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Polarmax undergoes sweeping changes as it nears 25th anniversary

Is it too much to ask for a company to want snowboarders to change their underwear? Polarmax hopes not as it turns 25 in 2010 and is working to update its image and appeal to younger outdoor enthusiasts.

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Hey snowboarders, change your underwear!

That’s the message from Randy Black, president of Longworth Industries, parent company of the base-layer brand Polarmax (

Snowboarders are a new target market for Polarmax, which turns 25 in 2010 and is re-branding itself to update its image, strengthen relationships with consumers and appeal to younger outdoor enthusiasts.

The brand overhaul includes a new logo, redesigned website, edgier product designs, better packaging, and a fresh marketing campaign for the action sports world.

“It’s not that Polarmax hasn’t been a good brand or made good products, but it’s a matter of taking the next step for a consumer connection,” Black told SNEWS®.

Going to the extreme

When Polarmax first hit the market in 1985, it produced polyester and Lycra spandex base layers for skiing, golf and running. In 1988, the company began to make private -label apparel for Cabela’s and introduced Polarmax-branded product for specialty ski retailers. It was the ski market where Polarmax built a following, but the ski crowd is aging, and Polarmax wants to attract new blood.

“Our brand for the most part has had a traditional ski following, but we haven’t had a younger following coming out of snowboarding or free skiing. So we’re trying to invest in our future,” said Black.

As part of a new marketing campaign, Polarmax has signed on as an official base-layer supplier for the 2010 ESPN Winter X-Games 14, which will be held Jan. 28-31 in Aspen, Colo. The company is providing athletes technical base layers, and also hosting events during the games and offering on its website the chance to win a trip to the games.

Black said the sponsorship involves a significant investment of money and resources, but he said it’s a critical move to introduce Polarmax to a new audience. “It’s expensive, but it’s strategic in terms of what we’re trying to do,” said Black, adding that he knows it will take time to develop the credibility that action sports consumers demand.

“The X-Games is just a first step, and it will take some time,” said Black. “Hopefully, with the X-Games, we’ll start to make the right kind of connections, and we intend to stay in touch with our customer base on this.”

Edgy underwear

While snowboarders are not familiar with Polarmax, they are also not particularly up to speed on technical base layers.

“Most board riders are not wearing a technical base layer. They’re wearing cotton if anything,” said Black.

To encourage snowboarders to change their underwear, Polarmax will introduce in 2010 performance base layers with bold designs, prints and patterns “that you historically would not have seen out of Polarmax or out of a base layer for that matter,” said Black.

While some of these styles will include synthetic fabrics, Polarmax also hopes to attract snowboarders with something they’re more accustomed to — cotton base layers.

No, these are not your father’s cotton undies. Polarmax partnered with Cotton Inc. to launch PMX, a type of cotton fabric with Transdry that actually moves moisture. “Cotton wants to absorb, but we’ve worked for a long time to figure out how to make the moisture disperse. This dries two to four times faster than traditional cotton,” said Black.

He thinks that the cotton angle could prove attractive to younger customers. “I think it will play as well in the snowboard trade as the outdoor market. This next generation of cotton — a technical cotton, if you will — may be a really good tie-in on the snowboard side,” said Black.

If Polarmax can court this new customer base successfully, new doors might open for the brand. “There are unique shops out there for snowboarding, and we have not penetrated that many of them,” said Black. “There are some line extensions to come as we evolve the brand.”

The new age of Polarmax

While Polarmax is attempting to reach younger people, this is part of a larger effort to raise brand awareness among all consumers. 

“Historically, Polarmax has been more of a trade brand than a consumer brand,” said Black. “The ultimate goal is to develop a stronger position as a consumer brand and, hopefully, maintain the great trade relationships we’ve had over the years.”

Part of the plan is to increase the presence of Polarmax in the consumer market. “We’ve shifted some advertising dollars from trade to consumer media,” said Black. “We have a whole campaign outlined right now for 2010 tied into a whole series of books, including Blue Ridge Outdoors and others.”

Polarmax also overhauled its website to not only look more contemporary, but also present the brand’s made-in-the-USA story and educate consumers on its work to make eco-friendly products. Black said the company is also developing a social media strategy to engage consumers.

Of course, an element of any re-branding strategy is to put a new face on the company, and Polarmax has updated its logo accordingly. “It’s a little cleaner and more contemporary, all designed to appeal to a younger customer group as well,” said Black.

Product packaging will also be dramatically different in 2010. Sporting a new look, with a clear front and frosted back, packages will also be smaller. “We’ll be able to get more product on the shelf to increase sales and profitability per square foot. Hopefully, we’ll also be able to pick up more SKUs,” said Black.

Behind the scenes

While Polarmax has altered the way it is perceived by the public, the company has also worked behind the scenes to improve the business. In the last two years, Black has hired a new creative director and marketing director, and also beefed up the company’s rep force in New England and the Southeast.

To improve service on the back end, Polarmax put into place a UPC bar-coding system to make sure that warehouse workers pick and pack the right products for a particular order. “If it doesn’t pack out correctly, our computer systems will basically lock it down until we pack it correctly,” said Black. “We’ve tried to minimize errors. When there are errors, you’re always trying to go back and fix things, but we keep moving forward, rather than looking back over our shoulder to see what the problems are.”

Though Polarmax has reached the ripe old age of 25, the company is clearly moving forward. With a fresh face, new marketing schemes and innovative products, the company has “a lot of new energy,” said Black. “It takes a lot of work to build energy, and I think we have done that in getting ready for 2010.” Now, if Black can just get his New Year’s wish — that all the snowboarders out there will change their underwear.

–Marcus Woolf