The Golden Goose

Canada Goose traces its roots to Reiss grandfather, Sam Tick, an eastern European immigrant who began as a fabric cutter in Toronto and eventually started an apparel business, Metro Sportswear, in 1957. David Reiss, Sam son in law, built the company into a supplier of heavy duty, down filled coats for police, corrections officers, park rangers and other public sector workers who spend a lot of time outdoors. By the late 1970s, the company was producing Goose branded parkas for its institutional customers, as well as doing a lot of private label manufacturing.

Ironically, David son, Dani, grew up feeling vaguely resentful for having to wear those parkas, which were neither cool nor fashion forward. Dani had no intention of joining the business either. During a bachelor of arts program at the University of Toronto, he started a small software company with a couple of buddies, bundling and selling sports statistics to fantasy pools. In 1997, after university and with little on the go, Dani agreed to spend a few months working for his father to make some money. At the time, he recalls, the tiny company had just two computers and no email address.

Dani spent his time learning the business by travelling with the company sales managers on visits to apparel buyers in Italy and Sweden. He also trawled through the letters that came across the company transom. Many were filled with personal stories about what those heavy coats meant to their owners. Dani came to recognize that European customers associated the product with idealized images of Canadian wilderness. whole life was like a focus group, he says. realized people had an emotional response to in Canada. The experience of owning one of these jackets was like trying on a piece of Canada. was so struck, in fact, that in 2000 he persuaded his father to change the company name from Snow Goose to Canada Goose. David asked Dani to take over as CEO the following year: family transition is ever perfect, Dani says. dad was very focused on manufacturing and machinery. I was more focused on telling the story. Dani began the process of transforming an iconic specialty item into a bona fide brand. At the time, the company private label business was disappearing rapidly customers were ordering from Asia and he faced a tough call: continue a Canadian manufacturing presence or outsource.

Many confidants and customers advised Reiss to go east. was a decision I wrestled with for a long time, says Reiss. In the end, he relied on his instincts, opting to go against the flow by maintaining his Canadian production facilities and teasing a storyline out of all those customer experiences. Indeed, he says, he has put his writing and literary skills to work, often crafting the company marketing copy himself. This includes a tag line that continues to this day: anyone who knows allusion to the unsolicited endorsements that come in the mail every day.

What came next was a combination of good luck and savvy target marketing. Some film crews began using the rechristened Canada Goose parkas for outdoor shoots. Wardrobe designers took notice and decided to put the actors in those coats to achieve an authentic look for winter scenes. Kevin Spreekmeester, who heads global marketing for the firm, says its big break came in 2004, when several parkas turned up in the eco disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow. Subsequently, celebrities like Matt Damon, Sacha Baron Cohen and Toronto DJ Deadmaus have been photographed in their CG coats, thus heightening the cachet, especially among teens. (Spreekmeester claims the firm doesn pay product placement fees to get its gear onto the big screen, although it does provide free coats to celebs who want them.)

From there, Canada Goose began focusing on other professions working outside in highly visible urban settings, such as nightclub security guards in New York, Copenhagen and Toronto. More recently, the firm elbowed its way into VIP seating areas of major stadiums, including Edmonton Rexall Place and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The deal is that patrons can check their own coats and check out Canada Goose coats. very tactical, says Spreekmeester. target highly desirable audiences. course, so do many other quality apparel manufacturers. In the past two years, Canada Goose has embarked on a subtle but important shift, moving to expand its product line into the shoulder season spring, fall and even late summer with products like branded toques, leather gloves and even baseball caps. It a classic line extension strategy, says the company product development director Spencer Orr. (The firm is also experimenting with a down bedding line in Scandinavia.)

With the expansion into other seasons, Canada Goose finds itself in a race with brands such as Moncler and Eddie Bauer to sell ultra lightweight running jackets, vests and hoodies. These garments trade the puffiness for a sleeker look, with insulation ratings suited for cool rather than frigid weather. Orr says the company has distinguished its product, a $425 light jacket known as Canada Goose by adding stretch panels, thumb loops and down quilting designed to address the different ways in which men and women lose heat. category has done really well for us, claims Reiss. In fact, the Hybridge will account for 15% to 20% of Harry Rosen fall order from Canada Goose.

But in Europe which accounts for a third of the company revenue and where its products often sell at higher prices than in North America Moncler is a well capitalized rival that has focused on almost the same slice of the down wear market, and, unlike Canada Goose, has a substantial retail footprint. private equity giant The Carlyle Group and a French investor group known as Eurazeo, Moncler was valued at $1.76 billion last year shortly before it cancelled plans for an initial public offering. and Russia and accelerate its expansion into China. Canada Goose had opened a new European head office in Stockholm two years ago, with plans to boost its market share in the region. But, Reiss says he has no plans for a retail network for Canada Goose or to establish a presence in the burgeoning outlet mall market.

With a long standing presence in Japan, the company is also intensifying its push into the rest of Asia, which currently accounts for about 15% of the firm business but represents a huge market of highly brand conscious consumers. Canada Goose recent decision to cut ties with a network of under performing distributors and consolidate the business with a South Korean agency has chalked up much improved numbers, Reiss says. a global brand now, and we relevant all over the world. the competitive environment, company officials seem bullish on the prospects for the new product lines and insist there still plenty of room to grow. As Spreekmeester says, have a long way to go before we run out of customers. Middleton points out the company shouldn fall victim to the problem that has dogged many other Canadian brands that have sought a place in the cutthroat international arena: companies notoriously underinvest in marketing communications. has demonstrated that he as good at spinning a compelling brand story as are the likes of Michael Budman and Alex Tilley. And, having spent a decade watching other brands rise and fall, he remains determined to buck the global production and distribution trends that have turned other brands into caricatures of their original selves.

definitely like to swim upstream, Reiss muses. a much greater challenge to go up rather than down. by Fredrik Sandberg/Sipa; Rick Madonik/Corbis; Canada Goose; iStock