“the UTMB is a unique sporting event”

Columbia main partner of UTMB

Romain Cancilleri-Michy, Columbia’s marketing manager France looks back on the partnership that links the brand with the UTMB.

What are the reasons that pushed Columbia, at the end of 2018, to renew its partnership with the UTMB for three more years, until 2021?

We are very satisfied with the first four of our partnership with the UTMB which is a unique sporting event. We learned during this period and managed to reach our goals. This partnership is part of the construction of our global trail-running offer launched in 2017 and expected to strengthen over the coming seasons. The UTMB has also proven and strengthened its international resonance, which is a strong point in our Asian and South American markets.

What does it mean to be presenting partner of the UTMB ? What does this imply?

Presenting Partner is the highest level of partnership with the UTMB which allows us to have strengthened collaborations with the UTMB teams, visibility on all communication media and on the entire digital ecosystem of the UTMB via the “UTMB presented by Columbia” logo. This partnership status also covers the shoe textile part since we provide the UTMB with all of the runners ‘and volunteers’ endowments, in addition to the organization and press endowments.

What objectives have you set for yourself with this UTMB partnership?

The first objective was to associate the Columbia brand with the UTMB event. Today we come to this level: we have visibility on the ground, on social actions and a presence with the runners. The second point was to raise the perception of the Columbia brand among trail running practitioners and to move from general outdoor to more specific and technical outdoor. We also know that our sales increased in Chamonix this week. This strengthened us in the idea that we must communicate in this way.

How does the UTMB help Columbia improve its R&D?

We invest a lot in R&D. This year, on the UTMB, we are bringing in biomechanics, we are implementing foot scans, etc. We try to take into account the needs of European runners vis-à-vis American specificities. The idea is to better understand how to segment the offer of our products, because in Europe the distances of the trails are not the same, the types of terrain either, etc. Thus, our trail running offer is refined and becomes more and more relevant. For example, we have redefined our range architecture in trail running, because we have faced the terrain.

More generally, Columbia aims to double footwear within three years. This notably involves reworking the product offer. We also have a brand new footwear team. Our VP footwear is a former Nike (he led the basketball category and supported the growth of the Jordan brand) and Under Armor.

The idea behind trail running is also to penetrate the huge sneakers market?

The sneaker is a strong trend in the shoe market. It necessarily questions outdoor brands, because consumers are evolving. We will always have the classic outdoor, but we also know that city dwellers want to hike and will not necessarily change shoes. With our new SH / FT collection, ‘is the beginning of a long-running story between the outdoor and the city of sneakers, a revival of light hiking shoes without compromising on style. Consumers want to have versatile products that are not for single use, but can wear for many different activities. It is a product that we will introduce in Europe in mid-September. It will be the standard bearer of our footwear energy in the years to come.

In terms of supply, what does shoe represent at Columbia?

We are a historic player in textiles, so it is logical that textiles, in number of references, are the most developed. The shoe is increasing year by year and we are working on all segments … By spring-summer 2020, we will present a new offer for trail-running. We have renewed a large part of our range with new cushioning and rebound technologies, soles with different grips, a redesigned clamp, an innovative fit. It was to renew it.

Salomon and Hoka One One are two of the most visible shoe brands on the UTMB. Where is Columbia located?

In distribution, we are still in our infancy, because there are very established players like Salomon, and very talented new ones like Hoka. The difference is that they focus a lot on trail-running and running when Columbia has a wider offer, and is very established in textiles … But in the medium term, our desire is to be able to bring our trail running vision with Columbia Montrail and offer consumers the choice.


“Trail running is 10% of the European outdoor market”

Columbia main partner of UTMB

Romain Cancilleri-Michy is Columbia’s Marketing Director for Europe, UTMB sponsor. Trailer top class (2nd in the 1st edition of the UTMB, 6th in 2005 and 2006, 11th in 2008 …), it looks back at what seduced the legendary brand of sportswear and outdoor equipment to get involved alongside the UTMB.

How did Columbia become the official sponsor of the UTMB?

Columbia is a company created in 1938 with more than $ 2 billion in sales. The company is 51% family owned, the rest is listed on the stock market. During the 2000s, the group acquired other brands. Today, Columbia Sportswear Company owns Mountain Hardwear for mountaineering and expeditions, Sorel, which designs outdoor and very cold shoes, and Montrail for trail running. In 2015, when Columbia had the opportunity to become a partner of the UTMB [l’équipementier The North Face avait mis fin à son partenariat, d’un commun accord avec l’organisation de l’UTMB, NdlR], we jumped at the chance. But it was a group-level partnership contract. In other words, we brought the whole Columbia group to Chamonix: Moutain Hardwear, especially for the PTL [la Petite Trotte à Léon, 300 km, 25 000 D+, NdlR] for more technical and specific equipment, Montrail for trail running shoes and Columbia for the textile part. We were not a title partner, but a rank 1, 2 and 3, one brand per level. When the naming official of the event became UTMB [la course s’appelait jusque-là Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc], we had the opportunity to become presenting partner from 2016. If the UTMB has no more naming partner, Wanting to be a brand in its own right, Columbia today has the highest level of partnership of the event. We are talking about the UTMB by Columbia.

It’s sort of a homecoming for Columbia. Franco Fogliato, Director General Europe, Columbia and Sportswear Company Africa and Middle East, and Topher Gaylord, President of Mountain Hardwear, having been in the UTMB adventure from the start …

Not really, because at the time Franco and Topher worked for The North Face. They arrived at Columbia’s house afterwards. But it’s true that their personal connections allowed them to initiate conversations business with the Poletti [fondateurs et organisateurs de l’UTMB] pretty quick.

What motivated Columbia to become a partner of the UTMB?

Columbia is part of a trail running strategy. In 2017, Columbia and Montrail merged under the Columbia Montrail brand. The UTMB is one of the biggest trail running events in the world by its organization, the number of bibs, the difficulties in aligning with the starting line … The UTMB is the benchmark race in the world . Columbia has the will to assert itself in the outdoor community. And trail running is no longer a trend but a sport in its own right. Chamonix has an international resonance. For our foreign subsidiaries, Chamonix makes sense. The UTMB week is the busiest of the year for Chamonix. For us, it is an extraordinary platform for visibility and field tests. We have beta testing throughout the UTMB week, we have Columbia Montrail athletes for shoes, like Ruy Ueda [2e sur le Gaoligong by UTMB 2018, 124 km, 6 700 D+], registered on the OCC this year, the Camus brothers [dont Sylvain, fondateur du Team Adventure Garmin, 2e de la TDS 2017], registered on the UTMB this year, for which we have great ambitions, or Amy Sproston [8e des femmes UTMB 2017], also involved in the UTMB.

What does Columbia expect from the trail phenomenon?

It is no longer a phenomenon. The UTMB was born in 2003 and trail running has been a sport in its own right since 2007, 2008. Today, in all sports shops, you have a section of wall dedicated to trail running and athletic brands all have a trail running offer. The market is valued at 500 million euros in fair market value for Europe, when the market value of European outdoor sports is 5 billion euros. Trail running therefore occupies 10% of this outdoor market. We can therefore speak of activity assumed in its own right. As an outdoor brand, we see that trail running must be part of Columbia’s activities. We have to bring our point of view on textiles and shoes.

What exactly is Columbia’s “point of view” on trail running?

Columbia brings all the expertise developed by Montrail, one of the first full-fledged trail running brands, to shoes. We also have proprietary technologies on the soles, midsoles and stability points. In Lyon, you can now find all Columbia Sportswear products in our new store, which opened on July 28.