Anyone who goes camping will certainly know the name Coleman. A subsidiary of American company Jarden Corp, Coleman is the world’s leading manufacturer of camping gear and outdoor equipment, including tents, lanterns, stoves, coolers and sleeping bags. It has had a presence in Japan since 1976.
Heading the Japan operation is Richard Guilfoile who also serves as president of the entire Asia-Pacific region. Born in Washington, DC, Guilfoile first came to Japan when he was a child. He was educated in both Japan and the U.S. After graduating from college, he worked in the cosmetics business for 14 years, and then spent 11 years running the Gillette business in Japan before joining Coleman in 2000.
How big is the Asia-Pacific region for Coleman?
There is no doubt that we have become the largest and most important piece of the Coleman business worldwide outside the United States. We do a lot of innovation. Unlike the past where 80% of what we sold was Japan-specific, more and more we are developing products here that the U.S. is picking up and as our parent company has strengthened their innovation team, we are also picking up more global items.
Right now, South Korea is a big success story and the fastest growing market in our region. China is growing, too. As we look for additional growth opportunities in the region, we can bring our experience from other markets.
Doesn’t each market have its own unique characteristics?
Yes, and it is important that we listen to consumers in each market. In China, I’m hearing that some of the colors we have chosen for our tent products may need to be modified. Another example is our lighting business, which is extremely successful in Japan but struggles in Korea. With camping, in Korea, heavy campers go maybe 30 times a year, whereas in Japan, they’ll go 10-15 times a year. Japanese consumers look at the weather forecast and if there is a hint of rain, they’ll give it a miss. Koreans will go anyway. So there is a different expectation in terms of durability and specs.
What sort of a year have you had in Japan?
The year has been good so far. We finished last year strongly because after the earthquake, our lighting products, sleeping bags and backpacks sold well.
How did Coleman respond to the disaster?
We donated a lot of products, maybe 30,000 sleeping bags and 30,000 sets of flashlights and batteries. We were able to move very quickly and get those items to the people who needed them.
What are your best-selling products in Japan?
Backpacks sell the most, then tents, followed by furniture. In lighting, one of our best-selling products is the Quad LED light. In 2013, this will be added to the CPX series which operates on a rechargeable battery. It works with 4 D-cells instead of 8 and also has a rechargeable cartridge. On low, it will run for 60 hours consecutively; on high, 30 hours. It’s got an AC adapter as well.
Do you have a big inventory?
We are the largest outdoor goods retailer in Japan. Every year we introduce 200-300 new SKUs (stock-keeping units). We showcased our new products for the coming year at a trade fair in September. Out 2013 catalogue has 100 pages of new items. So we carry a large assortment of products but we also have a very good forecasting system to control our inventory levels.
What trends do you see in camping?
Over the last three years, we have been focusing on the younger market, the “yama-gyaru,” and those girls have really set the trends in terms of bags, jackets, hats and other gear for outdoor activities. Many of these girls take our gear to rock festivals or trekking, and we have made new colors and products to appeal to them. That would have been unheard of before at Coleman because everything was always green and beige.
There is also a growing trend to go camping in the winter. In Japan, from this year, we are seeing more groups of young women going camping together, to show each other how they can cook outside. Previously, many stores would stop selling outdoor gear right after O-bon in August, but we’ve stretched the season to mid-November. The biggest month in the whole year for camping is September because there are fewer mosquitoes, it is cooler, the stars are gorgeous and there is less traffic.
In terms of products, the key words for Japan are compact, light, easy to store and easy to assemble.
How do you market the brand in Japan?
We don’t do much advertising, though we have done a few videos in subways and JR trains in summer to encourage people to enjoy outdoors. We use Facebook and Twitter because it is important that we stay relevant. We do a lot of interaction with consumers through our website. Online shopping is growing rapidly and we collaborate with a number of Internet sites.
Where are Coleman products sold?
About 40% of what we sell goes through sporting goods retailers, 20% is through Home Center channels, 15% through specialty retailers catering to mountaineering, for example, and 10% is through our own eight retail outlets.
Where do you see growth opportunities?
The market for children is an area of potential growth. We have an incredible product called Puddle Jumper (life jacket). I’d like to see this range sold in Toys “R” Us, for example.
How do you interact with consumers?
We have camping events every weekend from the end of March to the end of October. Some of those events are for families, some are for those with no kids, and some are only for kids. We also hold a camp college where we teach people how to camp. It’s the best way for us to get feedback.
How many staff do you have?
We have about 115 full-time staff, and around 40 part-time staff who support our stores. We have a couple of people who work with retailers and wholesale specific camp-out events where we bring all the new products and explain how to use them. That’s important because when we do the trade show, our sales people and wholesalers have to be able to explain every single product themselves.
How often do you visit stores?
I travel two weeks out of every month, so I probably spend more time visiting stores outside of Japan than I do here. The travelling is not as glamorous as it appears because you are constantly on the go. I swore I would never have a Blackberry but now that I have one, it keeps me sane.
How often do you go camping?
Maybe four weekends a year, I’ll show up at a campsite. We also have an annual management team campout in Karuizawa.
How many Coleman products do you have at home?
About 30-40. I don’t really need more than that.