ALAMEDA, CALIFORNIA (March 31, 2008) -- In 2003, a close-knit management team took Keen -- a catchy, outdoorsy footwear line -- from obscurity to 100 million in little over three years.
The boom took more than a few by surprise. After all, these were not the bubble years that spawned Google and Yahoo. Yet Keen’s big bang was exactly what startups were supposed to do. By being opportunistic, aggressive, and a little bit lucky, it paid off.
Today, in a marketplace twice removed from the high roller days of the late 1990s, the same team that led Keen on their magic ride has returned to the footwear arena … with a vastly different plan.
Under the banner of Ahnu Footwear, the Bay-Area braintrust has returned with an outdoor lifestyle footwear line sporting a green vibe and a gentler version of what rags-to-riches success stories are all about.
They have the same management, the same core designers, the same sales and marketing, the same core representatives. But they’re not seeking the same trajectory.
Instead, Ahnu has made a string of distinct and overt decisions to keep the arc of growth more consistent, more controllable, and …. for lack of a better term … slow.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Jim Van Dine, CEO of Ahnu. “The purpose of Ahnu footwear is to succeed and to make money, but how we go about that goal is just as important to us as whether we get there.”
Named for the Celtic goddess of balance, Ahnu’s controlled growth from 2007 to 2008 includes doubling their gross sales, doubling their number of storefronts, premium placement in upcoming Nordstrom and REI catalogs, and fresh availability in Canada and New Zealand.
While not meteoric, the steady growth is almost exactly on pace with what the company planned pre-launch in 2006. It’s also remarkable considering the competitiveness of the outdoor lifestyle footwear market, a world that includes the giants of Keen, Merrell and Teva.
Ahnu is as comfortable in their model for success as they are in their shoes. In their “Slow Company” model, sustainability means far more than just using “green” and socially responsible tactics. It means measured, controlled growth that’s built for long-term happiness, not merely short-term profits.
Ahnu’s unique business model includes remarkable restraint in choosing (and turning down) retail partners, a minimalist product strategy that limits the number of new products rolling out each season, and a marketing program that uses a recycled trade-show booth and a single document for their catalog, retail communication, and press kit.
Their product is quiet but striking, striving for stringent performance goals but using emerging materials like charred bamboo and recycled polyester. As an invisible benefit to their consumer, Ahnu factories are certified with SA8000 honors … the gold standard in social responsibility.
“The goal with Ahnu Footwear has been since Day One to work together, and to do something worth doing,” added Van Dine. “So far, so good.”
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