Saturday, July 12, 2008

A nice, swift kick...

Sneaker Wars
by Barbara Smit

I had never realized how un-settled the athletic goods industry is. You think about us being all civilized and stuff, and then read about how athletes at the Olympic Games were receiving under-the-table bribes of cash and equipment to wear particular brands, how the executive within companies fought each other over marketing schemes, and how a family could be ripped appart by some soccer cleats.

Adidas and Puma were founded by feuding brothers; they dragged their entire town into the deal, with one side of the river being Adidas and the other Puma. Before WWII, in their small German town, they were part of a family shoemaking business. During the war? Both wanted to be in charge, and accused each other of bribing to get one sent off to serve with the Nazis, of cooperation, and all sorts of other bitter things, resulting in the split.

Even once that was "done", there was infighting within the Adidas family, and countless attempts at sabotage between the two families/companies. One of the sons of the Adidas founder felt forced out, and, having a good amount of autonomy as the head of their French division, started his own semi-rival line of Adidas goods, as well as founding/owning Arena (swimsuits), Pony (shoes), and Le Coq Sportif (clothing) - all without the remainder of his family finding out for many years.

There were ups and downs for both over the years, especially once Nike hit the scene and pretty much took over the American market. The distribution set-ups were ludicrous, production could never keep up with demand, and the companies faltered through the 80's and 90's.

At this time, neither really has any descendents in an ownership position, both having been sold off repeatedly to weathly investors, banks, conglomerates, and so forth. But they each also (finally) figured out a direction within the last decade, taking back much of their market shares. Adidas also managed to buy Reebok a few years ago, mainly because the two were tired of fighting for second and third place in market share behind Nike, and figure they have a better shot if they join forces. (Did anyone else miss this? It was 2003, and you'd think it'd be big news...)

There's no conclusion. The story is still on-going, as both Adidas and Puma continue the upward swing.

One interesting note: A LOT of executives and family members died (young) of cancer or leukemia. Within the family, it could be coincidence, but when you start factoring in all the outside business people who joined the board or bought giant chunks of a company and ran it, it gets a bit creepy...

Full disclosure: I own a bunch of athletic shoes/clothing/equipment.

Adidas: my current favorite running shoes, some trail running shoes, my current indoor shoes (though I don't really like them, and will probably be swapping them for some Pumas that are similar to my outdoor cleats...), some shinguards, a bag, various jackets and shorts, etc.

Puma: my outdoor cleats (which I love), and the current outdoor team shirt

Nike: various former running shoes and cleats, various other clothing items

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posted by ket at 11:40 AM


Blogger Elizabeth said...

This book sounds so cool. Can I borrow? Like, soon?

I've always been an Adidas girl. My running shoes for years have been subsequent models of the Supernova, and nothing will ever change my confidence in the classic Copa Mundial. I have a few Nike pieces here and there (a visor and my old racing spikes), but Puma's never found a place in my athetic arsenal...yet.

Seriously, I'm salivating.

7/12/2008 3:29 PM  
Blogger ket said...

Um, I wrote this review very hastily so that I could return the (very overdue) book to the library this afternoon.

But at least now you know the Arlington library system has it!

7/12/2008 7:33 PM  

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