Timberland steps back into the city

Brand focus in the key, says Jeff Swartz, Timberland Co.’s chief executive. Brand focus in the key, says Jeff Swartz, Timberland Co.’s chief executive. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Globe Staff)
By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / March 17, 2011

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More than a dozen years after closing its Boston store, Timberland is back in business on Newbury Street as of today, with a plan to operate differently the second time around.

The new location — formerly home to a Gap store — is a smaller, sleeker site with a narrower selection of Timberland products. The 2,500-square-foot space features the New Hampshire company’s signature yellow boots, along with an assortment of apparel for men, women, and children and elite footwear from the Abington Collection and Timberland Boot Company that can cost up to $325.

“It’s a much tighter point of view,’’ Jeff Swartz, Timberland Co.’s president and chief executive, said as he toured the new store. “One of our biggest problems before was the lack of brand focus. We had too broad a range of products with things like women’s handbags.’’

Timberland left its previous Newbury Street store in December 1998, when the lease expired, because of an expected rent increase. The company says its return to the bustling shopping district is part of an effort to expand the number of specialty retail stores it operates and cement Timberland’s reputation as the premier outdoor footwear company in the United States.

Massachusetts has been a testing ground for Timberland’s specialty stores — three of the 10 locations are in the state. And unlike retailers that are turning to discount outlets as a way to boost business during tough economic times, Timberland wants to double the number of specialty shops it runs in the next year.

“We need more premium places and fewer spots for value merchandise,’’ Swartz said. “It’s time to get bolder.’’

The Newbury Street store also is designed to reflect what Timberland says is a commitment to sustainability. It includes reclaimed wood, LED lighting, and tabletops built from old athletic bleachers. To give the store local flair, a 25-foot-long mural on the back wall celebrates green spaces such as the Boston Harbor Islands, Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park. Several customized Boston-inspired boat shoes are on sale for $120 — featuring team colors of the Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins.

In addition, the store’s designers hid Boston sports facts around the store, such as by etching jersey numbers into the ceiling rafters: 33 for Larry Bird, 4 for Bobby Orr, and 12 for Tom Brady. (The Patriots quarterback’s number is in the women’s section.)

Retail analysts say Timberland is using high-profile shops such as the one on Newbury Street to show its products to large numbers of shoppers and market its new image.

“The brand currently is much less of an ‘urban fashion brand,’ as it was for a time around when they had their previous Newbury Street store,’’ said Mike Tesler, president of Retail Concepts, a Norwell consulting firm. “Timberland now seems to be focused on solidifying its original image — back to its roots — as authentic outdoor boots, shoes, and gear.’’

Jenn Abelson can be reached at