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JanSport Inc., a division of VF Corp., has announced the company will be relocating the JanSport equipment business to San Leandro, Calif., to offices adjacent to VF’s The North Face division headquarters. JanSport’s custom apparel business, which provides licensed products to college bookstores and sporting goods stores, will remain in Appleton, Wis. The transition is expected to take place during the first and second quarters of 2005.
The areas of the JanSport equipment business that will relocate include the executive, sales, marketing, research/design/development, product engineering, sourcing, business planning, forecasting, and some accounting and administrative functions. Those functions staying in Appleton, in addition to the custom business, include departments that serve the entire Outdoor Coalition business (TNF, JanSport, Eastpak, Vans, Kipling and Napapijri). Those departments are human resources, accounting, customer service, credit and several related operational functions.
Eastpak is also on the move as the company announced in an internal memo forwarded to SNEWSÂ® that it has decided to “leverage Vans’ distribution, brand strategy and sales force in our repositioning strategy for Eastpak by moving the responsibility for the Eastpak brand to the Vans management team in Santa Fe Springs, California.”
In an interview with Mike Egeck, president of VF Outdoor Inc. – Americas, we were told that with the move, 40 positions will be eliminated and 15 positions will be relocated. He pointed out that despite local press assertions the company was cutting jobs, VF has invested and continues to invest heavily in Appleton.
“There are 350 employees in the custom business and that business continues to grow rapidly,” Egeck said. “We will be adding positions to customer service and dealer services and imagine that we will be hiring into the Appleton facility at the rate of 10 to 20 employees a year for the next several years.”
In explaining the factors that led up to the decision to move, Egeck stated that the company was simply running out of space in Appleton and would have to decide to expand there, reshuffle space or make other decisions. With empty office space adjacent to TNF in the same building, the move became easier to consider.
“We also needed to staff up the JanSport equipment division, particularly in design and development and began realizing that we would achieve best practices across design and development if we had design and development and creative for JanSport and TNF next to each other,” said Egeck.
Egeck also pointed out that while the concept was not a primary factor in driving the decision to move, the company did consider that for long-term recruitment and training, it would be best to have the equipment division located where most of the outdoor business in the industry is located — in the West.
“We will begin remodeling the space next to TNF and expect to be finished around the end of January 2005 when we hope to begin moving,” added Egeck.
Indications are that most of the current JanSport executive team will make the move to California, with the exception of Mike Cisler, JanSport’s president. Egeck confirmed that they have already begun a search for his replacement.
One other change that has occurred, but not talked about publicly yet, is a consolidation of rep agencies working for JanSport. Egeck did confirm to SNEWSÂ® that the company has narrowed the number of agencies from 17 to six. The move essentially mirrors a similar consolidation that went on at TNF several years ago when the company created super agencies that primarily represented only TNF. The results, by all accounts, have been very good for the rep agencies, TNF and for retailers. In this case, Egeck told us the six remaining agencies will primarily represent the JanSport brand only and he expects the same level of success.
SNEWSÂ® View: This is not the first time the company has moved. To understand the Appleton connection, one must delve a bit into history, so stay with us.
In 1967, JanSport was founded by Skip Yowell, Murray Pletz and Jan Lewis in Seattle, Wash., and manufactured the company’s frame pack and the first panel load daypack designs. Far away, in Appleton, Wis., graphic artist Kim Vanderhyden, a high school friend, screen-printed T-shirts in his parents’ basement. Vanderhyden named his small company Downers — considering the year, perhaps this was a drug reference, perhaps not. Both companies grew. JanSport received patents for a flexible pack design, launched the D-2 frame pack featuring an adjustable hip arm, outfitted Himalayan expeditions, including Jim Whittaker’s K2 climb in 1978.
Downers grew to become a very successful fleece and activewear company specializing in silk screening for the college market. In 1982, Downers purchased JanSport and with the purchase, the Downers name disappeared and the Appleton company renamed itself JanSport. The new and larger company continued sponsoring Himalayan expeditions, established a close relationship with Lou Whittaker for the purpose of product testing and in 1985, the millionth daypack was sold with sales reported at $25 million.
JanSport was acquired by VF in 1986 when VF purchased Blue Bell. That acquisition gave VF Wrangler, Rustler, Red Kap, Jantzen, JanSport and Girbaud. In 1993, VF decided to close down JanSport’s Seattle offices (essentially the equipment division) and consolidate the international headquarters for JanSport in a newly constructed 212,000-square-foot facility just outside Appleton. In 1996, JanSport opened the company’s first international office in London and launched the company website.
And now, in 2005, the equipment side of the business is moving once more — back to the west — leaving licensed clothing in Appleton. Same as it ever was — to a point.
Despite the fact that anytime folks lose their jobs, there is heartache and emotional turmoil for those involved, this move makes so much sense from a company standpoint. It appears that VF is treating employees that will not be offered new positions very well. And, all told, the net loss of jobs for the company will be more like 10 and not the 55 that is being tossed out. Appleton will become stronger; the JanSport brand will become stronger; and JanSport equipment will become stronger. No secret that after moving to Appleton, the equipment side of the biz (outside of daypacks and luggage) was perceived as having drifted too far from its authentic outdoor roots. Perhaps now we’ll see a return?
We have been asked if we know if Skip is moving with the company, because he is on vacation and not around to talk with. If we were betting folks, and sometimes we are, we suspect that Skip is moving. We doubt VF would have made this decision without notifying Skip first and without Skip essentially agreeing to make the move to California with the company prior to departing for his well-deserved holiday. Skip’s daughters are in California tooâ€¦and being a family man, we’re sure there is a strong pull there. Bottom line — Skip is the emotional heart and soul of JanSport and you don’t move your company if the heart isn’t going to keep beating with it.