Roots branches out: vests, vitamins, vacations ...


This generation is used to ads. Ads for clothing, ads for vitamins—you know the deal. But flip through a magazine and you may be surprised to see an advertisement for vitamins made by the clothing manufacturer Roots.

An odd pairing for sure, but Roots is simply following the popular corporate trend of expanding their product lines to anything and everything, a practise otherwise known as ‘branding’.

Roots, founded in 1973 by Michael Budman and Don Green, started out selling one product, a negative heel shoe. The shoe caught on, to say the least, and the two businessmen have used their skill to turn Roots into a corporate empire with 120 stores across Canada, 50 in Korea, eight in Taiwan, and seven in the U.S.

Roots now sells a lot more than weird-looking shoes. The company’s product range includes: shoes, jackets, luggage, clothing for men, women, children and babies, a fragrance line, watches, jewelry, eye-wear, a home line including leather furniture, linens, towels, and accessories.

Roots is the official outfitter for the Canadian and American Olympic teams. As well, it has a custom products division that produces merchandise for thousands of films, television shows, sports teams, music groups and corporations. Even the lifeguard uniforms for the City of Toronto are made by Roots.

Recently, the company entered into a partnership with Skyservice to take the brand into the sky, with its own airline Roots Air.

And now vitamins.

The broad and diverse product range makes one wonder how to refer to Roots. Is it a shoe store? A clothing company? A pharmacy? For the first time a drug company, Boehringer Ingelheim Canada Ltd., has been branded with a non-pharmaceutical partner.

The rationale behind the association is to tap into the youth market; the multi-vitamins are aimed at customers under age 19 (though they are suitable for adults).

Nancy Baines, vice-president of consumer health care for Boehringer, explains on the company web site that, because Roots is popular with young people, the branding “will motivate this market segment to sample the new product and realize the benefits of regular use of multi-vitamins.” As a company supposedly interested in promoting a vitamin-filled, healthy lifestyle, it may seem odd that Roots is also advocating drinking beer. A new ‘I Am Canadian’ campaign with Molson gives beer drinkers the chance to win Roots products (vitamins are not among the prizes available to be won).

The founders of Roots say they are inspired by families, the great Canadian outdoors, and a love of sport.

It’s clear Roots is now exactly what it intended to become—a lifestyle brand.

And according to the Roots web site, they aren’t done yet either.

“Roots plans to continue its sustainable growth and to lead innovatively in the development of the Roots contemporary lifestyle.” It will be interesting to see what market Roots tries to sneak into next.

Roots has even managed to integrate itself into the travel industry. No Logo author Naomi Klein says branding was taken to the next level with the creation of the Roots lodge on Vancouver Island, called the Reef Point Resort.

The resort’s main mess hall-style restaurant may rekindle summer camp nostalgia, but the cabins are furnished with the Roots home line.

“The resort has a Roots logo on display in the cabins on pillows, towels, cutlery, plates and glasses. The chairs, sofas, rugs, blinds and shower curtains are all Roots,” Klein writes. One visitor was quoted in the book saying it was “like living in a billboard,” a totally branded vacation experience.

Roots isn’t just selling products, but a lifestyle or an image. It is true that many corporations have the same agenda, but Roots is a special case because it is one of the few Canadian companies to succeed at lifestyle sales.

To help them proliferate this image, Roots has played the Hollywood game and managed to hook famous faces like Jason Priestly and Matt Damon in advertising campaigns.

It’s clear if you associate popular people with a certain brand, the brand becomes popular. Now Roots is hoping to extend the formula, linking a popular brand name to a product.

Can vitamins be cool? Roots is banking on it.

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