Equipment: Prince Shows New Product, Strategies to Key Dealers
Shortly after the US Open, Prince brought together about 70 key retailers for two days in Newport, R.I., to present new product, discuss key strategies, introduce staff, and playtest soon-to-be-introduced racquets on the grass courts at the historic International Tennis Hall of Fame. It was the first product introduction from Prince in several years.
“We’re going to set a new tone for how Prince is going to operate in the U.S. market,” said CEO Mike Ballardie. “This has been a year of transition for Prince. We’ve been getting ourselves reorganized, and we’re a new company with a new attitude.”
In July 2012, the Prince brand name (along with Ektelon and Viking) was acquired by Authentic Brands Group, after the sports company declared bankruptcy in 2011. In September 2012, the Waitt Co., an investment firm in Omaha, agreed to a 40-year license to operate the Prince brand in North America and other parts of the world.
Ballardie laid out a vision for the company “that will set Prince apart from the crowd. We need to do things differently.”
A key point in the brand’s new strategy — and a message many retailers indicated they were pleased to hear — is “a vision measured on sell-through, not sell-in,” he said. “We need to help in driving product out of your stores. We’re going to be your partners in taking products off the wall … [and not focusing on] pipeline fill. We need to accept the fact that a sale is not a sale until a consumer buys the product, so we’re going to work like crazy to make sure the product sells off your wall.”
Ballardie said the company’s vision also is “to operate as equal business partners irrespective of business size,” meaning “the same treatment, same opportunities, same products” for all retailers, which is “different from other brands. We’re going to be a business that will not be afraid to decry convention.”
Building on ‘America’s Brand’
For many consumers, Prince is still perceived as “America’s brand,” Ballardie said. “We need to go back and learn from all of the good things Prince had been in the past.” He pointed to several key goals and strategies, including:
- Building dealer confidence based on delivering promises.
- Listening to retailers and consumers as to expectations. “We want to continue to hear all of your concerns and figure out the best way to partner for success.”
- Having a vision that is “marketing-led, not sales-led. We have to figure out what it is consumers want, then deliver on that. The end result will be sales.”
- Investing in inventory, tour player contracts, new and innovative marketing concepts, websites, implementing sell-through programs, traditional and social media brand awareness activities, and internal teams.
- Developing top-notch products.
- Aggressively engaging the consumer fan base by using the Prince database to activate sales locally.
- Creating Prince brand “buzz,” including such things as the recent “pop-up” Prince store in New York City during the US Open, opening a permanent store near Wimbledon, and investing in a Prince store in Melbourne.
‘Gold’ Dealer Program
Charlie Osborn, VP of pro specialty sales, also emphasized Prince is intent on shaping its actions based on listening to both consumers and its retail partners. He said the shift in mindset “to focusing on generating sell-out” will be a key for the 12 Prince “brand managers” in the U.S. Rather than having “sales reps,” Osborn said, the brand managers will “manage our brand within their territories and act as the brand ‘owner.’ They will know and understand everything about the business.”
Osborn said the dealers invited to Newport are “our Gold dealers,” and he presented a program to them that includes a “wall-management program. The object is not to load you up with products, but to work with you and make sure you have the right mix of products.” For its Gold dealers, inventory will be rebalanced quarterly, he said, and models with poor sell-through will be returned and replaced with stronger selling models.
“If something’s not selling,” added Ballardie, “we’ve done something wrong for your store.”
Osborn also said Prince will provide higher margins in all core categories vs. the year before, and that there will be unlimited demos to support sell-through of strong-selling products. Other features of the Gold dealer program include co-op funds for regional advertising, recognition as a “Gold” partner in national ads, and free shipping on orders over $500.
New Prince Products
Tyler Herring, VP of product marketing, says Prince’s new racquet line — some of which is available now, the rest to be phased in in 2014 — has been simplified around three core names:
- Premier: The game improvement line of racquets, designed to be the most power and comfortable.
- Warrior: The all-around “tweener” segment, providing power and spin.
- Tour: Designed for spin and control, for advanced players with longer swings.
In addition to the new frames, Herring — who noted that Prince had “discontinued some of the most well-loved products in the industry” — said the company is bringing back two “classics,” the Graphite and the Response. This “classics strategy” will be a new “sub-brand” of performance frames.
The strategy for string in 2014 builds on the Premier, Warrior and Tour names. Strings in the Premier segment are multifilaments, designed for power and comfort; Warrior strings are hybrids, for power and spin; Tour strings are polyesters, for spin and control. Also, the Prince Tour ball will be coming back to the U.S., Ballardie said, although it won’t be available to all specialty retailers.
In footwear, the top-selling T22 will remain a staple in the line, with different iterations, including a white/pink model in partnership with the Bright Pink organization supporting prevention of breast and ovarian cancer. Prince also is looking to launch at least four new tennis shoe models in 2014, and update other models, offering both hard court and clay court shoes.
Ballardie, who asked the retailers for a commitment “to support and represent the full line of Prince products,” said success for the brand ends with the consumer. “Success is consistently having the right product and sticking with it — and delivering on the promises we’ve made,” he said. “Success is satisfying the tennis needs of consumers and fans on and off the court, and building a team of brand ambassadors for life.
“If someone buys our product, it shouldn’t be the end of the relationship,” Ballardie said. “It should be the beginning.”
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.