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What’s behind the Success of Canada Goose?

SMG prof on how the upscale clothing company markets itself

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Susan Fournier, BU School of Management, Faculty, Professor

Canada Goose parkas are identified by the round two-inch patch on the left sleeve and the coyote fur–trimmed hood. Photo by Flickr contributor Nelson Wu

Look anywhere this winter and chances are you can find someone wearing a Canada Goose down jacket, parka, or vest. The Canadian-based clothing retailer has been so successful at marketing its puffy, doughboy jackets as elite winter wear that they’re one of the season’s most popular brands. The company’s parkas, identified by the round, two-inch patch on the left sleeve and the coyote fur–trimmed hood, once warmed arctic explorers and Canadian Rangers, but today are commonly spotted on celebrities like Emma Stone. More recently, like North Face fleece jackets and L.L. Bean bean boots, the white goose down–filled jackets have become popular among college students.

What sets Canada Goose apart from other outerwear companies are its exorbitant prices—$745 for a women’s coat, $245 for a hat at Bloomingdales. Prices can go as high as $1,700.

But those steep price tags haven’t hurt business a bit. Fortune magazine reports that over the last decade, Canada Goose has seen revenues explode from $5 million to more than $200 million, with some experts predicting that figure could rise to $300 million by the end of this year.

Part of Canada Goose’s success can be attributed to playing up its humble founding five decades ago in a small warehouse in Toronto (the outerwear is still made in Canada). And when private equity firm Bain Capital acquired a majority stake in the company in 2013 for a rumored $250 million, it had to promise to keep the manufacturing there.

Canada Goose is a marketer’s dream, says Susan Fournier, School of Management Questrom Professor in Management and faculty director of the MBA Program. Fournier invented a subfield of marketing on brand relationships and researches how companies create value through their branding.

BU Today spoke with Fournier about Canada Goose’s ultrasuccessful brand and the ways it has formed relationships with its customers.

BU Today: Why is Canada Goose such a popular brand right now?

Fournier: I don’t have their marketing campaign in front of me. All I know is that their marketing comes from grassroots. They had a strong narrative, and then it started getting picked up by certain groups. People started to think about hardcore Canadians braving the cold, and so it became a fad and then transitioned from a fad into a strong brand. I think it’s mostly about that and keeping prices high, not going crazy with sublines like making lighter fall jackets, for instance. Also protecting distribution so they don’t show up at a discount store like TJ Maxx or an outlet. It’s that, being smart enough not to kill it.

So you’re saying that some brands damage what they have by expanding too fast?

I think that’s the case with tons of things. Burberry has come back now in popularity, but they were in danger for a while, and the same thing was true with Calvin Klein. They made their brands too available. If you’re going to be exclusive, availability—both distribution and pricing—is the opposite of that, so you have to balance that tension really carefully.

In a marketing campaign, you have the four Ps: product, place, price, and promotion. The pricing and the distribution are the most important for a brand like this. It’s growing, everyone wants it, so it’s hard to say, “Well, we’re not going to make it available for everyone,” because you always want to serve shareholders and make the largest profit.

Is price the main barrier for accessibility?

I think distribution, too. Barriers to accessibility would also be, “Can you get your hands on it?” You have to work a little harder to find it. This brand has exclusive distribution; it’s not everywhere. Those are two barriers.

There’s a lot of hardy outerwear out there—L.L. Bean, North Face, Patagonia. How have those brands convinced people that winter gear is fashionable and even a luxury item?

That’s interesting too. The North Face has grown hundreds and hundreds of percent over the last few years, and they could risk blowing the whole thing up. But people are still into their ultra down coats, so they are still hanging in there. But they’re kind of at that close edge.

At some point, many of these brands were only found in small communities, like L.L. Bean used to be for fishermen and hikers, but then they broadened. I think that’s step one; you start to shift the category frame that you think of this as. It’s not hard-core expedition wear, it’s about outer fashion. Outerwear is still outerwear, but you don’t have to go on an arctic expedition anymore.

The first step is transitioning the brand to fashion. Remember Swatch? The innovation in Swatch was that watches used to be about timekeeping, and then they made it about fashion. They told customers that if they bought a Swatch watch, it was actually like they had 10 watches because of the interchangeable bands. Same thing with eyeglasses. You used to have one pair, and now people often have several with different designs.

Then it’s part of a trend that people are willing to pay more for. People are paying more for good quality things in general. Look at the iPhone as a great example. Who in their right mind wants to spend $800 on a phone? But we’re doing well enough as an economy, and it’s become a little easier for a lot of people.

What about the backstory for companies like Canada Goose? Is it important to form a narrative around a brand to be successful?

In these narratives you feel like you get to know the founder as a person. They’re adventure seekers. It’s the same thing with Patagonia and L.L. Bean. I think that’s a huge factor. Maybe more in contemporary consumption, even more so in the past 10 or 20 years, this idea of a narrative is critical. There are so many brands out there that if you don’t have a story, and a character in your story, you’re behind. Like in your English classes, you need a character and a plot to make a good story.

Having a story differentiates you and gives your brand authenticity, which is critical for brands today. Harley Davidson is a great example—they have this founder myth. The founders of Snapple were hugely important for getting Snapple off the ground; they were window washers. If you dig into some of your top brands, they all have these mythologies. And they have some credentials when it comes to authenticity.

Canada Goose doesn’t do a lot of advertising; it relies instead on product placement in movies and word-of-mouth. What’s so effective about that type of advertising?

That’s kind of what I was getting back to. The beauty here is they don’t have a marketing campaign with a capital M, meaning traditional stuff. Instead, they’re doing cultural branding. Cultural branding means you want your brand to naturally become part of the culture—in other words, placing the products into the audience where you want it to gain traction.

The technique is you try to get people to use the product and talk about it with their friends. That’s not in the hands of the marketing team; that’s in the hands of the consumers. It’s much more powerful and credible, much more approachable. You want to become part of culture. When you become part of culture, then you might get into a movie with a scene where the characters are in a really cold climate. Hollywood wants brands that are hot because they convey a lot of meaning, and it keeps going. People who are fashion bloggers want the brand because it’s something that keeps going. It has authenticity; it’s not going to seem commercial, and it’s not pushing a product.

Why has Canada Goose decided to target the college market?

I don’t know the answer to that without seeing their marketing plan. I could see young adults as a target; I don’t know if it’s just college. But you figure college students might have the ability to afford these things, and that it’s a good target audience, one that’s hip. They’re not targeting younger kids.

A BU student created a parody patch and raised money on Kickstarter to manufacture the patches. Does Canada Goose benefit from parodies like that?

It depends on the parody, but 80 percent of parodies are kind of good. If they’re going for your main message, and discrediting you, that’s probably not a good idea. For example, Matthew McConaughey did a series of Lincoln car spots, and people made parodies that hit a little too close to home.

But take the case of Snuggie. Those blankets were being sold on infomercials, then the parody world got ahold of them, and tons of parody commercials got loaded onto YouTube and that’s when that brand went nuts. A brand wants people to accept them as part of today’s cultural fabric.

Every brand wants to have this product that everyone wants, so the challenge is to keep it cool. The test for Canada Goose will be coming up, and let’s see if they can ride this wave and not kill it.

40 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

40 Comments on What’s behind the Success of Canada Goose?

  • Chloe on 02.18.2015 at 7:05 am

    Asian kids started it first

    • carol on 02.18.2015 at 12:17 pm

      Simply, we could afford it.

    • anon on 02.18.2015 at 5:31 pm

      No Carol. Stop right there.

    • Eddie Huang on 02.19.2015 at 12:52 pm

      Hold on, Asians parents will never buy us those expensive ass jackets. I still wear the same jacket that I have been wearing since high school and I graduated from college back in 2011.

      You just think about that Chloe…you just think about that.

      • Henry on 02.23.2015 at 12:04 pm

        you sure? almost all the Chinese kids here have canada goose/moncler jacket

        • Anthony on 02.23.2015 at 10:19 pm

          I’m pretty sure it’s inappropriate to assume all Asians at BU share a similar background. We may have the same cultural heritage but our respective upbringings are vastly different. You would find a much more convincing correlation between income level and Canada Goose purchases than that of the latter and ethnicity. Contrary to what you say, most Chinese “kids” at BU cannot afford Canada Goose.

      • Cassie on 02.29.2016 at 12:49 am

        Lets all not be so “absolute” in our statements or use our own examples to speak for everyone else.
        Actually, not every Chinese kids, but a lot of us wear Canada Goose – I’m not assuming this, I saw it with my eyes. My roommate even has 2 different styles of CG, simply because she could afford it so why not?
        Almost every Chinese students around me has CG, or Moose Nuckle, which you know it is even more expensive. I talked to some of my Chinese classmates about the price, they were like, well it’s almost the same price as a very decent down-jacket in China, why would you think it is expensive?

    • Asian Kid on 02.24.2015 at 5:57 pm

      There are tons of people on campus wearing Moncler which is twice the price of a CG coat and you all don’t have a problem with that? Let’s make it simple, if you’ve never been to Asia, I’m telling you that the weather there is much warmer than it is here in Boston. i.e., it never snows in my hometown. Simply purchasing a CG coat if we have the consumption power to survive the winter in Boston is a rational decision for me. Idc how you like it.

  • MJ on 02.18.2015 at 7:19 am

    I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say wealthy students whose parents can throw down $1000+ for a jacket started this, and then the “regular kids” followed. I used to think that North Face was expensive. No more. BU has an obscene amount of wealth. $700 for a jacket for a kid that’s taking out loans to pay for school is absurd, and I see dozens of these jackets a day. Now get off my lawn!

  • john on 02.18.2015 at 7:27 am

    Let’s call a spade a spade. The brand is popular with many BU students because BU students are generally wealthy. Or there’s at least enough wealthy students to make the trend noticeable. Afterall, the next most popular winter combo is northface and uggs. Most of us get by without spending $600+ on a winter coat.

  • nope on 02.18.2015 at 7:52 am

    “But you figure college students might have the ability to afford these things”

    What an idiotic thing to say. Your average college student can’t afford a $750 jacket, but an international student’s loaded parents can. I don’t exactly run with the upper crust of BU society, but I’ve never met a single person here on financial aid or scholarships who has one of these jackets. The only reason you see them so much around urban college campuses is that there is a high concentration of wealth. Head out to a state college campus and you’d be hard pressed to find anything but North Face and the like.

    • nah on 02.19.2015 at 1:36 pm

      There is no need for a condescending tone when you say “an international student’s loaded parents.” Those loaded parents pay for their son/daughter’s tuition, but guess what, their money also pays for your financial aid and your scholarship.

      • hmm on 03.08.2015 at 12:12 pm

        How many students can generally afford a $700 dollar jacket out of their own pocket? How many parents are willing to pay $700-$1000 for a winter jacket? Whatever the case may be, that’s still an absurd statement to make!

  • Grad student on 02.18.2015 at 8:36 am

    My winter coat cost $85 in total for a shell and fleece 6 years ago living in Maine.

    My boots are whatever looked solidly constructed at TJ Maxx.

    I’ve never spent $700 on an item of clothing. I’d already noticed the prevalence of the brand but hadn’t looked much into it. As I suspected, rich kids who want what is popular.

    Get a $100 jacket and donate the other $600 to Boston Warm. We are the folks helping those displaced by the Long Island Shelter closing.

  • Alumnus on 02.18.2015 at 9:06 am

    Perhaps we’re ignoring the most important fact about the jacket: it keeps you warm.

    I honestly couldn’t care less about the story – which I didn’t know until I read this article – when I decided to purchase the jacket. After 7 yrs in the northeast, I decided to not be cold anymore and asked people what jacket would do the trick. All roads pointed to Canada Goose. I dipped into my savings and purchased it. Probably the best money I ever spent on clothing. It’s ugly & bulky, but for the first time I was warm. I’ve now spent two very warm winters and counting. Point me to better jackets elsewhere and I have no qualms with getting a different brand in a few years, after I depreciated this one.

    While people have been complaining about this winter, all I wear is a t-shirt and my CG. I’m happy to check other jackets that can offer the same. As I see it, it is this simple factor that makes the brand a success. People often underestimate the importance of comfort and don’t know how to depreciate items of personal use.

    Here’s some quick math:
    $ 890 for a high end CG jacket.
    Assuming 3 months of winter, and 2x 2 days of cleaning: 86 days of use.
    Hoping you will wear the jacket for at least 2 years: 172 days.
    = $5.17 per day of use. This keeps on decreasing the more you use the jacket.

    When thinking about how much people spend on things like coffee and data plans (both of which are much cheaper at home with coffee machines and wifi), you realize that $5.17 a day for warmth is not expensive at all.

    • grad student on 02.18.2015 at 10:13 am

      May I make a recommendation for your next jacket?

      These are frequently on sale. I got mine for $58 a few years ago: http://www.ems.com/product/index.jsp?productId=13174150

      Then use a fleece under it. I use this one, which I also got on sale for $30: http://www.ems.com/product/index.jsp?productId=32181096

      Benefit, these are cruelty-free meaning we’re not killing coyotes to make an “I have money” statement. Using your nifty little calculation, this is my sixth year with this same set up and not been cold in Boston, in Maine, or XC skiing anywhere in New England and it comes in at $.17 a day. $5 less than your “necessary” coat.

      • Alumnus on 02.19.2015 at 11:53 am

        Ha! Thanks for the recommendation :) Can you recommend something that I could wear that is completely wind proof (most reviews complain about this) and that I could wear just with my t-shirt, with negative temperatures?
        And I couldn’t care less about the coyote fur. It was an unnecessary addition – I care about the core part.

      • Yoss on 02.19.2015 at 12:08 pm

        But those don’t have the Canada goose logo ….

    • Jill on 02.15.2016 at 5:02 pm

      Thanks for offering a sensible comment. Cost per wearing is something people should take into consideration with any article of clothing. A $50 “bargain” item that may be worn once is now not a bargain any longer. It cost you $50 that one time you wore it. As to CG, I saw this brand a few years ago in a ski catalog. The coats looked really warm and utilitarian in style. Believe me when I say that my college years are behind me, way behind. However, I sort of liked the style and considered a purchase after being cold last winter. The cost per wearing was my main consideration. After review, I decided that we don’t have that many really cold days where I have to be outside, so I never made the purchase. I laughed out loud when during the TV coverage of NYC’s big snowfall there were dozens of CG clad people on the streets. Son of a gun I thought! They’re the latest fad! Who would have thought it? But I haven’t spent much time analyzing the birth of fads, only the rise and fall. On the upswing of a fad, it’s exciting to be in the game, once they peak, or heaven forbid get mocked, it’s a fast decline that takes a while to produce a recovery. I saw it with the BMW in the 80s and 90s. Uggs and North Face are on the way down I would think. I’m just a little sorry that a good quality garment never meant for mass appeal or fad status would take this turn. But I bet the company execs are thrilled beyond belief and hard at work to prevent its decent into the cliche graveyard.

  • Silvia Glick on 02.18.2015 at 9:38 am

    Canada Goose uses coyote fur on its jackets. As the company grows, more coyotes are injured and tortured so people can make a fashion statement.

    • Dan on 02.18.2015 at 10:10 am

      You’re joking, right? This has to be a joke. Coyotes are pests that are invading, overpopulating, and eliminating native species. They’re a danger to pets and small children. Getting a coyote shot to make a jacket is the best thing you can do with a coyote from an environmental perspective.

      • Nikki on 02.18.2015 at 11:37 am

        I love killing living things too!

      • Satire bae on 02.18.2015 at 11:59 am

        You’re joking, right? This has to be a joke. Humans are pests that are invading, overpopulating, and eliminating native species, destroying land, and exploiting resources. They’re a danger to all other organisms on earth, mammals, reptiles, bids, plants, fungi. Getting a pretentious college student shot to make a jacket is the best thing you can do with an apathetic human or a venture capitalist from an environmental perspective.

        • Ryan on 02.19.2015 at 11:42 am

          Yep, that was a zinger. Nicely done.

  • Brianna on 02.18.2015 at 9:43 am

    I’ve been using my $40 jacket for four years. Canada goose is, quite frankly, a load of crap that students use to feel elite. It’s a waste of money. Nobody is that cold that they gotta spend a used car down payment on a coat.

    • oops on 02.24.2015 at 6:04 pm

      how do you know if they’re cold or not? youre not them.

  • Jane on 02.18.2015 at 11:10 am

    At more than less than half the price of a Canada Goose, i thought my North Face was expensive enough. Coming from a tropical country with no experience with snow or below freezing temperatures, i knew that getting a sturdy winter coat was essential to my wellbeing in Boston. That being said, i would never spend $700 on a coat, eventhough it’s the warmest one around because i know cheaper coats can keep me just as toasty if not more. My 3 year old North Face proves that.

  • carol on 02.18.2015 at 12:54 pm

    Different from ppl who have worn a 20 dollar jacket for 60 yrs, I own a Canada goose jacket. With it’s pervasiveness there’s no point to buy one just to be pretentious. Let me say that it’s really warm. I don’t needa wear fleece inside ur jacket. No layer up. I wear t shirt inside then go out in the storm weather. It’s not a matter of being showy, it’s a matter of how much money you’ve got.

    • Meh on 02.18.2015 at 1:21 pm

      Let me start off by saying, I could certainly afford this coat. However, it’s a waste of money. I don’t care if you are rich or poor, a coat is not worth $800. It’s not a matter of how much money you have, it’s that you can think logically. And no, I am not convinced that paying $600+ more for a coat is worth the trade-off of “no layers”. That said, you say it’s not about being showy. But if that’s the case, why don’t you pay much less for the same comfort?

      I have never been more sad than for people who actually convince themselves that Canada Goose is a smart purchase. When I see someone wearing this coat, I’m not impressed, I just feel bad for them

      • Henry on 02.23.2015 at 12:08 pm

        we purchase experience of warm and trend for $800.

  • Rachel Eckles on 02.18.2015 at 3:07 pm

    And can we talk about where they are sourcing the down and fur from

  • Rupert Manlove on 02.19.2015 at 11:50 am

    I personally enjoy seeing the campus become a sea of Audi sedans and goose jackets

  • KorVBC on 03.08.2015 at 1:35 pm

    It’s all about preference, guys. Yes, it may be complete waste of money to some…but why are you all so judgmental? Who cares if one buys a CG jacket? If they want one they can get one. Y’all don’t need to automatically point fingers and comment on how they’re just buying to feel pretentious.
    Some may buy it for that exact reason, but don’t generalize.
    I commute to school and it’s freaking cold when I have to wait outside for 30-40 minutes for a bus early in the morning and late at night (in Boston).
    Layer up? Yes, I have been doing that for years. I usually put a fleece NorthFace under my jacket along with 2 other layers, and that would keep me “toasty”. But it’s hella heavy when I have to carry my backpack as well.
    I recently bought a CG jacket, and boy did it change my life. I bit my tongue when my mom offered to buy it because we’re not loaded with money or anything, but she insisted in buying it. We could afford it, but we were going to have to cut off on other expenses for a month to make up for it.
    Like many others have said already, you really don’t have to layer up. It’s a durable nice looking jacket that is also branded. If people want to buy it, don’t judge. It’s their money and their life.
    Don’t try to bring out the “killing animals” or “donation” thing to justify yourself. Please. Our existence alone is already damaging to the world. If you want to help, might as well not exist.
    But if you’re going to exist, then just accept that we all have our preferences.
    If you like your non CG jacket, then good for you. Don’t try to bring other brands down because you don’t like it. THAT’S CHEAP.

    • PREACH on 02.12.2016 at 9:37 am

      Yeah exactly- I really don’t care about an anonymous opinion. I have CG jacket I got for special circumstances and you know what? Yea it makes me feel cool. So what? It’s my money- I can do what I want. Even though I work outside half the day in freezing temperatures, I don’t need to justify my purchase to the likes of anyone.

      Do you seriously think most people that have CG’s actually care that you think it was a waste of money. You are all just hating. If you don’t like it, use your opinion in a way that matters- with or without your money.

  • Jenn on 04.07.2015 at 4:51 pm

    They are ugly.

    College students buying them? I suspect that’s where our federal student loan money is going…. So a $749 coat financed over 10 or 20 yeand is going to cost a lot more in the end…

    • Mary Anne on 09.14.2015 at 4:21 am

      Well said. To each his own.

  • David Spector on 11.11.2015 at 7:48 am

    As of 11/11/15, many or all of Canada Goose’s parkas are listed as “out of stock” on their website, with no explanation there or elsewhere on the Web. I have no idea whether they have simply forgotten to manufacture more product or whether they are perhaps going out of business, but it would be interesting to know.

  • George on 02.11.2016 at 11:23 pm

    There’s a phrase for it: conspicuous consumption. For a third of the price, one can get a down parka with the same fill-power (insulating) rating from L. L. Bean, Lands’ End, or North Face.

    It’s a shame to see some retreat into callous indifference when asked to consider how their individual acts of consumption fit into a larger social or environmental context.

    • think about this on 02.12.2016 at 9:42 am

      I think it’s wrong for you to say that when every single person has a different life. People have different needs. If someone works outside in the winter for half the day, and this makes their job easier, would you really judge them? A lot of people in cities have cushy office jobs where their jacket isn’t part of their equipment.

      How dare you be so elitist and small-minded to the conditions of others. Maybe some people purchase the jacket for conspicuous consumption, maybe some don’t. Regardless, unless you have lived in their shoes, you have no right to judge. I think everyone wants to be a good human at the end of the day.

  • Mariia on 02.16.2016 at 2:57 pm

    I think this conversation is focusing on the wrong thing… It’s none of your business what kind of jacket anyone else is wearing and what other people/their parents can afford. Stealing, on the other hand is everyone’s business because it is both morally wrong and illegal. So, clearly, there are bigger problems at BU than people wearing Canada Goose jackets. And for those who say “take care of your belongings”, in a truly compassionate and moral community, this would not be a problem.

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