Fila stays current through sports marketing
Fila Philippines is ramping up not only its footwear and apparel but also its branding. Although it targets the middle-of-the-road market, it makes its presence felt in elite sports such as polo and regatta. This time Fila scored a coup by sponsoring the Volcanoes in the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow. This is the first time that the country is participating in the foremost international rugby competition, and Fila is affixed to the team’s name.
“The sport is driven by European heritage. Rugby is not given attention in Philippines. This is the first time the country is able to send a team,” says Maricris “Cris” Albert, president and CEO of Isports Life Inc., the maker of Fila and other home-grown footwear brands.
“Our vision is to support teams that have not been fully funded. We took it upon ourselves by giving the team cash, providing uniforms, and getting assistance from others.”
On the marketing side, the sponsorship capitalizes on the consumer interest in the Fila Volcanoes (all of whom are of half-Filipino and half-Caucasian, by the way). It invests in sponsorship of sports because it provides a different market platform and builds brand awareness and recognition.
Fila Philippines has to contend with athletes’ and consumer’s loyalty to the marketing savvy Nike, the heritage of Adidas and other smaller edgier brands. Hence, its mission is to penetrate the market by creating new brands and appearing in high-society events.
Although Fila is a fraction of the prices (P1,999 to P3,000) of its competitors, it positions itself as a cool brand that appeals to the man on the street and the CEO who plays polo.
Albert explains that Fila’s marketing statement is to be both affordable and aspirational. “We have to keep image high. Consumers should feel confident about what they wear without having to spend too much or buy fake goods,” says Albert.
During the polo season, the Fila Cup is one of the most glamorous events at the Manila Polo Club. Fila has also sponsored the arts such as the Metropolitan Museum of Manila and Alex and Hans Van Hagen’s photo and art exhibits. Fila Volcanoes is the brand’s largest marketing effort to date. It has come a long way from its modest beginnings in the country.
Its origin is in Piedmont, Italy in 1911. The brand was thrust into the spotlight with tennis endorsers Bjorn Borg and Boris Becker.
In 1983, businessman Jose Mari “Butch” Albert entered a joint venture with the Italian principals. Fila was manufacturing apparel and a wholesale distributor. When Cris married the owner in 1994, she observed how her husband ran the business. Eventually, she helped to develop the marketing, advertising, retail and merchandising.
With a vision of widening the distribution network, Albert realized that Fila had to offer better products. Fila opened concessionaires in department stores and free standing boutiques, offering apparel and importing footwear from Italy.
In 1996, Fila sponsored the tour of its endorser Grant Hill of NBA’s Detroit Pistons to the Philippines. His mall tours boosted the sales and raised the brand equity.
“We were affiliated with basketball then when it was hot sport. It was great for us to get back on track on who we are,” says Albert on Fila’s presence in the Philippine Basketball Association games.
However, the Asian Crisis in 1997 dampened foreign investments, including Fila’s Italian principals. Nonetheless, the Alberts saw the market potential as their outlets had grown to 120 nationwide. In 2000, they bought the licensing agreement for 25 years with an automatic renewal.
“Now we run the whole business. We don’t have to follow international directions. We can customize the products based on what the market wants,” says Albert. She says this business model differentiates itself from other athletic brands. While the name sports brands import their products, Fila Philippines designs and tests the products.
Fila Philippines sends the designs to its 12 partner manufacturers in China. “I dare say that the quality of our products is at par or even better than some foreign counterparts, but they are affordable,” says Albert. She maintains that the products undergo strict quality control.
“In sales, the business grew 70 percent this year versus last year. We have to order more product lines and distribute faster,” says Albert.
She attributes the success to listening to the consumer. Albert observes that Filipinos prefer soft foot beds, light shoes for running, heavy-duty materials for hiking and fashionable styles. The athletic shoes are not just used for sports but also for social occasions. Fila’s customers buy an average of two pairs a year.
“This gives us an opportunity to provide something new,” she says.
The company’s research led to the establishment of other brands—Tiva for ladies, Freestyle fashionable sporting shoes for men, Outdoors for the rugged look, Skele Toes and Everest for hiking.
The product mix is customized according to the customer profile of the area. For instance, the Baguio market favors the hiking shoes while the Makati consumers prefer running, driving and casual shoes.
Albert hopes to see a pair of the house brands in every household.
“Our market is from A to D which comprise 70 percent of the total population. We have segmented our brands considering their lifestyles and usage. Fila users are 25 and above. They are classic yet sporty and hip,” she says.
“The potential of our brand is P30 billion sales per year. We’ve been successful in hitting our quotas in the past five years.”
Today there are 300 outlets and 20 more stores opening later in 2013. Her goal is to improve efficiency and operational standards and be more exacting in strategy.
“We don’t have an advertising company. We do it internally based on the new products. Our major advertising tool is our stores—the windows,” she says. The stores lure the consumers through lodging tables displaying the niftiest styles, tagged items, giveaways and interactive marketing.
Albert says even scents are used to enhance the shopping experience. Next week, the stores will be infused a light sporty Paco Rabanne scent that evokes the excitement of Fila Philippines’ participation in the Rugby World Cup Sevens.
Although sponsorship isn’t always measured by the improvement in financial performance, it’s a tried-and-tested way for a brand to raise its profile. Fila Philippines seems to be getting it right.
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