Eddie Bauer CEO offers inside tour of epic turnaround campaign

The rise, fall and epic renaissance of iconic Seattle retailer Eddie Bauer were examined in detail at the March 1 “Leaders to Legends” presentation at the UW Foster School of Business.

President and CEO Michael Egeck (MBA 1983) guided the audience through the company’s 96-year history, from its 1920 founding by outdoorsman Eddie Bauer to its decades of innovation and supremacy in the technical outdoor apparel industry to its “misplaced” shift to casual wear in the 1990s that eventually landed the firm in bankruptcy.

“With all of the perspective of hindsight,” he said, “the company pivoted into a shrinking market at just the wrong time. And it pivoted away from its heritage authenticity, which is really what drives a brand in the long term.”

Egeck then offered a remarkable behind-the-scenes tour of the company’s ambitious turnaround campaign that has been in the works since he joined in 2012. “Heritage is an asset, not a strategy,” he said, citing one of the company’s guiding maxims.

But Eddie Bauer’s heritage happens to align perfectly with one of retail’s strongest areas of growth: performance outdoor wear.

So the company is making a vigorous return to its rugged roots. Egeck outlined Eddie Bauer’s recent efforts to:

  • Set the strategy then gather the team to execute.
  • Complete a deep ethnographic study to understand its customers, “who view the outdoors as a playground, not an arena,” he said.
  • Refocus the brand on technical outdoor sportswear.
  • “Edit and amplify” its online presence.
  • Reinvent the store experience from a “lodge” toward a “gear shop” that offers tactile extras such as climbing walls and an “Ice Box” for testing foul-weather gear.
  • Launch the “Live Your Adventure” national marketing campaign, creating 8.3 billion impressions over the past few months.

Egeck reported that sales are up since the campaign began airing. The comeback expedition is on track. The brand is being restored. But the future is still unknown.

“Is it going to work? I really hope so,” he said. “We’ve put a great team together, and we believe we’re doing all the right things. It’s a very challenging time in retail. We’ve had some ups and downs. But I’m gratified to say that since this holiday season, business has been quite good. We think we’ve turned the corner. I’m encouraged. We’re fighting the good fight.”