CANADA: ROOTS SHEDS HOMEGROWN FEEL TO GO GLOBAL: NEW AD AGENCY DRESSES UP TOP RETAILER WITHOUT GLITZ

By Published on .

Most Popular
At the end of the day's intense session-and just four days after its principals resigned from Vickers & Benson Advertising in Toronto-Garneau Wurstlin Philp had its first client. The initial assignment was nothing short of a tall order: Grow Roots' high-quality leather goods and casual clothes beyond their homegrown Canadian origins into more sophisticated products for global appeal. A $1.5 million lifestyles-oriented TV campaign was to be the agency's main makeover tool.

For Roots, the campaign also marked a milestone because it relies on brand advertising to help usher it into international markets, where competitors like The Gap claim a commanding market share and worldwide sales of $4.4 billion.

While Roots' Mr. Budman said his company is ready to grow and compete internationally, the approach will be decidedly pragmatic as GWP pitches in on a project basis to continue building brand awareness.

"We're for real. We don't have to sit and prefabricate our image," said Mr. Budman. "So I think that what we have to do now is communicate that on a much larger scale and really go head-to-head with some of the more global brands. A lot of the global brands that we compete with have the image, but they don't have the goods. We've got the goods, and we've got to communicate the image."

He continued: "You're not going to see Roots come up with a pretentious advertising campaign, like some of our competitors, based on a philosophy that we don't believe in. It always comes back to Don and me, what we're all about and what our values are, and our evolution as people, as individuals, as family men, as fathers."

Roots got its start 23 years ago selling a shoe the founders modeled after the negative heel shoe, otherwise known as an "earth" shoe. Today, Roots is a $100 million privately owned company that has been growing by at least 20% per year, and its offerings have expanded beyond shoes into boots, leather jackets, bags, accessories, cotton sweatshirts and sweatpants, and a line of children's wear. Store sales account for 80% of Roots business, but the company also now produces premiums and incentives for the entertainment business, while licensees make watches, fragrance and eyewear bearing the Roots name.

"We believe the philosophy of the brand carries power to everything that we do, starting with the manufacturing," said Mr. Budman, who stresses that 96% of the products sold in Roots stores are made in the two Roots factories in Toronto. "It's old-world craftsmanship with the most highly technical equipment."

He added, "The brand has integrity, unlike most of our competitors. We do not grovel to eke out the last dime by manufacturing in Third World countries with people making minimal wage."

That said, Roots has barely taken hold outside of Canada, where it owns 95 stores. It has five stores in the U.S. and 13 locations in Asia (Japan, Korea and Taiwan), where it expanded in 1993 by licensing owner-operators of stores called Beaver Roots. The goal this year is to build 25 to 40 stores in the U.S., plus a flagship store in London. "We feel that the brand also can succeed in Western and in Eastern Europe," added Mr. Budman. Global licensing and franchising will be key growth areas there.

Even with Roots' enviable presence in Canada, at least one financial analyst in Toronto questions whether the company will be able to deliver on its international expansion. "Roots has an extremely strong brand and positioning here in Canada," the analyst said. "The product is the brand and the brand is the store." But, he noted, "Will it play in Peoria?"

The answer depends largely on whether Roots' co-owners and their very hands-on management style can compete on a new level. In the past, Roots advertised only minimally and rarely worked with ad agencies. The co-owners turned to GWP only after a trusted friend recommended the founders as the most creative people in the industry. "We had a very negative experience with our last advertising agency, dealing with people who put themselves before the brand," Mr. Budman said. (That agency, Roche Macaulay & Partners in Toronto, rebuts the accusation. "I'm disappointed he would say that," said Geoffrey Roche, agency president and CEO. "Roots had a 15% to 30% increase in sales during the time we worked with them. I don't think that's putting our ego ahead of the brand.")

In another departure from the past, Roots' new ads that broke in late August don't focus on the product. Instead, they offer up a lifestyle, featuring Canadian celebrities, like actor Jason Priestly and musician Robbie Robertson, who wear Roots clothing. This year, Roots plans to significantly increase the ad budget to an as-yet undetermined level and expand the campaign to include other famous Canadian people prominent in science, art, culture, education and communities.

Those chosen to represent different Roots lifestyles and ages-Mr. Priestly and his dog, actress Kelly Lynch and her young daughter, Mr. Robertson and his adult son-"all reflect the philosophy of the company, which is based on the idea that Roots are for everybody, that there is no generation gap at Roots," Mr. Budman said. "The new, hip family is what Roots is all about." Of course, it doesn't hurt that all those famous faces in the ads are personal friends of Mr. Budman.

Outdoor and magazine ads ran last year across Canada and in five of Roots' markets in the U.S. (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit and Aspen, Colo.). The ads, which continued through Christmas, also were reprinted into large posters and postcards for free distribution in Roots stores.

"One of the things Roots wanted us to do was to get the most for the very littlest possible. ... `We have three ads, let's milk them.' We respect that," said Mr. Garneau.

Mr. Budman, who cites a 15% to 20% increase in store traffic since the lifestyle ads came out, noted that he's had somewhat of a change of heart as well. "The advertising campaign that we're running right now is the most successful we've ever done," he explained. "We really believe that we're going to have to put a lot of marketing dollars into advertising, much more than we have before. I see that we have so much of a story to tell, so much to communicate with our customer and the public."

That's just what GWP wants to hear. The shop prides itself on building, promoting and enhancing brands with methods untried by traditional ad agencies.

"Rather than start with the theory that says `Brand goes here,' like an engineer, we have to be forensic first and look at it," Mr. Garneau explained. "That means examining the current position of the brand, where it wants to go and how best to get there. It could mean a solution ranging from a packaging or pricing change, to a repositioning through advertising or promotion, or any other number of things."

Determining when and where a consumer is most receptive to hearing or seeing ads about the brand is also a key part of GWP's analytical process, a decision that impacts media schedules. "Buying a service or product is a culmination of a process, not one isolated moment," Mr. Philp said.

Meanwhile, GWP's concept of "brand engineering" is proving successful beyond its charter client. Mr. Philp is obviously pleased in noting that his agency has beat out major competitors in Toronto for new business, which now includes Rogers Communications Inc. (part of Canada's largest cable company), real estate company Royal LePage, the landmark CN Tower in Toronto and ING, a Dutch bank that recently arrived in Canada.

In this article: