How did Puma return in the race against Nike and Adidas?

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Invest in sport or aim for fashion? In 2013, faced with low sales, Puma reviewed its strategy. Good idea.

In the battle between the stars of the sporting world, there is Nike, Adidas … and Puma, the eternal underdog. Far behind the first two, the brand founded after the war by Rudolf Dassler, the brother of Adolf, creator of Adidas, went through a critical phase in the late 2000s. Acquired for nearly 4 billion euros by François- Henri Pinault in 2007, Puma disappoints its new owner, PPR (meanwhile Kering): from 2011 to 2013, its profits dropped from 230 million to 5 million euros! The equipment supplier pays cash a growth crisis that has made it pass in less than fifteen years from the status of SME to that of multinational, with a turnover multiplied by ten.

Exit Jochen Zeitz, his historical boss, accused of having favored fashion at the expense of sports articles. In the summer of 2013, Björn Gulden, an ex-footballer, was a senior executive at Adidas and later boss of Pandora jewelry. He takes control at a time when the sports market is going pretty well and where running and fitness are still adept. But, as the Japanese Asics and the US Under Armor compete for the third step of the podium, Puma must find its position. Between the accentuation of the sporting vocation of the brand and the fashion temptation, how will Björn Gulden manage his efforts?

Björn Gulden, CEO of Puma © Dirk Bruniecki / Puma


1. Go back to basics by capitalizing on sports articles

Even if the brand still suffers in this market, it has acquired a certain legitimacy, thanks to golf, with its brand Cobra, which designs highly technical products for this sector. But this is not necessarily the best way to reconnect with the long-awaited profitability by Kering, shareholder of Puma up to 83%.

2. Take a radical fashion turn, with single-brand boutiques

Puma, a fashion icon? One after the other, sports brands give in to the temptation of fashion, followed by their customers, men and women, seduced by sportswear. But this strategy, which requires significant down payments, does not even guarantee a return on investment, as shown by the descent into hell of the Tacchini brand.

3. Choose a mixed model, halfway between sport and fashion

The two areas can be combined and their association can reach a broader target, provided, however, not to skimp on marketing. It is about making judicious choices in sponsorship of clubs and sportsmen. And knowing how to calibrate the dose of technology needed to stay at the forefront of innovation, like its competitors Nike and Adidas.

> HE CHOOSES THE THIRD OPTION, THE MOST ARDUE: To revive, Puma relies on technological products without denying its culture "lifestyle"

When Antoine Griezmann scored his two goals in the semi-final of the Euro against Germany, last July, we salute the feat … but we notice especially his shoes! One is yellow, the second is flashy pink. Björn Gulden, the boss of Puma, can rub his hands. No doubt: the brand, which accompanies since its debut the Frenchman as the best player of Euro 2016, had a hollow nose. Other stars to wear Tricks: Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, German player Dortmund Marco Reus, or Mario Balotelli, the darling of the OGC Nice. Paying choices, since after the Euro, Puma increased its market share in France by 2.4% on sales of cleated shoes. Its performance in the first half of the year is equally admiring: + 41% on football boots, when other brands have to settle for a meager growth of 2.1%.

The footballer Antoine Griezmann wears Tricks signed Puma:

© Puma

On the race side, Puma is going even faster, with a turnover jump of 83%, while the market is up just 6%. What to forget the terrible year 2013 when the brand saw its net profit decline by 93%. Björn Gulden, who had just arrived, explained: "You can not transform a business in a few months. In the sports industry, it takes almost two years from the moment you start working on a product to the day it's in the store. "The story is telling him right.

In numbers : 3.3 billion euros turnover in 120 countries. 50% of turnover realized on the only shoes. 6.5% of growth in 2015 compared to 2014.

The shops have been transformed and the whole strategy is already bearing fruit: the freefall profits of 2013 are a thing of the past.

© Brad Stein / Puma

THE LEGITIMACY FOUND. Björn Gulden won another, more discreet victory, but which, in his eyes, shows how much his group has returned in the race. Last April, Adidas attacked his enemy brother in a German court, accusing him of copying the technology used for the soles of his Boost shoes. But the judge ruled in favor of Puma. "Gulden made a strong strategic choice by rebuilding the group on its fundamentals while he could have let it fade in fashion," said Frédéric Tain, publisher of the specialized sportsbook Sport Guide. Football, running, fitness and golf are the disciplines on which Puma now focuses its investments. "We have returned to our roots, confirms Richard Teyssier, the boss of Puma in France. Thanks to technical products, we have regained our legitimacy. "

See also: Adidas vs Puma, rivalry between enemy brothers

To perfect its technology, the equipment manufacturer has partnered with 3M. Every six months, the brand comes out a novelty: a thinner sole, a lighter shoe like Evo Touch, which facilitates the touch of ball for a footballer, or another one, specially designed for Usain Bolt before the last Olympic Games ( it is equipped with a disc that allows automatic lacing). "We have already put 80% of our new product offering on the market," says Björn Gulden. Our course is sport. In fashion, one day you are in, the next day out. "

> Video. Usain Bolt, Best Athlete of the Year 2016:

Forever Faster is the name given by the ex-footballer to the recovery plan he implemented as soon as he arrived in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, the cradle of the brand, two blocks from the Adidas head office. First act: repatriate to Germany all the skills scattered in London, for the creative studio, in Boston, for marketing, and in Paris, headquarters of the shareholder. Only the sales teams kept local locations, for example in Strasbourg for France. "We are thus more productive and the decision-making circuits are also shorter," says Richard Teyssier. Act two: renew the teams. Björn Gulden first hires at Adidas, where he recruits a creative director, Torsten Hochstetter, and an IT manager, Lars Soerensen. A new director of strategy also arrives in 2015.

KEEP BOLT, CHIPER ARSENAL. In parallel, Gulden deals with marketing. Any major sports brand must have its muses and teams. In each European country, Puma battles to sign with the best, like Borussia Dortmund in Germany, which drains the "best public in Europe," according to a specialist. The best shot of the Gulden, to this day, remains Arsenal, in England, that flies to Nike in 2014 for 37 million euros per season.

See also: In football, Nike hits the mark with jerseys

Puma also pampers his stars. Not obvious with big names like Antoine Griezmann or Usain Bolt, especially when we do not have the stupendous budgets of Nike and Adidas, groups five times bigger. It was still necessary to align the zeros. "The fact that Usain Bolt is the fastest sprinter in the world does not make us sell millions of spike pairs, but his image is a tremendous asset to the brand," the brand's boss told reporters recently. . Today, Puma is betting on young people like Jamaican Nigel Ellis and Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse, triple medalist in Rio.

At the Rio Olympics, Usain Bolt wore record shoes, specially designed for him by the German equipment manufacturer:

© Puma

LOOK FOR THE WOMAN ! But the future of sport is also the woman. For two years now, this market has been growing strongly, and Puma intends to become a leader, especially for running. An additional reason to keep a foot in fashion. "We were already present in this market and we have no problem attracting women, welcomes Richard Teyssier. Our competitors have not placed their pieces as well. "

To attract young people, Björn Gulden recruited the singer Rihanna, who was promoted creative director on January 1, 2015. The Creepers, one of her first models of shoes, made a success and her collections were presented at New York Fashion Week. . "No sportswoman has such media power," enthuses Björn Gulden. The beginning of a new long distance race.

© Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images for Fenty X Puma

TO REMEMBER : Sports brands are fighting behind the Nike and Adidas behemoths, which dominate the market. Under the heels of Asics and Under Armor, Puma focuses on four sports, accelerates the pace of its innovations, shortens the decision-making process, under the leadership of a new boss, Björn Gulden. And manages to keep its stars, without giving up the fashion sector.

TO REMEMBER : Sports brands are fighting behind the Nike and Adidas behemoths, which dominate the market. Under the heels of Asics and Under Armor, Puma focuses on four sports, accelerates the pace of its innovations, shortens the decision-making process, under the leadership of a new boss, Björn Gulden. And manages to keep its stars, without giving up the fashion sector.