Is Outdoor Brand Arc’teryx Quietly Pivoting to a “China First” Strategy?

This post originally appeared on Content Commerce Insider, our sister publication on branded entertainment.

Less than 18 months after taking over Finland-based Amer Sports, last week China’s Anta Sports announced the replacement of CEO Heikki Takala with Anta executive James Zheng, supported by Michael Hauge Sorensen in a newly created COO role. With a significant portfolio of sporting brands — including Wilson, Salomon, Peak Performance, and Arc’teryx — Amer Sports was acquired for 4.6 billion euros ($5.2 billion) by a consortium led by Anta Sports, with backing from Tencent Holdings, Anamered Investments, and a fund managed by FountainVest Partners.

At the time, the deal was one of the most notable international sporting and outdoor equipment and apparel acquisitions by a Chinese company, and followed on the heels of a burst of international fashion and luxury acquisitions made by Chinese corporations in recent years, such as Lanvin owner Fosun.

With the ascension of an Anta executive as group-wide CEO, the personnel changes highlight the virtual certainty that Amer Sports will now prioritize the Chinese market for growth, particularly for big-ticket portfolio brands such as Arc’teryx. This month, the Canadian brand — known for its trendy $800 shell jackets and serious mountain climbing gear that includes $1,300 avalanche airbags and $1,000 boots — opened its first global flagship (and largest store) in Shanghai.

As WWD noted, the two-story, 8,000-square-foot space in Lippo Plaza on Huaihai Road “is designed to be an experientially immersive store and is the first to offer product from the brand’s entire range of performance, lifestyle, and its advanced technical Veilance collections under one roof.”

One can foresee a market-wide push of its outdoors and winter sports brands ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, with Amer likely looking to focus on greatly expanding the retail footprint of its higher-end brands among customers that are already familiar with their names. Arc’teryx, in particular, has become increasingly popular among affluent urban consumers in China, capitalizing on an association between outdoor brands and quality and warmth that has boosted the profile of other brands such as Canada Goose in the market over the past decade. In addition, Arc’teryx has found great success in China as a luxury lifestyle brand, thanks to its collaborations with in-demand brands such as Off-White and its association with celebrities like Drake and Frank Ocean.

The question now is how much Amer Sports and its key brands will change under Chinese leadership — whether China itself will shift from an important market to the most important market for its portfolio of companies.

This has interesting implications in the content-commerce space, where Tencent (a member of Amer’s ownership consortium) is a leader. Arc’teryx is already moving rapidly to localize its marketing efforts via its official Tmall store, by appointing supermodel Liu Wen as its first brand spokesperson, and announcing plans to accelerate its direct-to-consumer (DTC) efforts in China in the coming months.

If recent trends are any indication, we should also expect to see Arc’teryx (and its higher-end technical line Veilance) adopt content-commerce strategies such as livestreaming e-commerce, brand collaborations, product placement and other brand integrations on Chinese streaming television programs. (Idea: how about a mountain-climbing reality show hosted by Liu Wen?)

For its part, investor Tencent — which boasts its own impressive range of digital content-commerce platforms (WeChat, Tencent Video, Tencent Games, to name a few, along with investments in Huya, Douyu, Bilibili, and Kuaishou) — would be instrumental in the intensification of digital and online-to-offline pushes we are likely to see by key Amer labels in the months ahead. Definitely a space (and portfolio of brands) to watch.

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