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I stopped by the Burton campus in Irvine last week to talk to Kevin Meehan, general manager of Analog.
You'd never know you were in an office park in Irvine once you step inside Analog's loft-like space with its hardwood floors, ample light and cutting-edge photography and art on the walls.
Kevin and I talked about many things, including Analog's surf, skate and snow specialty distribution, the advantages of plugging into Burton's global platform, and achieving growth in an economic downturn.
Kevin said that more than ever, retailers tell the Analog team they are looking for emerging brands with a more limited distribution to help their stores standout. And Kevin and the Analog team are stressing to retailers that their brand is focused on the specialty market in all three sports - surf, skate and snow.
"We have no plans to expand distribution - we have a lot of great retail partners," he said.
Plus, Analog has a lot of room to grow, both within accounts and in territories. The ultimate goal is to become one of the top three brands in core stores, Kevin said.
"We don't aspire to be No. 5," he said.
For now, Analog is focusing on its key categories: denim, boardshorts, T-shirts and outerwear. Outerwear is where Analog started and is part of the brand's DNA, Kevin said.
Originally, the outerwear was designed for team riders and was functional and very fashion forward. Now, the line still has an edge - the collection for next winter has a snowboard jacket that looks like a biker's jacket - but the overall look has become a bit more wearable for all riders, Kevin said.
Analog's fiscal year ended in February, and Kevin said Analog met its projections. He would not disclose sales growth numbers or actual sales, but would say that Analog is still small.
Currently, Analog is booking for fall apparel and winter outerwear, and Kevin said the company is seeing growth in prebooks.
"I'm happy where we are landing," he said. Canada has been particularly strong and fall and winter bookings are above plan there.
Still, "it's not easy" to achieve growth in this economy, he said.
Kevin recently traveled to Japan and Europe to check on Analog's operations there and said being able to plug into Burton's global platform "is huge."
And while there are many advantages for a small brand to have the infrastructure backing of a powerhouse like Burton, a company that also understands and nurtures the boardsports culture, "in this economy, there are no free rides," Kevin said. "Everybody's got to pull their own weight. Nobody's writing free checks these days."
In response to the downturn, Analog is spending conservatively and every dollar invested needs to have a return, he said. Analog has also focused its line size and is making tight buys to minimize excess inventory.
"We can't plan for reorders," Kevin said. "We are planning tight buys for reasonable growth. We are not buying above that except for key styles or carry-over styles where there is less risk."
Analog's team of 17 employees includes some key hires from larger brands such as Global Marketing Director Maurice Torres from Quiksilver and North American Sales Manager Lyndon Cabellon from Podium Distribution.
Kevin said the team enjoys being small and nimble and being able to launch projects quickly. One example is Analog's Permanent Light Archive T-shirt series, which showcases the art and photography of Analog athletes.
The crew at Analog decided to showcase the art in product, but didn't want to wait a year to incorporate it into the next line. Instead, they created a quick-to-market series that is delivered three times a year to retailers between the usual line deliveries.
I decided to check in with Duke Edukas at Surfside Sports in Costa Mesa to see how Analog is doing at the retail level since Surfside is pretty deep in the brand.
Here's what Duke had to say:
"Surfside has been carrying Analog for many years. During the early years it truly struggled. The only reason we carried it back then was to make the people at Burton happy. To tell you the truth, it was a burden. Things have changed in the last two years, and changed dramatically in the last year, for the better.
"Analog is our strongest ‘B' brand, and, at certain times keeps pace with some of our ‘A' brands (RVCA, Hurley, Billabong, Quiksilver, Volcom). The Analog customer has also evolved. The Analog customer a few years ago was more of a ‘boutique' type of shopper. The customer today is comprised of a broader demographic than that. He is also a surfer or a skater, as well as a snowboarder.
"(Burton CEO) Laurent Potdevin put together a team starting with Kevin Meehan. Meehan has been involved in the Orange County surf scene for quite some time and brings more of a West Coast feel to the brand. Retailers respect and trust him. Every Friday morning, he sends a team, lead by Geoff Moysa and Josh Hoyer, to 54th street in Newport. Armed with donuts and their reputation as legendary Newport surfers, they have established Analog as a player among the surf community.
"I think that if Laurent Potdevin continues to trust in Meehan and his team, Analog could become one of the stronger players in the action sports arena. They've had problems shipping on time and complete in the past because of the way Burton was used to conducting business, but Meehan has recognized this problem and since corrected it."