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  • Clare Otridge

What the Schöff?

Wearing my Schöffel Gilet this morning on the dog walk (it's July in England after all!) got me thinking about the remarkable success of Schöffel.

I can’t be the only one thinking how the hell did that happen as I can’t actually recall a marketing campaign, advert, banner or influencer campaign.

After ten years away from the agricultural industry, my return revealed a landscape dominated by Schöffel's engineered fleece at every agri event. These fleeces, seen in a spectrum of jewel tones and earthy colours, are donned proudly even in 28-degree heat. For two years I questioned how good this garment could be and with the eyewatering price tag I just couldn’t justify it. I was kindly given one by my dad – a farmer and Schöffel wearer himself – though in his 60’s he’s not really one for branding and following the agri fashion pack. He only has them in navy and wears them until they are threadbare before buying a new one.

I have to admit – there was something in it – I have had mine for 2 years and it has weathered every condition, keeps me warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s warm and lives by the back door as it is used most days…but…I don’t like wearing it ‘out’ because it has got to the point where if you are in a Schöffel, I feel certain assumptions are made of you. Which may mark a key turning point in the brand success.

As a marketer turned researcher, I delved into the strategy behind the meteoric rise and the incredible brand loyalty of the Schöff army.

Here is what I found…

Where it all started

Founded in 1804 in Germany, Schöffel transitioned from producing socks and stockings to becoming a leader in technical outdoor apparel by the 1980s. This shift was largely driven by the recreational hiking trend and a strategic partnership with Gore-Tex. This history of quality and innovation provided a solid foundation for their entry into the UK field sports market in the 1990s​.

In collaboration with Bradshaw Taylor, a family owned British outdoor house of brands, Schöffel developed the Schöffel Country range, blending German engineering with British countryside aesthetics. This partnership produced iconic items like the Oakham Fleece Gilet, which has become a staple at country events. The fusion of technical prowess and traditional design has positioned Schöffel as a premium field sports brand​.

Where things got going…

From 2012 to 2015, Schöffel aimed to increase brand visibility through the "I'm out" campaign – not something we saw much of over here in the UK (correct me if I am wrong) but allegedly it was as famous as the ‘Just Do It’ Nike campaign over in Germany. While the campaign deeply resonated with customers, translating this success into sustained growth in diverse markets remained a challenge.

While the campaign boosted awareness, it also revealed the need for improved IT and organizational structures to maximize market returns. This phase highlighted the challenges of aligning traditional brand values with modern digital demands​

The period from 2015 to 2018 saw Schöffel modernizing its IT systems and adopting a customer-centric approach. This transformation involved dismantling traditional hierarchies and fostering a more agile, team-based structure. While this strategy has merits, the real test lies in its long-term sustainability and effectiveness in maintaining brand integrity while scaling operations​.

Leadership and Vision

Under Peter Schöffel’s leadership, the brand has embraced sustainable growth and customer-centric strategies. The family-owned structure provides the luxury of long-term planning without the pressure of delivering quarterly growth figures. This approach allows for strong partnerships and consistent brand values, which are crucial in today’s fast-paced market.

Marcus Janssen, head of Country Brands at Bradshaw Taylor, has played a pivotal role in steering Schöffel Country. With a background in publishing and media, Janssen understands the intricacies of the country sports market. His focus on maintaining the authenticity of the brand while ensuring it meets modern demands has been crucial. Janssen's leadership has been instrumental in developing products that resonate with Schöffel's core audience, blending technical excellence with traditional values​.

Marketing Moments

In addition to the "Ich bin raus" (I’m out) campaign, Schofell has had some of its own marketing moments as well as been given wider coverage on social media platforms. Those driven by the brand have included Schöffel’s collaboration with DFROST focusing on creating an immersive Point of Sale (POS) experience. The goal is to transform physical stores from Points of Sale to Points of Experience, enhancing customer engagement and boosting sales. This strategy is ambitious, aiming to curate the brand’s history and values throughout the customer journey. However, its success depends on consistent execution and customer reception​.

Sustainability is integral to Schöffel’s brand strategy. The eco-friendly display concepts developed with DFROST and the VMM sustainability label reflect this commitment. These initiatives are commendable, but the challenge lies in balancing aesthetic appeal with genuine sustainability, ensuring that eco-conscious practices do not become mere marketing gimmicks​…we know this works because of the global success of Patagonia.

The real heroes of the Schöff success though have been the phenomenal brand advocacy and brand loyalty the product and it’s messaging has generated. There are Facebook groups dedicated to it, memes that have been made to celebrate it and with key influencer both in and out of agri we are seeing a much broader demographic. Few brands and their products can be as versatile as having a fan base of both royalty and only fans models.

While we are talking about the product itself…

It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the phenomenal German engineering and classic British designing that goes towards the popularity of this product…and it’s price tag.

Schöffel’s use of advanced materials like Technostretch by Pontetorto demonstrates their commitment to innovation. This fabric offers durability, thermal insulation, and moisture-wicking properties, making it ideal for outdoor activities. The Oakham Fleece Gilet, with its combination of comfort, performance, and style, is a testament to Schöffel’s design ethos​

The practical design features of Schöffel garments, such as Alcantara trims, YKK zips, and adjustable drawcord hems, enhance functionality and longevity. While these elements contribute to the brand’s high standards, maintaining this level of detail across expanding product lines will be crucial to sustaining their reputation.

Schöff heads to the smoke

It is without question a divisive subject across the sector and one which, unless you are in the sector or have an interest in country sports is largely unknown to you. ‘Chelsea Lifejackets’, ‘Lemmings’ being branded a ‘wanna be’ both for wearing the real deal and the litany of ‘replicas’. We are starting to see it become more mainstream as it edges beyond the countryside and chattering classes of Chelsea and into the ‘finance bro’ world, possibly seeking to steal some of the market from the classic down puffa styles that have dominated canary wharf and especially as it fits so nicely under a suit jacket.

I have had the privilege of meeting writer and journo Anna Jones on my agri travels, as author of Divide (great read, check it out), which explores the urban-rural divide, she provides an interesting perspective on the Schöffel phenomenon. In a blog post, she describes the Schöffel gilet as both loved and loathed: "Not even scorching hot sun deters the Schöffel devotee from donning their fleecy gilet – they just lose the shirt for Schöffel-on-skin breeziness. It has become the uniform of the working countryside and, like all uniforms, it is both loved and loathed."


What would research be without a conclusion?

I hope you have enjoyed the little journey with me.

Schöffel's success story is a fascinating blend of heritage, innovation, and strategic market expansion. The brand’s ability to merge German engineering with British countryside charm, coupled with a strong focus on sustainability and customer-centric innovation, has cemented its place in the outdoor and agricultural attire market.

However, the true test will be how Schöffel navigates future challenges. Will they continue to innovate and expand into new markets, or will they risk becoming complacent and falling from grace..ahem…Barbour…!

The journey ahead will determine whether Schöffel can maintain its lofty position or if it will drive them to even greater heights. For now, we can only watch and see where their path leads next.

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