Leaping into the battle of branding with a recognized name, Lamar Health, Fitness & Sports will manufacture and market cardiovascular equipment for Champion Athleticwear, bearing the Champion label, under a newly sealed license agreement.
"We were ecstatic about the Champion brand," Kevin Lamar, Lamar HFS founder, told SNEWSÂ®. "People are loyal to the Champion brand. For us, it was a wonderful opportunity to team up with Champion.
"Our new line will build on Champion's strong brand qualities, image of performance and reputation for technology," he added. Â
From Champion's standpoint, making exercise equipment for workouts makes total sense to go with the apparel it already makes for workouts. In addition, it will establish the company even more strongly with the women it already serves not only through the Champion name, but also through other brands such as Bali, Hanes, Playtex, L'eggs and others also under the Sara Lee umbrella (NYSE: SLE -- See quarterly earnings summary, also in this week's SNEWSÂ®).
"Women play a significant role in the purchase of home fitness equipment, so we've looked carefully at colors, making the schemes subtle enough to blend into different rooms in the house," Nancy Gendimenico, Champion's director of marketing for global brand licensing, told SNEWÂ®. "The equipment is for men and women, as is our fitness apparel. We may see a need to differentiate product by gender as the line is further developed down the road."
Lamar said the line, which will debut at retail in fall 2005, will include only one recumbent bike and one elliptical, both to have prices falling somewhere below $1,000. They will initially launch at selected sporting goods chains yet to be announced. Higher-price models with additional product features will be ready in 2006 for a fall 2006 retail debut for specialty fitness shops. Lamar told SNEWSÂ® he expected to add treadmills and upright bikes in 2006.
"Eventually, we'll have a full product line," he said. "We think it will establish the Champion line as the performance-oriented line."
Gendimenico said that the Champion equipment will compete in the bulging equipment market "by creating product with a highly recognized brand name that provides a high quality and user-friendly machine."
She also explained to SNEWSÂ® that there were not at this time any plans to market the apparel and the equipment together.
"However, the fitness equipment will be sold at some of the same retail outlets as the apparel," Gendimenico said, "and Lamar's catalog images will feature models in Champion apparel. This is a new product category for Champion. As we learn more about the market, we may consider joint marketing opportunities down the road."
In this venture, which is the company's first into fitness equipment, Gendimenico said her side of the partnership will be very involved in product development with the Lamar company, which was formed in July 2004.
"There may be certain apparel technologies we can incorporate into the equipment to differentiate the line from our competitors," she said. "However, testing and tooling requirements are more complex than apparel; therefore, it may take longer lead times to develop these new technologies."
Champion Athleticwear (www.championusa.com) is part of the Sara Lee branded apparel division, which the company announced in February 2005 was being spun off from the Sara Lee division for food, beverage and household goods. The expectation is -- once again expressed in an Aug. 4 quarterly earnings call -- that the apparel division now based in Winston-Salem, N.C., will evolve into an independent company, also publicly traded. That move should be completed by September 2006.
Lamar (www.lamarhfs.com) also markets Universal-branded cardiovascular equipment, Lamar Fitness equipment, and a new brand, Ignite, to debut at the Health & Fitness Business show in Denver Aug. 25-27.
"Champion has always been the best apparel," Lamar said, about the brand, which he began talking to after The Super Show in January 2005. "I always considered the Champion brand as paramount in the industry. People see the Champion red C logo and just know what it is."
SNEWSÂ® View: There seems to be a bit of a horse race shaping now as the industry realizes it needs to have a brand recognized by the consumer. The race is to find the brand that not only has permission to be in fitness equipment, but also one the consumer will be familiar and gravitate toward. Certainly Nautilus, Bowflex and perhaps Schwinn are three that have some leg up in that arena. But Everlast has been making some huge moves to become THE recognized brand name in all things exercise and fitness, including equipment (see SNEWSÂ® story, July 18, 2005, "Modell's is the one behind Everlast fitness equipment by 'M & M Fitness'"), and TKO has talked about using its name to become a widely recognized brand (see SNEWSÂ® story, April 25, 2005, "TKO goes for industry "technical knockout"). We also think the Ironman name on equipment licensed by Keys Fitness has broader opportunities of which it has not taken full advantage. And then there is of course the New Balance equipment, a name licensed by Fitness Quest early last year exactly because of its consumer recognition and its recognized relationship to comfort (see SNEWSÂ® story, July 8, 2004, "New Balance equipment to debut at Health & Fitness Biz show"). Of course, there are others: For example, Bladez, although not a household name, has large recognition in other arenas with its scooters and other equipment that could help it become a recognized brand in equipment too.
Now we have Champion equipment: Honestly, this is huge. What kid -- athlete or not -- hasn't grown up with some Champion duds and loved them. What adult wouldn't, when shopping for equipment, perhaps gravitate toward that name because of what it means to him or her? We think a lot would. And this seals the horse race that has begun in a nascent industry seeking brand recognition so consumers have some relationship with what they are buying and perhaps have the smallest of reasons to pick out one piece over another.
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