The Fast Cat: Q&A With Puma's Jay Piccola

The president weighs in on his plans for the year.

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FN: How big of an opportunity do you see with the new women’s soccer collection?
The opportunity is enormous: 50 percent of soccer players ages 12 to 18 are women. I wouldn’t put a dollar figure to it, but we believe this is an opportunity not fully realized by our competitors. The majority of women still don’t wear women’s shoes on the pitch, so this could be a huge initiative. We’re working on a $130 women’s cleat with all the technology. We’ll be out with soccer balls, shoes and clothing.


FN: What are your expectations for the BodyTrain women’s toning line?
The premise here is not to enter a crowded space but to speak to and win the female consumer. [The toning category is] a factor in the industry, and we need to be there. So the question is, what can Puma do to change the game? BodyTrain is a stable shoe — far more stable than the competition — and it has that Puma style. A giant market segment of women have bought [toning] shoes. Just because a lot of people are [in that market] doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be there. We need to enter the category the right way and our goal is to be in the top three or four.


FN: Give us an update on Puma’s new Faas collection. Have you made headway in the independent specialty running channel?
It’s going very well. We have invested a lot of time and energy, and paid our dues. The business is growing dramatically — easily double-digit growth. We’re participating in a big way on the hot trend of lightweight [footwear]. The Faas was extremely successful in our stores last year, and this year we’ll be back on television featuring Usain Bolt. We haven’t been on TV for a while.


FN: How important are athletes to the overall strategy?
We don’t have the stable of athletes others have, but the ones we have live, eat and breathe the brand DNA. We’re putting more horsepower behind Bolt and [professional golfer] Ricky Fowler. They love music, they love their sport, they love to perform. You’ll see them being elevated in 2011.


FN: Are you going to ramp up social media efforts this year?
JP: Social media is trendy now, but we feel we conquered it early. It was something we could afford to get into. We did it well and we did it early. Our Facebook presence compared with our competitors is absolutely enormous.


FN: You’re also reinvesting in the Clyde, your iconic low-profile shoe named after basketball legend and Knicks announcer Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Why did you decide to partner with retailer Undefeated on this?
JP: It’s a design relationship. They’re helping us design the sneakers and they are also advising us about [which retailers get] the shoes and when. The plan is to have an exclusive relationship for so many months with a certain retailer and then move to the next one. The idea is to get a lot of buzz through the publicity that’s going to occur.


FN: Is this a younger Clyde customer you’re targeting here?
Yes, this is earmarked to the young male, the sneakerheads. The whole philosophy is for the trickle-down effect through high-end distribution to gain momentum for when it hits the mall [sometime in] 2012. The everyday pricing will be at $65.


FN: Outside of the new growth initiatives, you have made a major push on sustainability. What was behind that?
Jochen is very much engaged in these things in his personal life and with his foundation, [the Zeitz Foundation for Intercultural Ecosphere Safety]. He spends a lot of time in Africa, where he’s involved in an organic cotton initiative. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be as far as we’ve come. It wasn’t even on my radar screen two years ago.


FN: One of the most visible things you’ve done for sustainability is the Clever Little Bag. The company has said it plans to convert all footwear packaging to that model. Are you on track for that?
Ultimately, that’s what we’d like to do. It’s not an easy initiative. It’s very radical [because] it changes shoeboxes as we know them. We had a soft launch in November [with the Top Winner and SuperSuede styles] and did some testing to work out the kinks. We realized we needed to do a better job of training retailers how to stack them. They can stack up to 10 high and they won’t crush.

FN: What brands are you watching in and outside of the industry?
I watch everyone, or I try to. We watch so we’re educated; we don’t watch to follow. We stopped following back in the early 1990s. We had to do it our way to survive. I’m an admirer of Apple. I admire their product, the way they communicate to the consumer, their retail model. I like that they have so many people in their stores. I wish I had all those people in my stores.


FN: Looking ahead, do you expect the London Olympics to help boost sales next year?
JP: We have seen an increase in consumer interest in global sporting events like the Olympics, particularly over the last decade. Hopefully we will continue to see that increase with London. And given that [Bolt], our No. 1 brand ambassador and the fastest man in the world, will be wearing Puma on and off the track, I anticipate we will have strong brand exposure.

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