When three executives from the freshly minted Kontoor Brands paid a visit last week, they came dressed in denim and steeped in optimism.
They were bullish about their company, which was part of a more familiar company, VF Jeanswear, before it was spun off last year.
They see sales ticking up and new possibilities for their marquee brands, Wrangler and Lee, which will remain separate.
And most encouraging, they see a bright future in Greensboro, which they have embraced warmly and unequivocally as their hometown.
They say they like it here because of Wrangler’s deep roots in Greensboro.
They also consider this city a good place to live and raise a family, with reasonably priced housing and manageable traffic.
And they not only want to be in Greensboro, they want to be part of Greensboro.
Kontoor’s CEO and president, Scott Baxter, said in an interview that his company, which employs a workforce of 17,000 internationally, 1,200 in North Carolina, is firmly committed to being a strong corporate citizen here. That means executives taking leadership roles in community life, Baxter said.
It means sponsorships for civic and cultural activities such as the N.C. Folk Festival.
It means re-opening what was once a temporary “pop-up” retail store on Elm Street in downtown Greensboro as a permanent fixture.
It means moving about 30 Lee executives to Greensboro from Merriam, Kan., and hiring another 170 employees here.
It means shifting the company’s annual managers conference to Greensboro.
It means keeping the corporate headquarters on North Elm Street in downtown Greensboro and a service and support center on Elm-Eugene Street — as well as leasing 40,000 square feet of workspace in the Revolution Mill complex, with plans to lease 4,500 more.
“This is where we’re supposed to be,” Baxter said. “This is where we want to be.”
Turning those words into actions, Baxter recently hosted a global leadership conference in Greensboro at the new downtown Hyatt Place Hotel.
Kontoor officially became a publicly traded company on Thursday. Now the Kontoor and Lee logos join the giant Wrangler letters on the building.
As for the unpredictable market of casual wear, which has trended from relaxed jeans to skinny jeans to ripped jeans to yoga pants, Baxter cited two reasons he expects success: the growing presence of casual fashions in the workplace and innovations such as stretch denim.
To be sure, the chain of events that led to last week were not so upbeat in the beginning.
Greensboro did lose (another) corporate headquarters when Kontoor’s former parent, VF Corp., announced that it was moving to Denver, Colo. VF officials said the company wanted to concentrate on active wear brands such as North Face and Vans and felt that Denver as a home base better suited that emphasis.
But VF’s spinoff of Lee and Wrangler, now rebooted and re-invented with iconic brands that are household names and with designs on growth and innovation — plus Kontoor’s unabashed desire to remain here?
That’s as sweet a glass of lemonade as you could hope for from those lemons.
Welcome home. Glad you could stay.