How Bob Keller rescued a static Escalade from imminent obscurity

Bob Keller, CEO, Escalade, Inc.

Bob Keller, CEO, Escalade, Inc.

Consumer Products and Services

FINALIST

When Escalade, Inc. was stuck in a rut, it needed a radical business philosophy to become innovative and assume leadership in branding and innovation within the sporting goods market. The development of new product lines had become a secondary priority to the needs of the growing dominance of big box retailers, and that had to change.

Bob Keller took the wheel as CEO of Escalade in 2007 with a simple mission: breathe new life into the company. His plan was to use his philosophy to construct a company driven by product development and branding — rather than the demands of retailers. He took this challenge knowing that his experiences at Armor All and Disston Tool Co. during similar circumstances aligned well with the goals for this company. But in 2008 the financial collapse and ensuing economic recession tested his ability to spur innovative growth.

A tipping point came when top customer Sears was undergoing a decline — also during the recession. Sears threatened to switch to a competitor if Escalade refused to pay a higher-slotting fee to shelf its products.

Keller, however, said no to Sears and took back control of Escalade’s product development. The retail giant had virtually had been dictating most of the company’s product development plans.

Sears switched to a competitor, and Escalade had to move fast to retain market share. Keller focused on new markets and pursued retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods. But despite his efforts, drastic cuts and action were needed in order to survive the recession.

Keller and his team then focused on getting the business down to its bare essentials.

He also decided to develop high-end sports items, noticing that while consumers were cutting spending almost everywhere else, those passionate about archery and hunting were still willing to spend on high-end archery equipment. By the start of 2010 Escalade was at a break-even point, and stock prices have increased dramatically since 2008.

How to reach: Escalade, Inc., www.escaladesports.com

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