After almost 20 years in the brand business, I’m still surprised when I learn that a brand is but a cog in a bigger brand wheel.
A while back I saw an infographic depicting the brands that rolled up into “big food”. Impressed on one hand, I was taken aback by the scale, number of skus and amount of store shelf space owned (bought) by so few companies. Do consumers have real choice or just the illusion of choice? Is this a function of what’s needed to negotiate with big retail players. Do customers even care?
I do a lot of work in the natural, health and wellness food space and I recently came upon this infographic showing the acquisitions in the organic industry. It's controversial. Some see this as selling out, even a betrayal of values. Others take the view that this is needed for the organic movement to scale its’ impact and movement.
I was curious about sporting brands and decided to pull together something similar for them. Yikes. No sooner as soon as I started, I realized it wasn’t going to be as simple because...
1. It isn’t easy to define a sports brand. Is Coleman a sports brand? What about hunting brands like Bushnell - makers of rifle telescopes & binoculars?
2. Some holding companies don’t own only sporting brands. Take Compass Diversified Holdings, who recently sold CamelBak. They own a very diverse group of companies.
3. Althleisure. The merging of fashion and sportswear. Many fashion companies have stakes in or own outright “sports” brands. For instance PVH, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, owns Speedo. Ambercrombie & Fitch created and owns Hollister surf.
Despite these challenges, I forged forward and created the following:
What stood out for me was:
Wow. Again. Brands I thought were independent weren’t.
Many holding companies had a large number of brands in their stable.
Appreciation for the big independents. The ones that held the course and didn't sell out. Brands like Patagonia, Lululemon and Under Armour. Their rise and size seem remarkable given the world of big eating small.
How does it make you feel when you that learn that a brand is just one of many in a parent company’s portfolio? Is it a sell out? Marketing trickery? Or don’t care?
My theory is the more passionate/involved you are with your sport the more you care and likelihood you'll choose an independent & niche company (provided the quality is there).
I’m a big believer in niche. There is opportunity in the narrow. Sport brands like G3 (Genuine Guide Gear - skiing), Rapha (cycling) and Tracksmith (running) to name a few. They all have fantastic knowledge of their sport; have a strong connection to their fans; understand and contribute to the culture; and are crafting extraordinary products. To use some cliche words - they are "real, true & authentic".
Products from such niche brands are typically high quality and super premium priced. And their consumers, many of which are fans, appreciate the quality, craft, stories and connection with their sporting tribe. All in all, they likely feel they're getting great value.
After all, these are the small company characteristics (along with revenue and profit) that bigger companies are keen to buy and add to their stable of brands.