I met with Ipath executives to catch up with the skate shoe brand and hear how the company is working to turnaround after losing its way a bit after being acquired by Timberland in 2007.
I spoke with Pepe Landa, right, Ipath's new global sales director, and Ipath General Manager Diane Woods answered some questions for me via email while traveling on business in China.
Ipath is a core skate shoe brand that is also popular with the environmentally conscious crowd because of its use of materials such as hemp. Rastafarians and the reggae scene have also embraced the brand.
Ipath has some positive momentum going at the moment after a tough patch from shipping problems, management changes and lack of exciting new products, according to some stores. It recently hired five new employees, including a new head of design. The sales force has been revamped, and 11 new reps have come on board. As a result, Ipath opened 60 additional accounts in the first half of 2009. Some of those are accounts Ipath previously lost due to shipping problems or other issues.
Matt Pindroh, owner of Liberty Boardshop in Brea, said he still carries the brand, though he thinks their shoes could improve.
"We still carry them, their products serve a niche market of consumers that really search out the brand," he said. "I personally like their direction, but things have been a little stale since the merger with Timberline. I am sure they are working on it like all of us."
The Ipath team is tackling some of the business basics again, such as ensuring reps are on the road, shipping on time, doing tours of core stores with its skate team, designing products at different price points, and creating shoes that build on the success of its most popular shoes, the Cats (at right) and Grasshopper.
"We are building around our winners," Pepe said.
For spring of 2010, Ipath is introducing six new models and has big plans for fall 2010.
So far in 2009, revenues are up 32 percent, an increase Ipath hopes to maintain for its full year results. Pepe acknowledged it's easier to get growth from a small revenue base, but said, "We'll take it."
Right now, Ipath is focusing on earning back shelf space with its marketing, sales and design efforts. There may also be some room as the recession continues and some smaller brands might not be able to ship, Pepe said.
While Timberland may help with some back end operations, Ipath is profitable as a standalone business, Pepe said. "We have very clear budgets," he said. "There are no blank checks."
One key in helping the Ipath team navigate the Timberland system is General Manager Diane Woods, who joined Ipath eight months ago. She has worked for Timberland for more than 11 years and knows the best ways for Ipath to benefit from Timberland's infrastructure.
Diane talked to me about the challenges and opportunities for Ipath going forward.
Diane: Due to the tough market conditions and some changes in our management team over the past two years, Ipath has not performed as well as we would have hoped. During the past six months we have made significant change within the business to solidify our processes and leadership structure, and these efforts are starting to pay off already.
Diane: I have been GM of Ipath for eight months and am having a blast! Previously, I was working for the President of Consumer Access for Timberland as the Senior Director of Worldwide Strategy. That is a fancy way of saying that I did strategic planning and execution for Timberland's worldwide distribution.
Diane: This is hard because I honestly think we have all opportunity in front of us. I guess one key challenge is to prove to our customer base that our operational processes are sound and we will deliver on commitments. This has been an issue in the past, but is now solved.
Diane: So many! I think the top opportunities are product line expansion, domestic distribution expansion with core skate accounts, international distribution expansion in Western Europe, and doing more marketing on the web.
Diane: Because I have worked with the Timberland Co. for 11+ years, I know how the business works, and many of the people. This allows me to have one foot in Ipath, and one in Timberland so that I can take advantage of every support function possible. We use the Timberland back end, and focus our efforts on product, distribution and marketing, which makes the business, run more smoothly while focusing us on our consumer.
Diane: Amazing. I am so impressed with our team and all they bring to the table. So much talent coupled with the fact that they put their heart and soul into the brand makes for an amazing result. I am having a blast and love that everyone eats, sleeps and breathes action sports.