Superbrands case studies: Timberland

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume IV', May 2001. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by the independent Superbrands Council.

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For a long time now, the trend in everyday fashion has been towards more casual dress. Even the working uniform of the suit is beginning to give way to a more casual look. And, the rising profile of sport in our lives is also having an effect on the way we dress. All in all, sports clothing and footwear sales reached £3.65 billion in the UK in 1999, accounting for nearly 15% of all clothes and shoe sales (Source: Key Note).

Timberland is well positioned to benefit from all of these trends. Its mixture of 'outdoorsy casual' wear and more specialist sports gear means it has its feet planted firmly in both camps.

In the clothing and footwear market, brands are king. In fact, there are few sectors where they are more influential. The importance of branding has led to increasing crossover of clothing manufacturers into footwear and vice-versa. As a result, Timberland, which started out making footwear, has expanded into apparel. Changes in retail are also affecting the market. Footwear is being sold by a wider range of outlets, including department stores, fashion retailers, sports and outdoor shops, as well as traditional high street shoe shops. For example, fashion multiples such as Next and River Island as well as Marks & Spencer are now major shoe retailers. Mail order is another important channel, especially as catalogues targeting more affluent consumers are becoming more widespread.

The growth of the sector is being further stimulated by increased levels of advertising and promotion, especially in the new, highly successful men's glossy magazines such as FHM, GQ and Esquire.


Timberland has won several accolades over the years. For example, in 1994, it was hailed as 'premier brand' in the outdoor market by the Wall Street Journal.

However, its biggest achievement was in defining a new category of footwear. Its sand-coloured Classic Boot is a fashion icon which has inspired innumerable imitators. As with any brand that creates a new category, Timberland has the kudos of being the 'genuine article' in this area of footwear. This has inevitably boosted the reputation of its brand and helped it establish credibility across its wider clothing and footwear range.

Timberland can also take credit for a revolutionary technology that would change the footwear industry forever. In 1965, it introduced an injection-moulding technique which meant that boots and shoes could be produced with soles fused to the uppers without stitching, making them waterproof.

Timberland has also made important strides in the area of ethical business. Its culture and brand identity are grounded in the belief that 'doing well' and 'doing good' are not contradictory. Timberland's partnership with City Year, a US based organisation aimed at encouraging young people from diverse backgrounds to participate in their community, has become a valuble part of Timberland's strategy. In 1989 Timberland donated 50 pairs of work boots to City Year initiating the start of a long term relationship that continues to flourish to this day.

Timberland has invested over $1 million in the project and set up its community action programmes for employees, called Path of Service. This allows each full-time member of staff across the world paid leave to work on voluntary projects in and around their local community. In 1997 Timberland pledged 40,000 hours to America's Promise and increased paid community service time for employees to 40 hours per year.


Timberland can trace its origins back to 1952, to New England in the US. That was the year that Nathan Swartz bought a 50% interest in the Abingdon Shoe Company, a Massachusetts-based outfit manufacturing 'own label' shoes for leading US footwear brands.

By 1955, Swartz had bought the remaining interest in the business and was joined by his two sons. Swartz and sons made their first boots under the 'Timberland' name in 1973. Thanks to the revolutionary injection moulding technique they had introduced eight years earlier, they were guaranteed waterproof and were an instant hit. As its leather boots and shoes appeared on the market, the brand became well-known and in 1978 the business changed its name to The Timberland Company.In 1980 Timberland footwear was launched in Italy, its first foray into the international market. In 1986, the first Timberland store opened in Newport, Rhode Island, in the eastern US. Two years later, Timberland introduced the HydroTech boat shoe as well as their first men's sportswear collection. Timberland came to the UK in the 1980s through distributor partnerships, but a subsidiary of the business was set up in 1989.

In 1991, Jeffrey Swartz, the grandson of founder Nathan, was named as Chief Operating Officer. Timberland began trading on the New York stock exchange under the symbol TBL and in the following year became the founding national sponsor of City Year, making its first $1 million investment.

In 1996 a new line of women's dress casual footwear was introduced, as was a multi-purpose outdoor line of performance footwear. Kids' footwear was also launched and new licencing agreements signed for gloves, travel gear, eyewear and socks. In 1998 Jeffrey Swartz became Timberland's president and in the same year revenues hit $862.2 million.


Since the development and launch of the classic boot in 1973, Timberland has built its reputation of delivering long lasting, hard wearing product. Its success in footwear continues to be driven by a diverse product portfolio, focused on meeting the distinct needs of Timberland's key consumer segments. With a focus on innovation, value and distinction, Timberland's footwear delivered its third consecutive year of double-digit worldwide unit shipment increases in 1999.

Timberland clothing continues to be an integral part of Timberland's evolution as a global lifestyle brand. In the UK, Timberland has developed a profitable and well-established men's apparel business.

Timberland focuses its experience and forte in footwear and clothing, with the aim of ensuring that the brand encompasses a total lifestyle and has licensee agreements with reputable manufacturers of accessories. This range has increased over the years, with the introduction of watches, luggage and back packs, children's clothing and eyewear.

Recent developments

1999 marked the introduction of the Timberland PRO Series and Mountain Athletics by Timberland, new endorsed brands reaching new consumers.

The Timberland PRO Series is a line of footwear designed for the professional tradesperson. In 1999, the Timberland PRO Series was distributed through reputable outlets that reach blue-collar workers. Timberland plans to further expand distribution in 2001 and strengthen awareness of Timberland PRO products through marketing and promotional activities directed at point-of-sale and retailer catalogues to capitalise on the work consumer's shopping behaviour.

Mountain Athletics(tm) by Timberland, an aggressive and rugged new outdoor athletic brand, was introduced in 1999. The company has had similar success with Mountain Athletics(tm) by Timberland, with a range of performance products, designed to meet the needs of outdoor athletes. The Mountain Athletics(tm) brand gained retail placement in speciality sports and athletic outlets and is rapidly building a consumer following worldwide.


Timberland promotes the brand through an integrated product offering, based on: 'Boots, Shoes, Clothes and Gear' that equip people to make a difference in their world. Advertising is centralised through the US Corporate Head Office, and subsidiaries and distributors worldwide ensure that it reaches each individual market's target consumer. Recent campaigns have included the highly successful 'Our Boots Work' campaign, which focuses on the Classic Boot.

The 'Boots, Shoes, Clothes and Gear' creative platform is designed to support the notion that the 'journey outside' is a metaphor for the 'journey within'. The ads capture real people experiencing a 'Timberland moment' - an outdoor experience that connects on a deeper, more emotional level.

The Mountain Athletics range is promoted using a separate ad campaign, entitled 'Go there'. Positioned to reflect the balance between the performance of the product and the sense of spirit gained from taking part in mountain athletic sports, the campaign encapsulates the spirit of the brand.

Brand values

Ever since Timberland developed the first guaranteed waterproof boot, the company has been committed to quality, durability, authenticity, value and performance, and to delivering the experience of 'the great outdoors' to its customers. The central pillar of Timberland's long term strategy is to provide value and innovation to consumers throughout its entire product offering. Applying this formula to all the company's activities has enabled Timberland to move beyond being a source of great footwear to become an integrated lifestyle brand.

Things you didn't know

  • A pair of Timberland Classic Boots are sold every minute around the world.

  • A pair of Timberland Classic Boots were made for the NBA player Shaquille O'Neal in size 22.

  • Annually throughout the world, Timberland employees on average donate over 60,000 hours to local projects, helping make a difference to the community environment around them.

  • In 2001 Timberland will be taking six members of the public from the UK over to the US to run from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other.

    © 2002 Superbrands Ltd