in 1965, the company purchased an injection-molding machine after extensive research on alternatives to hand-stitching soles and uppers. This machined chemically molded and attached soles to the upper through a unique bind process.
This machine significantly reduced the production cost and allowed Nathan to charge more because the new footwear offered water resistance. This allowed Abington to make some profit rather than continue breaking even. Nathan retired from the shoe company in 1968 and left the company in his sons’ capable hands. A couple of years later in Timberland history, the brothers decided to move the company to New Hampshire to manufacture tough and waterproof boots that could outlast the toughest weather and last for many years. Luckily, they were able to find a prototype easily. The company’s maintenance man wore rugged work boots throughout the year that were durable, comfortable, and water-resistant.
Although these boots were made in Canada, the company distributed them in the United States. So the Swartz brothers bought a pair of boots and dissected them. The brothers were determined to make their version and wanted it to be even better.
Birth of the Timberland Boots
The brothers convinced Goodyear to design synthetic rubber soles that could outstand the harshest weather and terrains. The Swartz brothers utilized injection molding to bond the polyurethane soles to blond leather uppers. The brothers tested the boots for water resistance in various ways. They weighed the boots with metals and also submerged them in a bucket to fill the boot with dyed water while waiting for leaks. The result of this rigorous process was Abington’s first fully waterproof boots. The company marketed this shoe under the brand name ‘Timberland’ in 1973, guaranteeing water resistance. The brothers targeted blue-collar workers and sold the bots in army-navy stores. It didn’t take long for Timberland boots to become a hit on college campuses.
From the beginning of Timberland’s history, the company was never big on advertising. So, the company hired the Boston firm of Marvin & Leonard to market the boots. The agency’s president convinced the Swartz brothers to appeal to upscale buyers through ads in the New Yorker. This was quite successful, and the Timberland boots sold exceptionally to highbrow retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, and Lord & Taylor. In 1974, the company produced and sold 5,000 pairs. By 1975, production was up to 25,000, and sales were nearing the million-dollar mark. By the late 1970s, Abington produced over 400,000 pairs of Timberland boots yearly.
At this point, the Swartz brothers began considering expanding their product line. This was because the shoe company’s main product was now the Timberland boots. The no-name boots were only 20% of their production in 1978. Now that they were on the map, Abington stopped manufacturing for others and solely focused on manufacturing Timberland boots.
Diversifying and Becoming an International Fashion Brand
Although diversifying was risky, the brothers decided to risk it. First, they renamed the company the Timberland Company, incorporating the new name in 1978. Under the new company name, the brand introduced its first casual shoes for men. The shoe featured hand-sewn uppers and solid brass eyelets and was manufactured using water-resistant full-grain leather. Afterward, the brand introduced deck shoes that were a competition for the industry leader: Sperry’s Top-Sider Brand. The company marketed its products furiously and polled dozens of sailors. Eventually, they won endorsements from top yachters like Ted Kennedy and Willian F. Buckley, Jr.
In 1979 in Timberland history, Giuseppe Veronesi, an Italian goods distributor, visited the new Timberland factory in New Hampshire and ordered 3,000 pairs of the Timberland boots. He figured that Timberland boots would be an excellent accessory for well-heeled Italian. After testing the market by distributing to haute couture shops in Rome and Milan, Veronesi started to sell the Timberland boots throughout Italy. Although the boots were selling excellently in the US, the Italian craze led more US retailers to jump on the Timberland trend. As a result, the production of the boots rose to 1.8 million pairs, and the price tag was between $70-$80 in the US. The price was nearly double that in Europe.
In 1984, the company was successful and ready to take on more. However, this also meant that several acquisitive conglomerates began noticing the brand. The VF Corporation was the first to approach with a buyout offer of $60 million. While Herman wanted to accept, Sidney wanted the brand to raise its fund and expand. The company planned expansion into international markets, capitalizing on its success in Italy. The brand started shipping to Germany, France, Turkey, Hong Kong, and Switzerland. Soon, worldwide sales hit $68 million.
Timberland History – The Buyout
In early 1986, another acquisition offer came from the former partner of Morgan Stanley & Company. He offered a bid of $60 million, which Herman wanted. On the other hand, Sidney was against it. Eventually, the brothers reached an agreement where Sidney sought financing from Merrill Lynch to purchase Herman’s share of Timberland for $30 million. Due to this, Herman left Timberland and retired, while Sidney became president and CEO of the company.
In 1986, Timberland wanted to claim $20 million in the Japanese consumer goods market. Sidney brought his son Jeffrey into the company as the head of the international sales division. The goal was to have him steer the company’s growing presence in the Asian and European markets. Within a year of Herman leaving the company, Merrill Lynch sold their Timberland shares which make up 30% of their holdings. When Jeffrey and Sidney made a public offering on the American Stock Exchange in mid-1987, they kept the ‘B’ shares with ten votes each. They only dispersed the A shares, which only held a single vote.
Timberland History – A Rapid Expansion
Timberland’s expansion continued, leading to the Swartz brothers losing control of their company. By introducing 160 new models, the brand’s total product line was about 500. Unfortunately, the new additions caught the factories unprepared. Due to this, the inventory control and customer service suffered, leading to frustration amongst consumers and retailers. Despite this, revenues climbed by 24%, and total sales reached $85 million. However, profits fell 14 percent to $4.8 million. To control the disaster, Timberland created a global customer relations department in 1987 to stay true to its commitment to producing top-quality services.
In 1987, Marvin & Leonard Advertising made Timberland the first boot company to advertise on television. The company’s first commercial featured bootleggers enjoying the features of Timberland, which keeps them safe from swamps. The ad garnered plenty of attention and increased sales for the company. Additionally, it solidified its presence as a top brand for fashionable footwear. Timberland also entered the men’s and women’s clothing market in 1988. In addition, the company also released a line of accessories. Although sales weren’t encouraging initially, the brand’s apparel and accessories line eventually made up 20% of their net sales.
Timberland History – The Early 2000s
After a rough patch in the 19990s, Timberland’s growth resurged and peaked at the $1 billion mark. The company’s net income was over 68% at $126 million. This amazing growth the company experienced was due to the increasing sales of its accessories and apparel. Revenue for this category increased by 29% in 2000, hitting $243 million in sales. In 2000, the company also started selling children’s footwear. The Timberland PRO line was so successful that the brand expanded into Europe. The brand also reacquired its Asian distribution rights from Inchcape and started to operate directly.
In 2001 of Timberland history, the company started feeling the effect of the US economic downturns. Revenue only increased by 8% that year, and profits fell. There was also higher leather cost, and the foreign exchange rate was quite unfavorable, making the situation worse. The company’s stock took a hard hit and almost fell by 50%. The company waited for the economy to recover and launched the children’s apparel line. They also cut down on opening new outlet stores while seeking growth in the international market. Soon Timberland was able to rise back to its status. To date, Timberland remains the leather of the US non-athletic footwear sector. The company moved from being the producer of sturdy work boots to be the leader of the rugged outdoor footwear market.
When it comes to outdoor non-athletic footwear, very few boots compare to the timelessness of the Timberland boots. Although this brand started out creating footwear for the blue-collar sector, it soon became a top brand in the streetwear and fashion industry. We covered Timberland’s history in this article to give insight into the company’s growth and how it became the leader in the outdoor footwear market.