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James Wilson (middle), Canterbury vice-president of Global Markets, with Cuan Chelin (left), Super-Brands CEO, and Dutoit Botes, brand manager.

October/November 2013

Canterbury aims for #1

The new owners of Canterbury have invested in new talent, new products and new strategies to grow the brand into the #1 rugby brand in the world, the new global markets head explained during a recent visit to South Africa

When The Pentland Group bought Canterbury from JD Sports at the end of 2012, the rugby brand joined a stable of category leading brands owned by one of the UK’s most successful companies. During the past year, they have been integrating the brand into their structures and culture.

James Wilson, Canterbury vice-president of Global Markets, recently visited Southern African distributor Super-Brands to explain what the Pentland acquisition would mean for the brand. He had been with Pentland for seven years — as EMEA director for Lacoste and MD for KangaROOS — before joining Canterbury in April with the task of globalising the brand and to offer support to distributors.

Although the The Pentland Group’s network of brands and businesses — including retailer JD Sports — operate in 195 countries, where they employ 15 000 people, it is privately owned by the Rubin family. It is therefore very much a values-driven family business, he explains.

“People who come into the business really have to understand the business ethics. It is driven by long-term strategies.” Their core values are about passion, courage, and creativity — and they acquire brands that embrace these values.

Leading brands

“We are well under way to get Canterbury integrated into the Pentland values,” says Wilson. He mentions new structures, the right people in place, a change in approach and renewed vigour, but also says that before the acquisition Canterbury already had a good team and strong international partners. “There is a great culture in Canterbury — it’s all about the brand, which fits in with the Pentland approach.”

Pentland Brands aim to own the leading brands across a wide range of categories, he says: for example, Speedo in swimming, Mitre, the oldest soccer brand, Ellesse, with a strong footprint in skiing and tennis, Prostar teamwear, Berghaus outdoor, etc. They also have worldwide licensing rights for lifestyle brands like Lacoste, Ted Baker, etc. As a leading rugby brand, Canterbury therefore fits in this mould, says Wilson.

While each business operates with its own management team and brand identity, Pentland helps provide strategic direction and back-up services. During the past year they have strengthened the Canterbury team at head office. “We wanted to get in fresh talent and work in a more focused way.”

Products a revelation

The new products manager, who came on board five months ago, is quite a revelation, says Wilson. “I’ve never worked with anybody who’s so driven and skilled. What he’s done in the last four months is really incredible.”

They appointed people to look after the four pillars of the brand: in the on-field collection they want to make sure they have the right boot, ball, protection, accessories, etc. for the players; teamwear is really important because it will introduce kids at grassroots level to the brand and help them understand what sets it apart; training gear is aimed at athletes from all disciplines who need to get fit; an off-field collection with licensed product and supporter’s gear is in development.

The marketing department has also been strengthened with several new appointments, including retail marketing specialists. They have, for example, created a Canterbury brand book, explaining the heritage of the brand, which will be celebrating its 110th birthday next year. Among the many key moments recorded in the book are, for example, the introduction of the first loop collars in 1949 and reinforced jerseys, which changed the way New Zealand teams played in the scrum. In 1974 Canterbury introduced the much safer rubber buttons, which don’t break and cause injuries to the player.

IRB sponsor

In the run up to the 2015 IRB World Cup in England, which is expected to attract 4-bn TV viewers, Canterbury will get good mileage from their official sponsorship of the IRB, They will not only provide official merchandise, but will also be the main provider of official’s gear, etc.

The new England Rugby home kit was launched as part of their England is all campaign, celebrating the inclusive nature of rugby, from grassroots to elite, supporters to players, women and kids.

“Our job is to grow the sport of rugby for the good of all,” says Wilson. “Rugby is a sport that is going places in an industry where team sport is really going backward. Our main purpose is to bring passion and innovation to the world of rugby. Our vision for the brand is to be #1 rugby brand in the world.”

They will be doing that through innovative new product — by developing the right products for the right people. “We want to create essential kit for every player and make sure he or she has something to wear before training, after training, during the game, on the field, off the field. We want to make the best boots and balls, and also make sure of protection.”

Training wear is a key focus area for Canterbury, and is a category that has been growing by 55%. From amateurs to professionals, all athletes are becoming more serious about fitness training and they need a Canterbury garment that they can do it in, says Wilson.

They have also developed a strong lifestyle/ sport fashion collection for delivery in 2015 after worldwide research showed how much consumers loved the brand. This also helped them understand their core consumers and work on developing the right products for the right people. For example, the retired player or coach will wear a jersey with a different cut and fit to the skin tight jersey favoured by the younger and slimmer competitive player. “We used to chase the 18-year old consumers with skinny shirts, while many of our consumers are retired rugby players who are bigger guys,” says Wilson.

New technologies have been introduced in training wear that will keep athletes dry in all conditions — even in rain on the way to the stadium.

One of the key product areas are boots, with a huge drive to convince players to cease buying soccer boots and instead invest in a boot developed for a specific rugby position. “You need a different boot if you are a prop to when you are playing in a speed position,” is a message they will be sending out through media and in communication to retailers.

South Africa is currently their fifth biggest market. Not surprisingly, England and Ireland are their biggest markets, followed by Australia, New Zealand, but the surprise is Japan in fourth place, where their mono-brand stores do especially well. The US is Canterbury’s 6th largest market and the fastest growing, with 1.8-m players and 350% growth since 2007.

In South Africa Canterbury is well positioned in the pure rugby market, with the market for boots, balls, protective, etc. very well developed. But, says Wilson, there is a lot of potential for developing the market for training and off-field. “We know that consumers love our brand and wear it. We’ll now give them products for the gym and during training, and capture that consumer.”

The opportunity for growing training wear sales is immense, agrees local distributor Dutoit Botes, as it can be sold across all retail platforms. He cites the example of the Canterbury track pant, which is a best seller globally, but has not yet been available in South Africa.

Canterbury’s sponsorship of the Varsity Cup from next year will also give a boost to South African ball sales, says Botes, as the contract stipulates that Canterbury will also be the official ball for all the intervarsity matches. That will earn them a lot of TV coverage and exposure to students. “We’ve actually created a supporter’s range for the universities.”

They have also written into their school sponsorship contracts with some of the top rugby schools that if they sponsor the school’s team wear, Canterbury will be their official match ball.

And the impact of the loss of the Springbok sponsorship to Asics?

Perhaps a blessing in disguise, says Botes. With a wall of green shirts on the stands during test matches, he does not foresee that the market for selling Springbok supporter’s shirts to new customers has much growth potential — most supporters have already got a shirt. Instead, they’ll be keeping their eye on growing ball, boots, training and grassroots teamwear sales, he says.

“Canterbury is the only brand that focus’ purely on the rugby game, covering all aspects of the game,” concludes Wilson.

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