SBJ/Nov. 25-Dec. 1, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Bob Puccini, SFIA; Mizuno USA

The leader of the sports and fitness industry trade association talks about the work required to get more people in the game, as well as how his own company, Mizuno USA, handles a shifting marketplace.



T
he epidemic of inactivity in the U.S. is our biggest issue. It’s the big elephant in our room.

A lot of our members are doing well now as far as sales, but this could all be upside for us. We’ve come a long way as an industry in identifying this as our biggest issue; now it has to be about focus, because there are so many different ways to attack this.

Photo: COURTESY OF MIZUNO USA
Concussions are our other big issue. To some extent it has impacted sales, but I can’t quantify that.

There’s just a lot more talk, not just about football and concussions, but about safety in sports in general. Sports are about competition, so there’s always going to be risk and reward. Of course, safety has to be a big part of everything we do, but the values you derive from sports have to be weighed against the risk of injury.

We need to make sure our equipment is up to date and challenge ourselves on that constantly, but we shouldn’t walk away from the benefit of sports by looking only at the downside.

The driving factors on getting people involved in sports are coaches and parents — especially at early ages.

The most impactful person in my life outside of my family was my high school baseball coach.

Clearly, there are more female consumers in our category, but our biggest issue is how varied the distribution channels have become. The path to purchase is changing dramatically.

We all talk about “omnichannel” and omnipresence for brands wherever consumers are. Consumers are looking at goods and considering purchase at brick and mortar and buying them online and vice versa in so many categories. We need to understand this, but it’s changing as we study it, so that’s not easy. Channel preferences are just incredibly dynamic.

Remember to listen to your customer and have insatiable curiosity.

Mizuno is known for being a great inspirational and performance name. People are buying our products, [but] we need them to join our brand and we’ve been talking with them a lot about that. If we can make consumers aware of our values, sales should follow.

It shouldn’t be just what and how in marketing, but why.

We try to stay on top of every retail trend, but it has been all over the place, and I don’t suspect the change is going to stop.

Brick-and-mortar stores morphing into more e-commerce, big-box stores are morphing into more specialty stores, specialty retailers are morphing into big box, on their own or by acquisitions. It’s all changing as every retailer looks for a sustainable point of difference.

We have been about function and innovation. … We have great loyalty among users. We need to build awareness and consideration. We’ve been a lot about the why and how, [but] we need to build an emotional connection to the brand, and we’ll do that early next year.

Sports can be transformational.

Structure follows strategy. So we try to hire based on the kind of culture we need. I want the person I’m hiring to be grounded, centered, have requisite skill sets and street smarts.

We’re not walking away from traditional media, but we have a big push in digital. One is driving the other right now and, like it always has been with media and advertising, you strive to find that effective mix. It’s just more complex and more of a moving target now than it has been.

So many schools are without phys-ed requirements and our research says if you have that requirement you’ll be twice as likely to be involved in fitness activities after school. Theoretically, that could double business for some of us.

Certainly, there are lots of initiatives out there encouraging physical activity. So we have to determine the one everybody can rally behind and get some resources behind it.

With all these different initiatives, how do we coalesce? That’s the role of the SFIA now. Pick one and get everyone behind it.

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