By  on August 15, 2007

Le Coq Sportif is taking another crack at resuscitating its brand.

Under new owners, the French sportswear company hopes to find the footing it lost over the last two decades by keeping the distribution small and making the women's and men's sportswear, activewear and footwear true to its heritage.

"Our formula is sport plus France plus fashion equals Le Coq Sportif," said Tim McCool, chief executive officer of Le Coq Sportif's Portland, Ore.-based North American subsidiary.

Founded as a family business in France in 1882, its iconic logo of a rooster set within a triangle helped it grow into a popular sports apparel brand by the Fifties. In the last quarter century, the company has changed hands several times: Adidas sold the brand to Brown Shoe Co. Inc. in 1995, which sold it to a private French firm in 1999, which in 2005 sold the majority interest to Airesis — in which former Adidas head Robert Louis-Dreyfus is a principal.

"Once it left Adidas and went to other owners who licensed it out, the brand lost its way," said McCool. "There was no reinvestment in the brand."

The new owners bought back its distribution in 2006, when distribution discontinued in the U.S. Prior to that, volume in the U.S. had been less than $10 million; McCool projects U.S. volume will reach $10 million wholesale over the next few years.

Unlike previous incarnations of Le Coq Sportif, the U.S. products will not be separate from the French ones. The clothes blend retro, European and sport aesthetics in pieces such as a Twenties-inspired tennis dress or knee-length walking shorts. The product offerings will have two main focuses: fashion and sport. Fashion should make up about a third of sales, while the sport collection — which centers around tennis — should bring in about double that. The apparel wholesales from approximately $20 to $50.

"The brand does not have much identity in the U.S.," McCool admitted. "We asked ourselves, who remembered us in the U.S.? We think they are 25- to 30-year-olds who play tennis. And who knows us in the U.S.? That's 20- to 30-year-olds who travel and know us from abroad. Together these higher income young men and women make up the pillar of our target in the U.S. market."McCool started his career at Nike, then opened his own marketing firm, Portland-based Sports Inc., which created the Van Grack brand that hit $16 million in sales at its peak. Adidas bought Sports Inc. in the late Eighties, and McCool joined Adidas, where he worked until 2004 as director of U.S. sales. He's been a consultant since then.

In the U.S., Le Coq Sportif will focus on New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago — large cities with international reach, explained McCool. The U.S. is the French company's second priority after its home nation, he said, and the company hopes to replicate its success in Europe, where Le Coq tripled its business between 2006 and 2007, in America.

The marketing budget in the first year will be equal to about 13 percent of sales and will be focused on the four city markets. A sense of humor is key to the brand, which plays with its rooster motif in its ads and displays. At Project, where the line will bow for buyers, the brand's booth will be set up as a chicken coop, with a chicken rotisserie that can be used to display footwear in stores.

McCool wants to avoid big box sporting goods store distribution and is focusing on specialty retailers. "We have been blessed by having a company that wants to stay small," McCool said. "We want to be an elitist brand."

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