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Ricky Schlesinger

Eagle Creek executive keeps building brand following acquisition

Twenty-seven years ago, Ricky Schlesinger helped the founders of Eagle Creek Inc. move their business out of the garage. Since then he's facilitated the company's growth to an acquisition by a major manufacturer.

As executive vice president, Schlesinger has led the company through a transitional year with goals to build a bigger brand while expanding its international distribution and network.

Schlesinger helped negotiate the acquisition of the travel gear and luggage company by VF Outdoor Inc., a subsidiary of VF Corp. (NYSE: VFC). The nine-month process was finalized in January 2006.

The 30-year-old company remains based in Vista, while Schlesinger continues with his current position and takes on additional responsibilities.

"My role is most of the market-facing functions of the business," he said.

The year began with creating and developing a new brand platform for Eagle Creek since the company now has VF's resources to drive its products.

"We hired a new brand director, some outside creative resources and we're putting together a new creative visual platform that well will roll out in 2008," said Schlesinger.

The acquisition was not intended to be visible to consumers, Schlesinger said of being an additional brand in VF Outdoor's portfolio. The only noticeable difference the public might recognize, he said, is a "bigger and better company" with more resources.

"Their particular formula is leave the brand and the product where it is in the market so the consumer can continue to see the same brand and the same products, while they operationally leverage efficiencies and all the back-end aspects of the business," he said.

Though the headcount of the company has not grown, Eagle Creek is growing at about 15 percent a year in revenues, according to Schlesinger.

Promoting responsible travel and tourism is also important to the company and personally to Schlesinger. The company supports The Conservation Alliance, The Outdoor Industry Foundation, The Escondido Creek Conservancy, Outdoor Outreach and Friends of the River.

Schlesinger is a member of the Travel Goods Association (TGA). In June he was elected chairman and believes the industry can help travel products become better appreciated by consumers.

"We think that there are consumer awareness and image opportunities for the luggage marketplace," said Schlesinger of the durable and functional innovations that "make life on the road easier."

Aside from his position at Eagle Creek and involvement with TGA, Schlesinger is also an adviser for Adventure 16, an outdoor gear and clothing retailer.

The upcoming year is an extension of Eagle Creek's long-term and ongoing efforts launched in 2007. Along with launching the new brand platform, Schlesinger said his goals are to "continue on with a smooth integration plan with VF from an operational standpoint" and "bring new and innovative products to the market."

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