20 Things You Didn’t Know About Columbia Sportswear Company

Columbia Sportswear is a manufacturer of apparel featuring outerwear, footwear, sportswear and more. The company has achieved success in becoming a well-known clothing brand that is now in high demand. The company has an interesting history and if you’re a fan of their products, here are 20 things about them that you probably didn’t know.

1. Columbia Sportswear was founded in 1938 as a hat store

This is a brand that has been around for decades. The first store was opened in 1938 by Paul Lamfrom. The first retail store didn’t offer the vast line of apparel that you’ll find in modern locations. In fact, they didn’t offer any clothing or footwear. They began as a hat distributor. They purchased the Portland Hat company. The name of the business would eventually be changed to Columbia sportswear. They did a remarkable job and build a successful business, especially for only being in a new country for just one year.

2. The founder had to leave his home country and immigrate

Prior to establishing Columbia Sportswear, Paul Lamfrom and his wife Marie had to leave their homeland in a hurry. The couple fled from Nazi Germany one year before establishing their business. They came to the United States in 1937 and made the new country their permanent home. They left Germany when the Nazi regime was powerful and the country had changed. They feared for their lives and their very existence and had little choice but to find a new home where they could rebuild their lives.

3. The headquarters is in an unincorporated area

It’s highly unusual to establish the headquarters for a major company in an unincorporated location, but that’s where Columbia Sportswear’s headquarters is. It’s in Cedar Mill in Washington County in the state of Oregon. Although it’s in the metropolitan Portland area near the city of Beaverton, it’s classified as an unincorporated area.

4. Columbia Sportswear Company got its current name in 1960

It was a decade after the store opened that the name was changed from the Columbia Hat Company to Columbia Sportswear Company. It was given its name to represent the mighty Columbia River in the area. The name has not changed since this time. So if you’re wondering why the history of Columbia Sportswear Company may only appear to go back to 1960, it’s just the name that stops there. The real founding date is actually 1938 and it’s simply evolved into the mega giant of today.

5. The founder stepped down in 1948

In 1948, Paul’s daughter Gert married Neal Boyle. Gert’s new husband became the head of the company. Paul had run the business along with his wife and with new family members on board, it was time for him to turn over the reigns, but the business remained a family owned and run operation.

6. Columbia Sportswear Company isn’t just about apparel

While it’s true that the brand is best known for its line of outerwear, footwear, and sportswear, it also distributes other branded items. They also distribute ski apparel, accessories for outerwear, camping equipment, and headgear.

7. The company was passed down to the founder’s grandson

In 1970, Neal Boyle died of a heart attack. Tim Boyle, the son of Gert and Neal was still a senior at the University of Oregon when he took over the operations of the family owned and operated business. His mother Gert assisted Tim and between the two of them, they saved the country from bankruptcy.

8. Columbia Sportswear Company went public in 1998

In 1998, the business became a publicly traded company. It had finally grown to the size and valuation to reach this status. In 2000, Columbia acquired Sorel, the famous footwear line and they incorporated it into the the products that it distributed to their associates. The company moved forward in 2003 to purchase Mountain Hardwear and in 2006, the Pacific Trail as well as the Montrail brands. They were moving forward and building their assets at a steady rate.

9. Columbia reached number one in 2001

This was quite a feat for Columbia Sportswear company. They had come all the way from a close brush with bankruptcy just a few decades before to achieving the status of the largest retailer of ski apparel in the United States. This determination was made based upon their gross revenue. They had come a long way since the company first began and from their brush with ruin in the early 1970s. This shows that dedication and hard work can accomplish near miracles.

10. Columbia got into team sponsorship

Here’s a fun fact about Columbia Sportswear Company that many people don’t know. In June of 2008, they made the announcement that the company was making a three-year commitment to sponsorship for the Team High Road group. The team had formerly been known as the T-Moble and Team Telekom. The Columbia Sportswear Company sponsorship began with the beginning of the Tour de France and once again, their name was changed to represent their sponsor as Team Columbia. They sponsored both women’s and men’s teams.

11. Columbia Sportswear Company grew by 5% in 2016

Columbia Sportswear Company (COLM) set a 4% growth target for 2016. They experienced a total growth of 4% for 2016 with net sales in the amount of $2.38 billion. For 2017, the operating income grew by 5 percent and was estimated at between $260 million to $270 million. They set what was considered a reasonable goal but didn’t stop pushing at achieving the objective

12. The company has expanded internationally

Columbia Sportswear Company continued with its rapid expansion and took the business to countries outside of the United States. They maintain over 10,000 retailers within the world. This includes North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia-New Zealand. The brand had become so popular within the United States and Canada that the fame had spread to other countries where it became a brand that was in high demand.

13. They’re a big name brand in skiwear and snow sports

In America and throughout several other countries in the world, Columbia Sportswear Company is one of the most popular brands in snowboarding apparel and skiwear. They have been named as the leading manufacturers of these lines of apparel. They fill an important role in winter sports apparel and consumers appreciate the style and quality of the brand.

14. Columbia Sportswear made it big in layered outerwear

The 1986 season for winter outerwear proved to be very profitable for Columbia Sportswear Company. It was during this time that fashion and practicality had a meeting of the minds. With interest in winter sports and activities growing among the population, the need for new and innovative designs that were both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional was the focus of both manufacturers and consumers. The Boyles had a good handle on this concept and responded in kind with a line of layered outerwear that came at the right time. Sales grew and demand for the brand’s products also grew. This was the beginning of an era of extreme prosperity for the family-owned business.

15. When Gert Boyle was at her worse an investor gave her an insulting offer

Going back in time to the period after Neal’s death, Gert was struggling with the business and keeping it afloat. Columbia Sportswear Company was in danger of insolvency. Gert was desperately trying to figure out what to do and her first year of leadership on her own was very tough. She was the mother of three and her company which had been in the family since its founding was in danger of being lost. Things got so bad that she considered selling. When one potential buyer made her an offer to purchase it for a measly $1,400, she gave him a flat refusal and had a few choice words to add to that response.

16. Gert shared that she and Tim did everything wrong

Tim helped his mother Gert run the company after his father had died. Both of them were well-intentioned, but Gert shared that they couldn’t seem to get anything right in the beginning. Tim left school during his last semester at College to help his mother, amid her protests over his quitting school. They were in the hole a negative $300,000 and the situation looked fairly hopeless. They worked together and both admit that the troubles they were having were largely they’re own and Time chimed in saying “we really blew it.” He didn’t make the admission until 20 years after the fact, but that’s the thing about hindsight. Things aren’t always obvious to you when you’re dealing with a financial crisis. They even used the strategy of firing everyone which was another big mistake. They really didn’t know what they were doing at the time.

17. When the dust had settled the Mother and Son team were unstoppable

The Boyles finally got their bearings and figured out the things that they needed to know to make Columbia Sportswear Company a success. Their big break came with the 1986 boom in the winter outerwear sales. They learned a hard lesson about advertising and its importance. Gert took the lead as the chairwoman and a hard-driving proponent of their new eye-catching advertising campaign that featured her as “mother Boyle.” It worked like a charm and it was at this time that the company became a global supplier of what was considered to be high-quality outerwear. They had grown to a distribution portfolio to more than 30 countries throughout the world.

18. Columbia had to cut the wholesaling to make a go of it

The financial aspect of the company was weakened by poor decisions but when Tim and Gertrude both began to see that the wholesaling side of their business had actually been stifling their profits, they made a sizable investment in a large manufacturing facility. This was a key to their success and from this point on they were able to make a slow rise from the financial crises of the 1970s until they hit a golden age in the mid-1980s.

19. We can learn from their mistakes

Just prior to the exponential sales growth of Columbia Sportswear Company, they made a series of changes and concentrated on what was working and what wasn’t. They cut out the components of the company that were once considered to be important, but evidently were holding the company back. The decisions were difficult, but sometimes you have to know how to prune a business for optimum growth. They even partnered with contractors throughout the Pacific Northwest to focus on the distribution aspect of Columbia. Sometimes you have to let one thing go in order to be successful in another, but that’s business as well as life.

20. They set the example in diversification

Although it was important for Columbia to cut some areas of their operations in the 1970s, they decided that it was time to diversify their product lines. The Columbia label had a broad appeal throughout the world and it was time for them to focus on diversifying the line of products that they were distributing.

Columbia experienced record sales with their new products when a million Bugaboo parka were sold as of 1992. They made history in the ski apparel industry with that product. They also introduced a line of footwear in 1993 which again met with record sales. After this, they introduced the line of Tough Mother denim wear that further exploded sales into the record-breaking category. By 1994, they had surpassed the $1 billion mark and the brand was made even more popular when it was named as the official supplier for CBS Sports in their coverage of the Winter Olympic Games which were held in Lillehammer, Norway. This opened the door for their line of snowboard apparel which was recently introduced by the distributor. Their history is an interesting one and if we take a good look at the good times and the bad along with the evolution of the company and the learning that took place, it’s something worth knowing about, particularly if you’re considering a business in retail.


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