Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arena wants a larger bite of the USA swimsuit market!

I conducted an email interview with, Bryan Smeltez, The Vice President of Arena Marketing USA. Arena originally launched in 1973 as a subsidiary of Adidas and was eventually sold by the company in 1987. Three years later in 1990, Arena left the US market and began to focus solely on Europe.

In 2008 when the Speedo LZR was introduced, Arena was so disappointed in the FINA approval, they took out a full page ad decrying the technology. One Italian coach referred to the suit as “tech doping” and Arena seemed to be relegated as a second tier brand. However, within two years Arena had not only bounced back with a competitive suit for the 2009 FINA World Championships, sponsored swimmers from rival companies were neglecting the brands they were paid to endorse and switched to the Arena X-Glide so as to be competitive.

Even, Michael Phelps, was taunted by, Milorad Čavić, who stated he would buy Phelps an Arena X-Glide so he could be more competitive. Phelps, later beat Čavić wearing a Speedo LZR in the 100-meter butterfly final.

I asked how Arena did it, why they left the US market in the 1990, what will their pricing structure be for male jammers and more:

Q: Every brand has a story; what is Arena’s story, what has it accomplished and what makes it more, better or different?

The Break-Out Stroke (the 70’s)

In 1973 Arena launched its first racing swimwear line with the introduction of Skinfit®.

The following year, Arena signed the first female sponsorship agreement with Australian swimmer Shane Gould. Working in collaboration with Gould, in 1974 Arena developed the Shane Gould Female Swimsuit Collection.

Original Arena Elite Team included such world champions as Mark Spitz (USA), Novella Calligaris (ITA), Steve Furniss (USA), David Wilke (UK), Shirley Babashoff (USA), Gary Hall (USA), Klaus Dibiasi (ITA), Ulrika Knape (SWE) and Maxine “Miki” King (USA).

Montreal Olympics paid off and the Arena Elite Team won an astonishing 44 Olympic medals

The Touch Out – Arena is First to the Wall (the 80’s)

Getting used to being first, in 1980 Arena introduced Flyback®: the world’s first racing swimsuit designed with thin straps to create larger shoulder openings and an exposed back in order to give athletes complete upper body range of motion. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the newest Arena Elite Team member Matt Biondi became the 2nd swimmer to win 7 medals in one Olympiad (5 were Gold and 4 were won with world record times).

The Angle of Attack – Athletes Continued to be Key to Arena’s Position (the 90’s)

At the beginning of the 90’s Arena was ready to launch AquaRacer® a fabric designed to make swimmers glide through the water. In 1997, the Arena Design & Development Team did it again and left everyone speechless with the launch of X-Flat®, a fabric that was even thinner, smoother and lighter than AquaRacer®.

At the same time, the Arena Elite Team continued to recruit new talented swimmers such as Alexander Popov and Franziska van Almsick, two of swimming’s dominating world performers of the 90s.

The Course – Arena Ready to Swim the Distance (2000 and the future)

Arena’s drive to go beyond any established limit gave the world a range of technological breakthroughs: Powerskin® (2000), Powerskin X-Treme® (2004), Powerskin R-evolution®, Powerskin R-evolution+® (2008) and Powerskin X-Glide (2009).

Powerskin technology became the flagship of the new generation of elite competition full-body swimsuits. Powerskin® range has won the privilege of accompanying the greatest champions onto the podiums of the most prestigious swimming events in Europe and the World. And today they are still the preferred racing swimsuits for a great number of international swimming champions, such as Alain Bernard, Aaron Peirsol, César Cielo, Milorad Cavic, Laszlo Cseh, Inge Dekker, Rebecca Soni and the list goes on.

Q: Arena once sold very well in America but then left to focus on Europe; Why was that?

The decision was one made by Arena, and Arena alone. Based on several non-market specific conditions, with the most significant being that the company had been sold by Adidas in 1990, along with the death of, Horst Dassler, the brand founder in 1987, the company moved in a new direction.

Q: In 2008 the swim universe changed with the emergence of the tech suit. Arena’s market share began to dwindle a bit and your company even took out a full page ad denouncing the new suits. However, though FINA ignored Arena’s pleas, in just two years not only did Arena have a suit contender, but rival brand athletes were “changing teams” so to speak and wearing your suit despite contracts with other suit manufacturers.

How did Arena rise to that technology challenge in such an amazingly minute amount of time?

Since its foundation, back in 1973, Arena has made of product innovation and technological development a key pillar for its growth and competitive advantage in the marketplace. Supporting the best athletes, federations and clubs during their competitions is for us a real ‘in vivo’ testing laboratory, in which we can develop and validate leading edge technological solutions, to be then gradually applied to products destined to millions of swimmers and swimming fans all over the world.

With this aim, Arena has built a sophisticated and fully integrated network of scientific partners, from University Research Centers to private R&D Powerhouses, to fabric manufacturers, which are working side by side with our internal experts to create breakthrough solutions applicable to water sports and swimming in particular.

Q: It usually takes years to develop a brand but Arena did it in a matter of months. How did Arena get both the message and your brand acknowledged so quickly in America?

Performance on the deck year after year, competition after competition. As we know the swim community is a tight knit group, and global performance carries a message very quickly. We are very fortunate to have the best performing race suits in the world, as is evidence by our recent performance in FINA World Championships in 2009 in Rome. Arena took home 18 Golds, 21 Silver and 13 Bronze metals. Performance on the deck with a long heritage of championship swimming, leads to immediate creditibilty.

Q: Two of your competitors in the the United States, TYR and Speedo are selling a pair of elite jammers for about $260 a pair. Will Arena sell their jammers in or around that price or will you sell them for less?

Men’s Racing Jammers range from $170-260 for our top of the line Powerskin R-Evo.

Q: If you are selling them for over $100, Why are jammers being priced so high?

PowerSkin R-Evolution is the first and only racing swimsuit based on a revolutionary construction, made from one single piece of fabric to minimize the total number of seams. Thanks also to its incredibly light base fabric; (Only 99 GRs/SQm), PowerSkin R-Evolution is the state of the art suit for top level level swimming competitions.

Q: Now that the tech-suits are “banished,” or what I like to call a “temporary exile,” Is this a good thing for the sport or it it bad?

On our side, we wish and hope that any future re-drafting of the rules will be made by wisely capitalizing on the new technological developments, but always keeping the ethics and the credibility of the sport safe from harm.

What Arena believes is that not necessarily swimming has to shift from one extreme to the other: in between hi-tech suits and textile jammers, there are plenty of possible compromise solutions and it’s up to those who govern swimming to find the option that shows to be the best for the long term development of the sports. For sure, we are ready to do our part to support FINA and the Federations to find this virtuous point of balance.

Q: I have argued on my blog that it is a bad thing to “banish” suits since swimsuit companies will be making far less revenue and therefore sponsor far fewer events and/or athletes. Do you agree with that statement?

It is not by chance that, since early 2008, Arena had publicly expressed its perplexities and concern about the use of such kind of materials – which were not, in our view, a proper way to exploit technology and innovation in racing.

Q: Tell us about your new suit line, what do you like best about it?

When rules are as strict as today, creating a stable competitive advantage is definitely more difficult and only tough, motivated and technologically advanced players shall have a chance to finally emerge as leaders.

All our researches and achievements in the fields of fluid – dynamics, drag reduction and biomechanics will remain as an asset even for ‘new’ textile developments, made in accordance with the new rules. This is something that we owe not only to swimmers and Federations, but also to all our consumers around the world, towards whom we have a strong commitment to consistently deliver products which are more and more performing, at the best market value.

Q: What are your athletes saying about the product?

Improved performance in the water, less drag and superior fit.

Q: When will they be available?

June, 2010

Thank you very much for your time and the product package.


Braden K. said...

Great set of questions. I know Arena has remained strong in the American water polo market throughout, and I wish it had come up whether or not they were able to leverage that to some extent, either from a marketing side or an operations side.

Tony Austin said...

Frame it as a question and I will get it answered for you. Thank you for the nice comment. :-)