Jennifer Drew, store manager, Patagonia
Palo Alto California
|By Francine Brevetti, BUSINESS WRITER
Inside Bay Area
|Article Last Updated:06/27/2007 03:43:08 AM PDT|
|FROM FALCONRY to the manufacture of mountain climbing gear to retailer and environmental activist, Patagonia and its founders have morphed so many times that its new outlet in Palo Alto may seem like an afterthought.But the new store is part of Patagonia’s strategy to target a younger and more local population than it captures at its store in San Francisco near Ghirardelli Square, said Palo Alto store manager Jennifer Drew.The customer base in San Francisco is predominantly tourists and business travelers. “I think Palo Alto will be a lot of locals, college students and outdoor fanatics,” Drew said.The Palo Alto store, at 525 Alma St., near University Avenue and not far from Stanford Shopping Center, opened June 18, almost two weeks before its expected opening on June 30. A grand opening celebration is planned on July 14.The new outlet is about 3,500 square feet, about 1,000 square feetbigger than the San Francisco store, but both stores carry similar stock. The retail chain specializes in attire for mountain climbing, skiing and surfing, as well as lifestyle sportswear — but the Palo Alto store may offer a greater volume of merchandise in some additional styles, Drew said. It will employ about a dozen people, just as the San Francisco store does. Offerings from the company’s Patagonia.com Web site include a “travel beanie” for $34, and jackets ranging from $64 to $325, depending on material and weight.Retail analysts say Patagonia has an unusual internal culture, no doubt stemming from its remarkable origins.In 1953, when company founder Yvon Chouinard was 14, he joined a falconry club and trained the soaring birds to hunt. To collect them in their aeries, Chouinard learned to rappel down cliffs and infiltrate their turf. The rappelling gave him a taste for rock and mountain climbing. As a young man, he and his buddies swarmed over the West’s mountains and rocky formations.According to the company’s account, each time Chouinard descended from a climb, he returned with another idea for improving climbing gear, whether for tools or clothing.He started by improving pitons, the spike the climber drives into rock or ice for support. Chouinard made them reusable and lighter so the climber no longer had to leave them in the side of the mountain. Instead, climbers can carry just a few, rather than a weighty sackful.
Since those early days, Patagonia has gone on to innovate fabrics. Company leaders discovered that certain fibers, such as cotton, were grown with such a heavy load of pesticides as to be distasteful to Patagonia’s ethic. The company turned to organic cotton and hemp and developed its own fibers.
In 1972, Chouinard started selling his goods by mail order. In 1975, he opened his first retail outlet in Ventura. The company still sells by mail order, as well as online and in retail outlets throughout the world.
One would think that with its corporate values and ethics as they are, Patagonia would have several outlets in the nature- and sport-loving Bay Area.
Instead, “They’ve always been very slow in opening retail outlets. It never looked to me like they had a very methodical way of opening their stores,” said retail analyst George Whalin.
Patagonia has 23 domestic stores and 17 abroad.
But Whalin certainly thinks Palo Alto is a fabulous venue for the brand. So does Chris McDonald, executive vice president of Abacus, a provider of data and database marketing services.
“The specialty retail category is a hot one right now,” McDonald said. “Patagonia is sure to do very well in Palo Alto.”
Patagonia’s direct mail order and online sales activity in the area “already shows they have a very good base there,” McDonald added.
“The quality of their equipment is so high that many people buy their non-tech goods because of the association with that quality,” he said.
The company is a strong supporter of environmentally focused nonprofits. It publishes a yearly compendium, Environmental Initiatives, listing the hundreds of recipients of its largess and explaining their missions.
Patagonia is reputed to offer an extremely friendly workplace. A sign posted at its headquarters in Ventura reads, “Let my people go surfing.”
Store manager Drew explained, “Since we’re all outdoor people, if it’s a beautiful day and somebody has to go fly fishing, we try to let them go.
“We’re about playing.”