THE SECOND TIME AROUND
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Secondary labels aren’t exactly afterthoughts in the activewear business.
With many consumers — especially the influential teen market — maxed out on big brand names that have been around for years, athletic companies are churning out secondary labels as an alternative to shoppers and an add-on to business.
The trick for these firms is to focus on markets not covered by their primary business without straying from the brand’s signature style.
To help consumers make the connection, firms like Danskin and Brooks Sports stamp their brand names on their secondary offerings. On the other hand, lines like Gravis and Anon, two labels owned by Burton, are more discrete, preferring not to identify their parent company on the product.
Mick Whitaker, vice president of apparel design for Brooks Sports, which launches Runderwear this month, said, “As a general direction, stores are not looking for new names. But they like the idea of a cool handle for a brand they already know.”
Interest in Nuala, a yoga-inspired line launched last year by Puma, has been so strong that innerwear and outerwear are being added to the mix. Similar positive feedback is pushing Gravis, an accessories and footwear label aimed at alternative sports enthusiasts, which is owned by Burton, to add apparel to its lineup.
Despite their ties to the big brands, lesser-known names are trying to hold on to their autonomy. But that requires a delicate balance, activewear executives said.
Tony Bertone, global director of brand management for Nuala, said, “Nuala has its own brand identity and Puma is much more of a traditional, athletic-rooted name. The fact that we went so vertical only made it easier for retailers to accept.”
Having Christy Turlington, who helps design the line, has helped Nuala establish itself separate from Puma and has been a major factor in helping to generate publicity about the brand, he said.
“Christy gives Nuala instant credibility,” Bertone said. “The press is interested in her as a business person, not as a spokesperson.”
With limited print advertising, Nuala has opted to pitch itself as an upper-end, lifestyle-oriented brand for women interested in mind-and-body sports. Unlike Puma, which is offered in athletic specialty and sporting goods stores, Nuala is geared for apparel specialty stores and pro shops. It is also offered at Puma’s freestanding store in Los Angeles and will be available at Puma’s new store in San Francisco, which is set to open in June.
Similarly, Danskin is building on the success of Zen Sport, a yoga-inspired label for specialty stores, with the introduction of Everywear, another yoga-inspired label that ships to sporting goods stores in June. Danskin developed 20 styles for Everywear, after receiving numerous requests from retailers, said Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer. This year the company expected to generate “a couple of million” in sales from Everywear, she said.
Like Zen, Everywear will have hangtags and point-of-purchase material imprinted with the Danskin name and with lifestyle images of women wearing the product. The brand gives the product credibility, and the photos suggest a variety of functions, Hochman said.
“This helps retailers,” she said. “Being realistic, there aren’t [many] salespeople on the floors. Labels and hangtags become your salespeople.”
The concept of having different labels for different types of customers or different activities makes sense, since women live multifaceted lives and that is not about to change, Hochman said.
Like Burton, Gravis is based in Burlington, Vt., but the company operates under its own auspices in a separate building down the road from the parent brand.
“Burton is a snowboard company and we will keep it that way,” a Gravis spokeswoman said. “Gravis is a stand-alone company with its own set of procedures.”
Unlike Burton, which offers more performance-oriented products, Gravis specializes in casual merchandise with more of a fashion flair. The secondary strategy is working so well that Burton will unveil Anon, a group of technical ski goggles, this fall.
Anon is currently based at Burton’s corporate headquarters, but the line may go off on its own depending on the reception, a spokesman said.
“We look at the strategy like a cigarette or a food company would,” he said. “They start with one or two brands and then watch them go into other brands and grow.”
Nike ACG, which was set up as a separate business unit in 1998, aims to differentiate itself by focusing on the outdoor athletes who are not focused on mainstream sports. Early on, interest in the brand was driven by product, but now the company has branched out with its own advertising and marketing efforts.
Being the sole apparel sponsor of last weekend’s Winter X Games and signing endorsement deals with such alternative athletes as snowboarder Barrett Christy are two examples of how the brand is reaching out to consumers.
“At the X Games, we have people out there hoofing it. Our sales reps go talk to people at national parks and state forests,” the spokesman said. “Of course, we also listen to our retailers.”
The next step will involve focusing on the grassoots level by supporting conservation groups and camps, the spokesman said.
While ACG operates as its own entity, the brand periodically taps into Nike’s sourcing, image design and public relations, when needed.
“I wouldn’t say we’re an island,” the spokesman said. “We’re a connected entity.”
Of course, new names also mean new business.
Brooks Sports’ Runderwear, a five-piece group that will be shipped to about 150 stores in August, should generate about $800,000 in wholesale volume, Whitaker said.
While kicking around the idea of expanding into technical underwear for runners, Brooks Sports executives wanted to come up with a name that would appeal directly to runners. Whitaker added, “Brooks underwear sounded a little boring.”