5 Minutes With Matthieu Schegg, EMEA General Manager & VP, Columbia

Global outdoor wear brand Columbia has just opened a brand new store in London's famous Carnaby Street. We used the opportunity to catch up up with its EMEA general manager Matthieu Schegg.

Matthieu Schegg Columbia

Congrats on the new store in Carnaby!

Announcing the arrival of our new London store is another milestone for Columbia just a year after celebrating our 80th anniversary and we are thrilled about it. London is a world-renowned shopping city and Carnaby represents an iconic shopping street. We look forward to engaging with the city’s active consumers and global visitors.

How many stores in the UK did you have before this?

We have one store in Kensington High Street in west London. It was up to now our only branded store in Europe. Carnaby Street is for sure a new branded store in the UK but we will have the opportunity to reach a much broader audience, as this street is a global destination for tourists and shoppers.

“Flagship” can be interpreted a few ways. We can say that the Carnaby store represents our most up-to-date format, and is the best place to experience the brand in London, and in the UK.

Tell me about the Columbia story.

Columbia Sportswear Company, based in Portland Oregon, began in 1938 as a small hat maker and ever since has been making gear for people who enjoy the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest in the US and beyond.

Chairman Gert Boyle, often referred to as our “Tough Mother” has been at the helm for more than 50 of those years and her unique persona helped grow Columbia into the global sportswear brand it is today.

In 2019, the company is still delivering apparel, footwear, and accessories to keep our consumers warm, dry, cool, and protected no matter what. This is a way to encourage people to stay in the outdoors longer.

What gap in the UK retail market does Columbia strive to address?

We’re looking to grow awareness in the UK. Fortunately, we have a compelling and authentic brand story – Carnaby presents the perfect platform to get that story in front of millions of visitors. It’s an ideal location to experience the heritage of the Columbia brand, gear-up and get inspired.

What’s in store for Columbia in the UK for 2019?

We’re continuing to tell our story, build partnerships, and encourage people to get outdoors.

Thanks to our partnership with the UK National Parks, we now have thousands of National Parks Rangers and staff all around the UK kitted out in Columbia and demonstrating the products effectiveness in every UK weather imaginable.

The partnership has also given us the opportunity to consistently communicate our shared values of helping people access the outdoors. As an example, we have just launched a campaign together with the UK National Parks featuring TV Presenter Gabby Logan and family, with a focus on getting young people off their screens and into the outdoors.

How is Columbia addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

People don’t necessarily have to go to stores anymore to find products, but with great in-store leadership and an excellent customer service we make sure they find a reason to go. As consumer expectations are changing, retailers have to adapt and focus more on providing unique consumer experience.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector given the climate at the moment?

As mentioned, consumer expectations and behaviours are changing. Consumers are more aware and better informed than ever and mobile devices enable to have instant information and compare products available on the market. Internet and modern technology has changed the face of retail.

The consumer now lives in an omnichannel world and is connected and interacts with his favourite brands, athletes and celebrities through the various social media platforms. Retailers have to adapt to this new reality and be a player. Each retailer has to develop his own consumer experience to attract and retain consumers.

Brexit also brings a level of uncertainty. We will all have to adapt depending on the scenario.

Describe your role and responsibilities at Columbia.

In my role I have to manage the portfolio of brands that we operate directly in the region, namely Columbia, Sorel, Mountain Hardwear. This means identify market opportunities and develop them in accordance with the global brand strategies.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background beforehand.

I joined Columbia four years ago. Prior to that I spent 12 years at Nike in various sales and sales management roles in Europe and then six years with Geox heading up France and then Western Europe.

My various roles enabled me to gain some significant experience in brand management, omnichannel distribution within an international and multi cultural environment.

What got you into retail in the first place?

As mentioned, I am not a pure retailer. I spent more time working in wholesale. I started working in retail as I was sales director for Nike in Russia and we were mainly opening mono brand partner stores to establish the brand in the market. Then at Geox the business was split 50/50 between wholesale and retail. As mentioned, the new reality is not wholesale, retail or ecommerce anymore but really omnichannel.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

I think it helped me to adapt to many different situations.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

My job is very much like a plug adaptor when you travel from one country to another one with some electric device! I have to play glocal (think global, act local), so take a global strategy and adapt it to local realities. Europe is a complex environment for American companies used to dealing with a huge domestic market, with one language, one culture, one currency. Europe is very diverse so my biggest challenge is probably ensuring the global engines provide me with what I need in terms of relevant product, marketing, operations.

And the most rewarding?

The most rewarding is success, but most and foremost, hiring and developing successful individuals and building great teams because it is the people who make the difference.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

If you like pragmatic things, challenges and are results oriented that’s a great place to work, because everyday you start from scratch, and everyday is different.

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