For many outside Japan, the name Coleman is likely to conjure up images of tents and weekend camping trips by a roaring campfire.
Yet despite its 24-year presence here, Coleman’s Japanese subsidiary, Coleman Japan Co., has yet to establish the same kind of brand recognition and is broadening its horizons to reinvent itself as the “outdoor recreation company,” said recently elected President Richard Guilfoile.
“Our sales force, and to a certain extent our marketing team, has always been focused on camping,” said Guilfoile, who took over the helm of Coleman Japan in January. “But only 7 percent of the Japanese population have been camping over the past few years . . . and of those who have, the majority tend to be in their 40s and have families.”
The limited awareness of the Coleman name among young Japanese underlines the need for change, he said.
“For those in their 40s, Coleman is an established brand, but few young people know about us,” he said. “My ultimate objective is to raise the awareness of Coleman among young Japanese and to make Coleman an accepted brand.”
To this end, Guilfoile has initiated a number of projects to expand distribution and improve advertising strategies.
“Within the various channels of distribution where we have no business today, if you have the right strategy and the right focus in terms of who that store’s customers are, you can sell just about anything,” he said.
Guilfoile mentioned, for example, that a proposed agreement with a major convenience store chain could give Coleman product space at stores nationwide to display items specifically designed to sell in that market, such as wind-proof lighters.
“That’s where young Japanese people live — in convenience stores,” he said.
Coleman began diversifying in the Japanese market in 1995, when the market for camping gear was nearly saturated due to an insufficient number of camp sites. It was around that time that the company started developing new products, like apparel and bags.
“Around 60 percent of the products we sell in Japan today are made for the Japanese market,” Guilfoile said. “This is a major shift in strategy — developing products for the Japanese consumer, using the right colors and size, and so on.”
The company’s clothing line, however, immediately came under fire from Guilfoile, who told employees it lacked identity.
“I told them, if you were to take the logo off our clothes they could be some other maker’s,” he said.
“After much discussion we finally agreed on a direction: We’re an outdoor recreation company so our clothing must be durable, must offer protection in extreme conditions and must be comfortable – the kind of thing you could wear out on the streets.”
Guilfoile was previously president of Gillette, whose shaving products he successfully brought to the attention of Japanese consumers through aggressive advertising, among other things.
He has also brought about significant changes in Coleman’s advertising, giving the company a new image that “shows the fun of camping.”
“Our former campaign looked like a catalog, very plastic,” said Guilfoile. “This ear’s has much more atmosphere and more Coleman identity.”
Guilfoile has also endeavored to ensure Coleman ads get more widespread exposure. Whereas previously the company only advertised in camping magazines, beginning this year it will also use more popular publications, such as Popeye.
The Coleman name will also appear in trains in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya through July.
The overall market for the outdoor industry in Japan is worth about $1.2 billion, Guilfoile said, noting Coleman has about a 25-30 percent share of the camping segment.
The fruits of Coleman’s new business strategies, he said, will be a sales increase of 20 percent in fiscal 2000.
“Between product strategy, new product entries, expanding distribution and a more concentrated focus on reaching the young audience, I don’t see any difficulty in doubling our sales in the next five years,” he said.