PRINGLE ANGLING FOR GROWTH
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — Pringle wants to make argyle as hot as plaid.
The Scottish knitwear company has embarked on a major relaunch aimed at restoring its luxury. Over the next year, Pringle plans to expand its women’s and men’s ready-to-wear lines to include more sportswear and casualwear, broaden its accessories collection, sign new licensees and open its first freestanding store in London. Others will follow in major cities worldwide, including New York.
The program follows the sale of Pringle in February 2000 by Dawson International plc for $8.8 million to Fang Brothers, a Hong Kong-based company that also owns the brand Episode and is a major manufacturer for DKNY, Gap and Marks & Spencer plc. Fang Brothers recruited Kim Winser as Pringle’s new chief executive from Marks & Spencer, where she previously was the divisional director of corporate marketing.
For the last year Winser has been cutting the company back to its roots. Pringle laid off 140 people from its workforce in Hawick, Scotland, immediately on completion of the deal; ended the long-term contract with British golfer Nick Faldo; eliminated commodity products that had devalued the brand; dropped about 100 styles that weren’t right for Pringle’s new fashion image, and renegotiated many of its licenses, including those in Japan and the U.S. Pringle had a men’s wear license in the U.S. with Hart Schaffner & Marx Corp., and it’s now been extended to cover women’s wear as well.
Surprisingly, the changes didn’t have a negative impact on sales despite the reduction in retailers carrying the brand. At the time of the sale, Pringle had estimated wholesale volume of about $30 million a year, and Winser said this has remained relatively constant. Sales have been boosted by Pringle’s new hot status in the U.K., where such stars as soccer idol David Beckham and singer Robbie Williams have been photographed wearing its sweaters.
“The brand had just been allowed to fall asleep,” Winser said during an interview at Pringle’s new London showrooms, part of a brand makeover by the consultancy FutureBrand. “But there’s a heart to the brand and a history. It’s more than 200 years old and we want to use that history as a launching point for the new Pringle.”
The first signs of the makeover will come in Pringle’s spring ad campaign, which will appear in March issues of British Vogue, Marie Claire, Wallpaper, Arena, Arena Homme Plus, i-D, FHM and Dazed & Confused. The $500,000 campaign was developed by Instinct AG, the London arm of Peter Arnell’s AG Consulting. The ads won’t appear this season in U.S. titles because Pringle doesn’t plan a major relaunch in America until fall.
“I was very keen we only start talking to consumers once the collection was there,” Winser said. “There are always a few good pieces in every collection, but I wanted to make sure that when customers went into the stores they saw a collection that was a true representation of the new Pringle.
“Now we feel it can quickly accelerate from here.”
The ads focus on the company’s new slogan “Be Materialistic” and play up its iconic logo, the Pringle lion. The black-and-white campaign was shot by Jonathan Bookalil with models Amy Wesson and George Howell. The main shot of the campaign features Wesson and Howell pulling up their sweaters to reveal tattoos of the Pringle lion.
“The whole Scottishness and heather thing has been done,” Davina Payne, Pringle’s director of marketing, said. “It’s time to move on because that would have been stating the obvious.”
Further signs will come this fall with the expansion of the brand’s women’s and men’s ready-to-wear collections. Pringle has done ready-to-wear since the Thirties and at that time was as renowned for that as it was for knitwear. Winser and Pringle’s design director Virginia James plan to add more dresses, skirts, shirts and jackets for fall as well as more bags and other accessories.
The strategy will involve a split in the Pringle label. Previously the same label was used throughout its product line, but starting with the spring collection the company has been divided into Pringle, Pringle Golf and the new collection of Pringle Casuals. The new collection covers jeanswear, sweatshirts, slouchy sweaters and relaxed casualwear and is the brand’s first move into “lifestyle” products, where it sees significant potential.
“A lot of the ad campaign for spring is talking about the brand and the use of the lion and to begin to show the dramatic change in the product,” Winser said. “But the ads are focused on knitwear. The campaign for fall will be more substantial and will show all the Pringle products.”
Winser stressed the actions she’s taken so far are only the beginning of the Pringle makeover. She admits the timing couldn’t be better thanks to Burberry, which has helped make classic British brands hot once again. “We’re very, very different but we’re both these little British gems waiting to be rediscovered.”
Pringle is lucky it’s still around for consumers to do that. The company was founded in 1815 and became a household name in the Fifties thanks to such Hollywood stars as Margaret Lockwood and Dorothy Lamour, who raved about its cashmere twinsets.
Pringle formerly was the largest single company within Dawson and was its star brand. But in the Eighties the then- Dawson management embarked on a disastrous attempt to expand the brand by opening freestanding stores in the U.K. and Germany, launching Pringle accessories and even a Pringle fragrance. The problem was the brand, by that time, had become more identified with aging weekend golfers — and Faldo — than with luxury. The expansion plan failed.
Throughout the Nineties, Dawson suffered one financial crisis after another as cashmere prices seesawed and cheaper cashmere began flooding the market. In the last two years, Dawson began to refocus its business on its core luxury cashmere brands, including Ballantyne, and turned Pringle into mainly a lambswool knitwear label driven by the need to keep its Hawick factory operating at full capacity rather than any plan to develop it as a brand. It finally decided to sell Pringle last year.
“In the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, Pringle was an upmarket cashmere brand worn by the Hollywood stars, but in the Eighties it chased the golf business and lost all its luxury,” Winser said. “It’s really a shame because if they’d maintained that luxury image Pringle could have been a huge business. We owned the twinset business, for goodness sake!
“Now we recognize it’s really important that consumers recognize and understand the quality of the brand,” she added. “That’s why the Pringle lion and the twinset will always be part of the brand, although they will always be modernized. Pringle has a lot of identities now throughout the world — in England and Spain it’s for golf, in Portugal it’s for lambswool and so on. The new campaign allows us to focus and say this is what Pringle stands for — fantastic designs in beautiful materials that are classic yet fashionable.”