Peak Portland, Japan-style
Japanese outdoor retailer Snow Peak has moved its US headquarters from Northwest 14th Avenue to Northwest 23rd. The new digs are in the former Kitchen Caboodle, whose interior has been transformed by Skylab Architecture into Snow Peak's offices, a camping store, and a Japanese restaurant called Takibi (which means "bonfire").
Snow Peak was founded in Japan in 1959 as a mountaineering brand, but its lightweight materials and minimal design has since been applied to an extended line which is more about family camping.
"Today the brand spans the campground, the back yard, the home and still the back country," said Chief Financial Officer Ross Halbach on a tour of HQ4, as they call the Portland location.
Brand manager Michael Anderson explained that in the 1990s, when Japan suffered a recession and stagflation, families turned to camping as both a cheap vacation and a relief form the stress of the workaholic salaryman lifestyle. In Asia the brand is familiar, like REI or North Face is here. But in the US, Snow Peak has a subtler story. It is not about conquering nature, survival or pursuing an athletic personal best. It's more about camping in style and focusing on companionship and food. "It's a gathering brand," said Anderson.
This translates into $800 tents, $500 "heritage-technical" denim jackets and $43 LED lanterns. The new space is designed to show all this off. Upstairs is light-filled and looks out over the trees of the shopping avenue. The walls have sky patterns and the stairwell has fabric installations made by Portland Garment Factory to resemble clouds. Downstairs the store is a little darker and uses milled Doug Fir to set the connection with the earth.
For Reiko Igarashi, a brand designer at Skylab Architecture, her firm's task was to turn the Snow Peak brand into a three dimensional space. She has done the same for brands such as Mountain Hardware and Sorel, as well as Nike, Skylab's bread and butter.
"We start with getting to know them and their history," Igarashi told the Business Tribune. "A lot of the Western brands we work with are very much about self-reliance and conquering wild landscapes. With Snow Peak, one of the phrases that we really capitalized on was 'dwelling outdoors together.'"
Igarashi wanted the feeling of stepping inside but feeling outside, so the recycled lumber has to feel both natural and milled. The aesthetic extends to Takibi, the restaurant at the rear of the building, where chef Alex Kim will cook at an island, with an alderwood fire behind him.
Takibi will not open until Spring 2021 when they hope the COVID-19 pandemic will be over. Some Snow Peak product, such as lanterns, chopsticks and titanium sporks, will be used there.
Food is a big part of the brand and the modular Iron Grill Table, a low dining table which can be configured around a charcoal grill, is a key investment for Snow Peak campers. Asked if the restaurant was a loss leader or had to make a profit, Halbach said it absolutely had to make money.
"We think that we have a brand strong enough, a point of view on food strong enough and partners strong enough, where we can run a really successful restaurant that also engages customers and also really brings the brand experience to life," said Halbach.
Snow Peak campers are often foodies. The company owns six campgrounds in Japan and has many stores in Asia. For 20 years it has held Snow Peak Way, a camping festival. "Superfans" gather with Snow Peak staff to camp and show off their gear, similar to how Harley Davidson riders don't just ride, they have a communal brand experience. Such events have been held here in the Columbia River Gorge at Beacon Rock, although they are on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The store opens Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.
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