MARYSVILLE — Outdoor footwear company Northside aims to appeal to people interested in “the other side of the outside.”
Almost every outdoor company features hard-core adventurers in its marketing. Northside chases those people who want to go outside, but maybe not jump off a cliff.
“It’s really about going to the beach with your kids, going camping, kind of the lighter side of recreation,” said Jack Wolfin, president of Triple T Trading, which owns Northside. “Not everyone wants to climb a mountain.”
It’s a niche that seems to be working. Northside moved last month into a 110,000-square-foot office and warehouse building at 4025 152nd St. NE Marysville, constructed specifically for its business. The Northside logo appears in giant letters on the exterior.
Northside, owned by Wolfin and brothers Jeff and Bob Thayer, had been doing business in relative anonymity at a 30,000-square-foot building near Quil Ceda Village.
The company sells its hiking boots, snow boots and sandals through retailers in 50 states, including Fred Meyer, Amazon, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Nordstrom Rack and a host of independent retailers. Wolfin declined to disclose sales figures, but says the company has moved into the mid-tier of shoe brands.
“We would just say we sell millions of pairs of shoes a year,” Wolfin said.
The company employs 37 people in Marysville, including five in its shoe design department. The company also employs another 14 through an import business called Fortune Star International in China, where the shoes are made. The company works with another 25 independent sales representatives.
Triple T Trading was started by the Thayers parents, Jim and Helen Thayer. They owned a couple of children’s retail stores in the Portland area in the 1980s called Whippersnappers. Jim Thayer was invited to start representing brands to other retailers.
Eventually, that led him to buying and selling to other retailers wholesale products — shoes, sunglasses and almost anything. Jeff and Bob Thayer remember stacks of boxes on the family’s Ping-Pong table. That eventually morphed into an import business where Jim Thayer made contacts with factories in Taiwan and China.
“In the beginning, he would go over and pick and choose some of the things that some of the factories had developed,” Bob Thayer said. “We started to focus on things that our customers were looking for.”
As the company grew, Jim and Helen Thayer moved the business first to Tukwila and then later to Marysville. The parents still live in the Warm Beach area. Wolfin came onto the company in 2004 and along with the Jeff and Bob Thayer bought out the parents in 2005.
The Northside brand was founded in 2000, but the Thayers and Wolfin changed the company from an import business to one that was creating and marketing its own brand of shoes.
“As we looked forward, the whole plan was to find an opportunity in the marketpalace where that brand could fit,” Wolfin said. “It turns out to be everyday families who want to go out and enjoy the outdoors.”
The Pacific Northwest is a great place to start an outdoor shoe company, Wolfin said. With Nike, Columbia and Keen shoe companies based in Portland and Adidas running its North American headquarters out of the city, there’s a “very large contingent of footware-centric talent and experience” to draw upon, he said.
With that being said, wouldn’t those large companies see the niche that Northside is carving and go after those customers?
“I think with the big companies, a lot of them are like a big ship,” Bob Thayer said. “It takes a long time and a lot of effort to turn that thing.”
Northside also works hard to build shoes at a lower cost than some of its larger rivals, Wolfin said. He said that it’s easier to design a $140 shoe, because there are lots of options that can be added. To try to keep the cost under $100 takes more effort.
The company also takes pride in helping its customers. Part of that is having an extensive network of relationships that their dad built in Asia, Jeff Thayer said. He points to Fred Meyer, one of the first major retailers to take on the Northside brand.
“I think they’ve had great success selling our products over the years,” Jeff Thayer said. “I think one thing that attests to that is we’ve actually won Vendor of the Year twice with Fred Meyer and we’re pretty proud of that. ”
When the company was looking to expand, Wolfin and the Thayers looked for existing buildings in Everett and also in Kent, which has easy access to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. They chose to stay in Marysville to be close to where their employees live.
“The majority of our employees are up here,” Wolfin said. “At the end of the day, the company is made of employees.”
Jim Thayer actually found the property, had the offices and warehouse built and is leasing it to his sons and Wolfin. Gaffney Construction did the construction, which was in the $10 million to $12 million range.
The wood-trimmed building is still spacious and bare. Spacious because the company expects to grow into the building. Bare, because the Department of Energy, a Seattle-based design firm, is coming to outfit it with an outdoorsy motif.
The property is down a two-lane road. The building faces an empty field.
“It’s kind of the middle of nowherish,” Wolfin said. “It’s nice when we have clear weather, we have a view of Mount Pilchuck down there. It’s just a nice area. We’re an outdoor company. We like being kind of out here.”