BOSTON — Puma wants to accentuate its feminine side as a major growth vehicle for the $2.2 billion brand.

The German activewear company is launching a swimwear line next spring and aims to strengthen its position in the women’s market with two major advertising campaigns in the second half of this year.

“The women’s business in the U.S. is very strong,” said Jochen Zeitz, chairman and chief executive officer, in an interview at Puma’s American offices in the Boston Design Center. “It’s been growing by double digits in the last few years, which gave us a good reason to expand on the women’s offering in the U.S.”

Zeitz said the swimwear collection will combine fashion with performance features and be sold through the same retailers that carry the Puma brand. The swimwear was designed in-house and specifics on the number of styles are not yet available, he said, adding that pricing will be “competitive.”

Zeitz noted that Puma’s advertising in the first half was dominated by the male side of its business — the run-up to soccer’s World Cup finals this month and the launch of its golf line skewed more to men, though it includes women’s apparel.

In the second half, “we definitely want to feature the female side of the brand,” he said.

The third-quarter campaign will focus on the work of fashion photographer Solve Sundsbo with the theme “I’m going.” Puma’s fourth-quarter women’s ad push will feature a celebrity spokesman whom Zeitz declined to identify other than to say it will not be an athlete.

“It would be too conventional if it was an athlete,” he said.

Both advertising campaigns will focus on high-fashion women’s magazines. Puma declined to disclose the budget for the campaigns, which will run on a worldwide basis.

These campaigns mark the first time Puma has made a major marketing push in the women’s area.

“First, we needed an established base,” Zeitz said. “We are now into the first part of our phase four [strategic] plan where we are investing heavily and have allocated a significant portion of our incremental budget to the women’s segment.”

This story first appeared in the June 8, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Breaking out Puma’s sales by gender is difficult, Zeitz noted, because many of its product lines are unisex.

“Our retail store traffic is almost 50-50” men and women, but “on the sales of specifically women’s styles, the percentage would be much lower than that.”

Puma’s profits for the year ended Dec. 31 increased 10.5 percent to 285.8 million euros, or $355.8 million based on average exchange rates for the period, on sales of 1.77 billion euros, or $2.2 billion. In February, Europe’s second-largest activewear maker after Adidas said its operating profit would reach at least 350 million euros, or $447.3 million at current exchange, rather than the earlier forecast of 300 million to 330 million euros, or $383.4 million to $421.8 million. Sales for the year are expected to increase 30 percent to 2.3 billion euros, or $2.94 billion, boosted by strong orders from the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

By region, fourth-quarter sales in the Americas, the lion’s share of them generated in the U.S., jumped 83.9 percent to 136.4 million euros, or $162.2 million. Sales in Europe, the Middle East and Africa advanced 6 percent to 161.2 million euros, or $191.7 million, and increased 9.5 percent to 51.6 million euros, or $61.4 million, in Asia and the Pacific Rim region.

Puma’s women’s lines are primarily fitness-oriented “with a lifestyle spin,” Zeitz said. The company expanded into the jeans business in February with a line of three women’s and three men’s styles developed in collaboration with Evisu that are sold only in Puma stores.

Puma operates 31 Puma concept stores in the U.S., with three more — in King of Prussia, Pa., Sacramento, Calif., and Bridgewater, N.J. — opening at the end of June. Worldwide, the company has 74 concept stores. Puma also operates outlet stores, but the executive declined to state how many.

The concept stores accounted for 13 percent of the company’s sales in the first quarter ended April 28.

“Globally, we plan to open between 10 and 20 concept stores annually,” Zeitz said, fewer than half of them in the U.S.

With outside retailers, Puma’s strategy is to increase the amount of merchandise existing accounts carry rather than to add many accounts.

“We want not more doors, but more breadth,” he said.

Major retailers carrying the Puma lines include Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Paiva, Foot Locker and Journeys.

Zeitz predicted “strong double-digit sales” for the Puma brand in the U.S. this year. Last year, the U.S. accounted for 18 percent of the firm’s global sales. The company has projected U.S. sales will grow to 25 percent of worldwide volume in the next five years, “but it will happen more quickly than that,” he said.

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