15010 Northeast 36th Street
Redmond, WA 98052
Eddie Bauer, an outdoorsman who loved to fish and hunt, formed a company bearing his name in 1920 in Seattle, Washington. The company originally specialized in stringing tennis rackets, but it slowly grew into the favorite place for rugged sportsmen like Bauer to purchase gear for all kinds of outdoor and recreational activities. Over the years, the business expanded to include home furnishings and business and casual clothing for men, women, and children of all ages. With over six hundred stores, twelve annual catalogs, and a much visited on-line shopping site, Eddie Bauer has staked a firm claim as one of the leading apparel and mail-order businesses in the world.
Eddie Bauer was born in 1899 on Orcas Island, outside Seattle, Washington. The remote and rugged island taught young Bauer all about surviving in the wilderness, and he spent his days learning to fish, trap, and hunt. When Bauer was barely in his teens, he and his mother moved to Seattle. Once there he immediately sought out opportunities to earn money. Bauer's sports skills were second to none, and he quickly earned a reputation for fishing, hunting big game, and target shooting.
Instead of going to high school, Bauer worked as a stock boy at Piper & Taft sporting goods store. In 1917, he created a window display that featured him stringing tennis rackets. During a three-and-a-half hour period, Bauer wowed the community by stringing twelve rackets in a row. This feat added another notch to his belt, as Bauer became more and more known in Seattle as an athlete and all-around outdoorsman. Bauer then decided to string rackets for profit and rented a small space for $15 per month. Eddie Bauer's Tennis Shop soon attracted a regular clientele and earned $10,000 within a year.
Taking his earnings and securing a small loan, Bauer rented a twenty-foot shopfront and started his own business in 1920. Since tennis was a seasonal sport, he expanded his services to include golf, hunting, and fishing as well. Within a few years, Eddie Bauer's Sporting Goods was doing a brisk business and had added an unconditional guarantee to not only attract customers, but to keep them. Most businesses of the day did not have guarantees, and some did not even allow returns. Bauer, however, took a cue from legendary outfitter L.L. Bean (see entry) of Freeport, Maine, which had offered an ironclad guarantee since its formation in 1912. Bauer called it his "creed," and it remains an important part of Eddie Bauer even today, listed on the company Web site: "To give you such outstanding quality, value, service and guarantee that we may be worthy of your high esteem."
By 1930, Bauer had married and become a father. His store had evolved into a sportsmen's paradise, stocking a wide
variety of clothing and sporting equipment made by over a hundred employees. Bauer had also become skilled at producing his own one-of-a-kind items and had learned to apply for patents to protect his products. For example, his "Bauer Shuttlecock" brought the little known backyard sport called badminton to popularity in 1934, and his quilted down-filled jacket called the "Skyliner," which was launched in 1936, was a godsend to hunters and campers in the winter months. The idea to use the fluffy, downy feathers of geese had come from war stories told about an uncle, a Russian soldier, who had fought in the 1904 conflict between the Russians and Japanese. According to Bauer's uncle, the Russian soldiers had survived the freezing combat only because of their down-filled coats.
Bauer continued to design and experiment with sporting equipment and outerwear. In 1942, at the request of the United States Army, he developed the B-9 Flight Parka, which became known as the "Bomber Jacket" since it was worn by thousands of World War II (1939-45) pilots. The company also provided the military with flight suits, sleeping bags, packs, snowshoes, and clothing as well. Approximately four hundred employees worked round-the-clock shifts to keep up with the demand.
The Bomber Jackets proved so popular that scores of soldiers who served in the war effort wanted to buy additional Eddie Bauer apparel and gear. After the war ended in 1945, the government gave Bauer a mailing list with the names of thousands of United States military personnel, many of whom had been outfitted by Eddie Bauer. Sending catalogs to these veterans led to a huge surge in business, necessary at the time since the Seattle business was experiencing some difficulties.
By the 1950s, the Eddie Bauer name appeared on many items, including apparel for each season and gear for a number of activities, including camping, climbing, skiing, fishing, hunting, badminton, and tennis. A women's division had also been formed, run by Bauer's wife Christine, who was generally known as "Stine." While the war had definitely given the Eddie Bauer name popularity and prestige, the company still struggled. Bauer's health had started to deteriorate and he needed help both physically and financially. He partnered with another Seattle businessman, William Niemi, who put money into the ailing retail company. By 1953, the catalog and mail-order division was bringing in sales of $50,000 a year, and grew phenomenally to $500,000 by 1957.
In 1960, partners Bauer and Niemi brought their sons, Eddie Christian Bauer and William Niemi Jr., into the business. Eight years later, in 1968, Eddie Bauer Sr. retired and sold his share of the company, which was bringing in sales of around $5 million annually, to the Niemi family for $1.5 million. The expansion that would take the Eddie Bauer name to international fame began almost immediately. A second retail store opened in San Francisco, California, and in 1971, the company was purchased by the huge General Mills group, which had built its fortune on such food items as cereal, and cake and cookie mixes. General Mills had the stability and funds to expand Eddie Bauer throughout the United States.
In the 1980s, Eddie Bauer's focus began to shift from sporting goods to casual clothing and even, strangely enough, into the automotive market. Through an unusual partnership with the Ford Motor Company (see entry) in 1983 came a striking new line of sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Ford contributed the SUV, the immensely popular Explorer, while Eddie Bauer designed the rugged and fashionable interior. The earliest Eddie Bauer Special Edition Ford Explorer rolled off the assembly line in 1984 and was so successful that Ford's larger SUV, the Expedition, was added to the line, as well as other vehicles during the following years.
The German apparel and mail-order conglomerate Spiegel Inc. purchased Eddie Bauer from General Mills in 1988 for $260 million. Eddie Bauer continued its aggressive expansion, both in North America and abroad despite a retail slowdown. In 1993, the company launched its first men's fragrance, "Adventurer." That same year, it introduced a German mail-order catalog. In 1995, Eddie Bauer opened its first stores in Tokyo, Japan, and issued a Japanese catalog.
The company celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1995 with much fanfare: the first Eddie Bauer stores opened in Germany; AKA Eddie Bauer was launched, which is a business-clothing line for men and women; a joint venture was undertaken with American Forests to help reforest areas destroyed by fire; the company's first Web page debuted on America Online; and The Legend of Eddie Bauer, by Robert Spector, was published, which details the history of the company and the life story of its founder.
Over the years Eddie Bauer has supported and outfitted a number of famous expeditions, from a 1953 trek into the Himalaya Mountains to James Whittaker's successful climb to the top of Mount Everest in 1957. Athletes who wear Eddie Bauer gear have included an Alaskan Iditarod dogsled racer, professional men and women golfers, and members of the U.S. bobsled team at the Nagano, Japan, Olympics in 1998.
By 1996, Eddie Bauer had expanded its Web page into an entire site complete with company information and an online shopping service. Licensing agreements had become one of the company's favored avenues for progress, and there were many from 1997 onward, including partnerships with the Lane Company for the Eddie Bauer Home Collection; Giant Bicycle to produce a range of bikes; Signature Eyewear to produce the Eddie Bauer Eyewear Collection; children's products giant Cosco Inc. for Baby by Bauer car seats, strollers, and accessories, and a deal with the Target Corporation (see entry) to sell a variety of products at the chain's discount stores. Eddie Bauer's environmental pact with American Forests had done well too, raising $2.5 million dollars to plant 2.5 million trees in the United States.
The new century brought additional sponsorships and joint ventures for Eddie Bauer, including an alliance with National Geographic to produce a large-screen-format movie about legendary explorers Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838). A retail milestone was reached in 2000 when an Eddie Bauer store opened in Honolulu, Hawaii, which meant there were Eddie Bauer stores in every one of the United States. Linking the Eddie Bauer empire were several new Web addresses, with separate sites for the outlet stores, the growing on-line kids collection, and the home furnishings division.
In 2001 and 2002, the company widened its commitment to social responsibility with charitable donations and sponsorships of a number of groups, including American Forests, the Seattle Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Hispanic College Fund. After the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001, Eddie Bauer workers throughout the United States raised over $1 million to help families of the victims.
While Eddie Bauer had concentrated more on apparel and less on sporting goods for several years, it began to turn some of its attention back to its outdoor roots and it regained its status as a premiere outfitter for North America's weekend warriors and recreational enthusiasts. As former chief executive officer (CEO) Rick Fersch, who left the company in 2002 after fourteen years, noted to the Daily News Record in May 2000, Eddie Bauer stands for "trend-right clothes for life's adventures."
Eddie Bauer University, known as EBU, was created in 1994 and is located at company headquarters in Redmond, Washington. All new employees go through a two-day seminar at EBU, and return periodically to take classes to develop professional skills. There are more than one hundred courses offered each year.
The departure of Fersch was one of several problems plaguing Eddie Bauer in 2002. Sales for the retail stores had slumped, and parent company Spiegel had begun closing some of the less profitable ones. On-line sales, however, were strong and represented a growing portion of the company's overall revenue. While looking for someone to run Eddie Bauer, Spiegel divided the responsibilities among several top-level managers, including its own Martin Zaepfel, who was Spiegel's vice chairman, president, and chief executive.