By  on March 2, 1994

LONDON -- Wrangler is going back to its roots to boost its image and sales in Europe.

The American jeans brand is focusing on its Western heritage to re-establish itself in the European market, from which it effectively pulled out in the mid-Eighties when its parent, VF Corp., underwent a financial restructuring. It moved back into Europe about four years ago through a network of distributors.

Now Wrangler is becoming even more serious about its potential abroad. An example of the jeans company's renewed commitment to the European market was its decision in mid-1993 to establish a European headquarters in London and transfer one of its senior executives, Juan Munoz, from the U.S. to head its European merchandising and marketing.

It also has invested about $8 million on a European advertising campaign, including television, to raise awareness of the Wrangler brand.

The TV ad, which is now being shown in the U.K. and Germany, shows three men being put through the rigors of an American dude ranch by a woman. All four are in Wrangler jeans.

Barry Brennan, Wrangler's European business development director, says the objective is to advertise on TV in a third European market -- perhaps Italy -- in 1994.

However, the main marketing spending will continue to be at the local level throughout Europe next year, and there are no plans to go on such pan-European channels as MTV or CNN, he said.

"It's a question of trusting our local affiliates to build their businesses in a sustainable manner," Brennan said.

Facing a massive task in overcoming Levi's dominance of the European market, Munoz claims Wrangler has no intention of trying that.

Instead, the brand believes it and its sister company Lee can achieve strong double-digit growth in Europe by taking market share from the plethora of domestic jeans labels in each European country.

"The markets in Europe tend to be very fragmented, with a large number of brands," Munoz said. "We believe we can grow at the expense of the national brands."

The company's largest European markets currently are the U.K., where it has a 7-8 percent share; Germany, where it's number two, behind Levi's; and Ireland, where it is the brand leader, with 18-20 percent of the market. It also is having some success pushing into Eastern Europe; Wrangler is the brand leader in the former East Germany, with a 7-8 percent share, compared with Levi's 3 percent.Neither executive would reveal Wrangler's sales in Europe, which split about 80 percent men's wear and 20 percent women's wear. Both Munoz and Brennan think there is large potential in the women's jeans market.

"We believe the latest advertising campaign will help in the women's market because we are one of the few major jeans brands giving a strong, capable woman such prominence in its ads," Brennan said.

Wrangler's approach to the European market is two-pronged. The company distributes its Authentics collection to mass-market retailers across Europe, while its western line is reserved for more upmarket specialty and department stores.

"Our objective is to distribute our product through as many channels in Europe as possible, from mail order to mass merchants to specialty stores," Munoz said.

Munoz is aware his main task in Europe is to listen to the locals. While Wrangler is playing on its U.S. history to build its European business, it sells nothing in Europe that hasn't been adapted for local tastes. Almost all the jeans it sells in Europe are produced at its plant in Felkirk, Scotland, while tops are sourced from Greece, Portugal and Turkey.

"We believe our core jeans product can be marketed on a pan-European basis, but other areas such as tops will have to be regionalized," Munoz says.

Even in jeans there has to be some recognition that tastes differ throughout Europe. For example, southern Europe prefers button-fly jeans, while northern Europe goes for zip styles.

"The concept of the classic five-pocket jean is worldwide, but it's a question of styling," Brennan noted. "What you wind up with is a line that places varying degrees of emphasis on different styles, depending on the marketplace.

"But we expect more internationalization to come to jeans, especially as there is more communication on a pan-European basis and as retailers spread across borders," he said.

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