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Adventure Travel

Exclusive: Travis Campbell acquires Eagle Creek

VF Corporation’s former president of emerging brands aims to lead the heritage travel company into the next era of success.

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Eagle Creek will live on. 

VF Corporation announced today that Travis Campbell, the company’s former president of emerging brands, has acquired Eagle Creek from VF for an undisclosed amount. OBJ obtained a copy of the letter that VF President and CEO Steve Rendle sent to employees this morning. “I’m pleased to announce that VF reached an agreement with Travis [Campbell], who is now the new owner of the Eagle Creek brand,” the letter reads. “This sale includes all Eagle Creek assets and liabilities. It does not include any Eagle Creek or VF associates.” 

Campbell has served as president of Smartwool, GM Americas of The North Face, and president of the fly-fishing company Far Bank Enterprises. For the last 18 months, he has been president of emerging brands at VF, managing a group of companies which Campbell defines as each worth under $1 billion, like JanSport, Smartwool, Altra, and Eagle Creek.

Read more: Why Eagle Creek “should not die,” according to founders Steve and Nona Barker

OBJ broke the news in early June that VF would be sunsetting the iconic pack and travel brand by the end of the year because it “no longer makes strategic or financial sense.” It was not long after that Campbell’s wife asked him the obvious question: “Why on earth are you not trying to buy that business?” 

Two people with luggage
Opportunity knocks: When Eagle Creek was founded in 1975, only 3 percent of American’s owned passports, according to co-founder Nona Barker. Today that number sits at about 47 percent, still very low compared to other developed countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, where 70 percent of citizens hold passports. Photo: Courtesy

How Campbell acquired Eagle Creek

Campbell had already decided to move on from VF and was trying to plan his next move. He had come to realize that he missed running, nurturing, and growing a single brand, but he wanted to keep his family rooted in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. That’s when he decided to put together a proposal for VF to buy Eagle Creek. “Nobody wanted to see the brand go away,” said Campbell. “It was an economic decision that made sense for VF.”

But it devastated founders Steve and Nona Barker. In an exclusive interview with OBJ after VF’s announcement, Steve Barker said, “Eagle Creek is a great and viable brand. It has a great future and shouldn’t die.”

Campbell said that when he approached VF with the idea of an acquisition, he got nothing but positive reactions. “It was a fast transaction because of the level of trust that existed between me and VF,” he said.

Rendle is happy with the outcome. “From the VF perspective, it enabled us to pursue an efficient and value-enhancing alternative to winding down the brand,” he said. “For Eagle Creek, its loyal consumers, and the outdoor industry overall, we’re pleased that the brand will continue on under the ownership of Travis, who has extensive industry knowledge and is a proven business executive. His career experience, including leadership positions with VF, The North Face and Smartwool, make him well-positioned to be the next steward of the Eagle Creek brand and continue its legacy.” 

Campbell reveals his plans for the company

“It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying,” said Campbell, who has helped build many brands but has never owned one himself. “This is a personal purchase. I am currently the sole owner. As the business grows and evolves, I’ll likely bring in outside capital, probably more from banking than outside equity.”

Campbell says his first goal is to “do no harm” to the brand. “Eagle Creek already makes great products in a number of categories,” he said. “I want to work on supply chain issues and get back into stock with the best selling products in our line. We will likely trim some products that aren’t working and over-index on the things that are working. I’ll dig in and listen to former employees and current sales reps and figure it out.”

The Eagle Creek business is currently about 75 percent wholesale and 25 percent direct-to-consumer (DTC). “We have a diverse customer base, everything from Grassroots specialty retailers to REI to The Container Store,” Campbell said. “I think the ratio will continue to evolve, and we’re going to want to get better at DTC because it can help the whole ecosystem by telling your brand story directly. But wholesale will always remain super important.”

Campbell acknowledged global travel is at a low point right now due to the pandemic, but he fully expects it to come roaring back. And he intends to be ready when it does. “The cool thing is that the brand has already pivoted to close-to-home recreation, with strong sales in things like duffle bags and packing cubes,” he said. “Those products that facilitate local camping trips have been really working for the business while the business travel stuff has been lagging.”

The brand’s HQ will be in Steamboat Springs, Colo., but Campbell confirmed the new Eagle Creek will primarily be a virtual organization. “It’s tricky,” he said. “My desire would be to have everyone based in Steamboat, but the practical reality of housing constraints in mountain towns these days means there’s no way I’ll be able to bring everyone in.”

It’s tricky. My desire would be to have everyone based in Steamboat, but the practical reality of housing constraints in mountain towns these days means there’s no way I’ll be able to bring everyone in.

One of Campbell’s first big goals is staffing up. He acquired the business without any employees—all former Eagle Creek employees were either let go or absorbed into other departments at VF—so for now, it’s just him. “The good news is that VF has given me a transition services agreement, so they will run the back-end infrastructure for about six months while I build a new team,” he said, a move that will ensure vendor and customer support remain intact with no interruptions.

Campbell says he has a good bead on a potential head of operations and will be announcing that individual in the coming weeks. “We’re in a funny spot,” he said. “We’re like a startup. The first people I hire need to be jacks and jills of all trades. I need heads of product, marketing, e-commerce, and then people to fill out those teams. My goal is to scale up hiring on an as-needed basis. I will work to publish an exhaustive list of open roles and take it from there. In a year or so, we will have 20 to 30 people on staff.”

We’re like a startup. The first people I hire need to be jacks and jills of all trades. I need heads of product, marketing, e-commerce, and then people to fill out those teams.

When asked if Eagle Creek will attend Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in January 2022, Campbell, who served as the former chairman of the board at Outdoor Industry Association, noted that because Eagle Creek is primarily a spring- and summer-driven business, he doubts they will exhibit this winter. “But summer is an open conversation,” he said.

Honoring the Eagle Creek legacy

Campbell was emphatic about his respect for the legacy of the brand he now owns. He and founder Steve Barker have crossed paths for 20 years through their work at OIA and in other conservation circles. “One of my goals is to bring Eagle Creek back to where Steve and Nona’s legacy feels strong and intact,” Campbell said. “They still really care for this brand and for the broader outdoor industry. I’d like them to be able to look at Eagle Creek as something that they remain really proud of.”

Campbell believes that both business and travel can and should be a force for good, a view that the Barkers share.

Covid created a mass acceleration of new outdoor participants,” said Campbell. “We have all these new entrants in the space that don’t look like our old ones. So how do we hold onto those folks and turn them into the next generation of conservationists? From a global travel perspective, since we’ve experienced a pause, we can now come back to it with the right cultural and environmental lens. Travel should be a force for good—the sharing of culture and experiences—because the better you know people who are different from you, the better you can find common ground. We have this huge obligation as an industry to help accelerate the learning curve and turn these people into the next generation of public lands advocates.” 

Man with Eagle Creek backpack standing in front of a waterfall
“The challenge with any legacy brand is how do you maintain relevance with existing audience but also appeal to the next audience,” Campbell said. “Walking that line is one of the brand management challenges of any heritage business and for sure that’s one of the things we will be working on.” Photo: Courtesy

“Travis is a good guy,” Steve Barker told OBJ. “I’ve known him for a long time. He understands the outdoor business and he always shows up for important issues in the industry. I would say that this is a good outcome for the brand. This is a golden opportunity for Travis. I hope he can keep his values amid the challenges he will face and leverage all the good will that’s out there for the brand. I wish him well.” 

Campbell also hopes to resurrect the legendary culture of the original, pre-VF Eagle Creek. “I want to do a deep dive into the company history and learn about those really important inflection points in the business,” he said. “For instance, I read in the recent OBJ interview [with Steve and Nona Barker] that Eagle Creek leaders used to bake everyone a pie for their birthday. I love that. There was a really family-like feel that resonated with me.”

Campbell’s excitement around this next chapter was palpable even on a Zoom call. His grin was constant. “There’s so much opportunity in the core business and getting it back humming really well as a standalone entity is what I’m most excited about,” he said. “It’s such an iconic heritage brand in the outdoor industry and I’m honored and proud to carry the torch.”