Munich The gyms are closed, the football pitches are closed, the gyms are closed: At its peak in spring, the corona crisis was a difficult test for athletes. For lack of alternatives, many people started jogging. “We’re experiencing a kind of running boom,” says Asics Manager Gary Raucher. “People feel that it is good for them.”
The corona crisis is therefore a huge opportunity for Asics. Because the sports group from Japan is the largest running shoe specialist in the world. However, it will not be easy to win the new joggers as customers. “We simply don’t know enough people,” complains Raucher. The American has been responsible for Asics’ marketing in Europe for over a year. He says: “The brand still has a lot of potential.”
For many ambitious athletes, Asics shoes have been the first choice for decades. But if you are not very familiar with it, you may instinctively resort to competing products from Nike or Adidas – the two largest and, above all, most famous sports groups in the world. There are also a whole range of other runners-specialized brands in stores and online shops: These are primarily Brooks and Saucony in the USA and On in Europe. Under Armor, New Balance and Puma also compete for the joggers.
Asics plans to address runners differently from the competition in the future, smokers announce. “Everyone else is about winning at all costs,” the manager claims. “For us, the long-term effect counts.” The aim is to refresh the body and mind, because that’s exactly what company founder Kihachiro Onitsuka wanted to express in the name Asics: The brand stands for the Latin saying “Anima sana in corpore sano” – in German: “A healthy soul in a healthy body”. The well-being of the athletes is therefore in the foreground and not the highest performance.
In a way, Asics is going back to its roots. In the difficult years after World War II, Onitsuka wanted to prevent the Japanese youth from getting off the rails. A friend advised him to get the children excited about sports and to found a company for sports shoes. Without professional know-how and with borrowed money, Onitsuka Tiger Ltd. was created Their first product: a basketball shoe. But quickly Onitsuka then switched to running shoes. However, the Asics name did not emerge until 1977 when Onitsuka’s company merged with two others.
Possibly newcomers in particular are susceptible to such messages. “In the past few weeks, many athletes have opted for workouts at home or individual sports outdoors, such as jogging or cycling,” said the management consultancy Deloitte in a study published in late May on sporting activities in selected European countries. This also creates new opportunities for the industry. According to Deloitte, athletes in Germany spend an average of around 249 euros per year for sporting goods, while athletes spend around 164 euros.
Red numbers at the beginning of the year
In the first quarter, there was no sign of the jogging boom in Asics’ balance sheet. The Kobe corporation suffered from the shock rigidity in large parts of the world. In comparison to the previous year, sales shrank by a good ten percent to the equivalent of around 730 million euros, Asics announced in May. At the same time, the company slipped into the red with around two million euros.
On the one hand, this was due to the fact that many sports shops had to close due to the corona pandemic. On the other hand, the group had already invested heavily in marketing in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Because of the pandemic, the sporting event has now been postponed to 2021. Asics wanted to use the games in their home country as a shop window for consumers all over the world.
As a new marketing manager for Europe, Raucher has a lot to do. In the sports shops, Asics has been increasingly banned from the shelves in recent years. This can be seen in Germany: in 2017, the Asians were still the fourth largest supplier to the Sport 2000 dealer network. Last year, the company only ended up in sixth place, with falling sales. The rivals Brooks and New Balance are still behind Asics, but are selling more and more.
The downturn is all the more threatening for Asics when the retailers in the group with running equipment posted a plus of almost six percent. That means: Asics has lost market share in many specialist retailers.
The group has not communicated consistently in the past, criticizes Raucher. The manager promises that this will change with the new collection next spring.
The new wellness strategy could work in the light of Corona. “I think people will be more interested in a healthier lifestyle because of the disease,” said Matt Powell, sports expert at NPD Group, an American market researcher. This would benefit the sports industry as a whole. In addition, it is likely that people turned away from fashionable sneakers. Instead, according to Powell, they should buy more shoes that they could actually use for sports. Powell: “Running shoes will rise again.”
Club sport is now reviving and the gyms are also attracting people. That doesn’t have to be a disadvantage for Asics. Because the Japanese have the right equipment for many other sports on offer: for tennis, volleyball or hockey – and even for rugby.
They are also trying to gain a foothold in textiles. Most importantly, the many “Corona runners” remain true to their new hobby even after the restrictions have ended. Smoker is convinced that this is not only good for his company, but for society as a whole.
More: Sports brands fear the summer of horrors