When Puma met Hello Kitty, it was love at first meow.
Early this year, excited customers bought into the hype generated by the launch of the PUMA x Hello Kitty Suede line, standing in line for hours to get their hands on the sneakers.
Within hours, the limited-edition sneakers were sold out at selected retail stores in Singapore.
The Hello Kitty Suede is one of Puma’s multiple collaborations with celebrities and cool brands that have helped the brand redefine its identity — and grow from strength to strength.
Apart from the partnership approach, Puma has implemented other strategies — such as focusing on athleisure and innovative retail tactics — to stay ahead of trends.
“We started to implement tailored brand campaigns and strategies that are relatable to a wide spectrum of consumers — from kids to millennials, and the sports community,” says the company’s South-east Asia general manager Philippe Le-Bretton.
These efforts have paid off. The first half of this year saw the company rake in a staggering 2.18 billion euros in sales.
For the full year, Puma has forecasted earnings between 325 and 335 million euros before interest and taxes.
Tie-ups with celebrities and pop culture icons such as Hello Kitty that enhance the cachet of the brand are a core part of its expansion plans.
It helps that Puma does athleisure quite naturally. After all, it was one of the first sports brands to incorporate lifestyle with sportswear.
To mark the 50th anniversary of its iconic sneaker, the Suede, it has also joined forces with MCM, rapper Big Sean as well as the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel and Fendi, to design limited-edition versions of the shoe.
“Exclusivity drives demand,” says Mr Le-Bretton, who joined the company in 2007. “The idea is to have exciting and exclusive collaborations. Part of the success is that you see these products in the stores and two, three days later, they are all sold out. It’s one-time only; you buy it now or never.”
Puma’s collaborators play an active role in the designs by infusing their personalities into the final products.
Sometimes, the collaborations extend beyond the products.
Ambassadors such as international celebrities Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne and Adriana Lima and South Korean boy band BTS have also enhanced its image as a must-have brand.
In April, Puma pledged US$100,000 from sales of the Phenom Lux, an all-white sneaker, towards lupus research. Gomez has battled this auto-immune disease and is now raising awareness about it.
Ambassadors such as Selena Gomez and Adriana Lima channel the brand’s spirit in the women’s category with the slogan “Gym Meets Runway”. Campaigns and local ambassadors such as actress Dawn Yeoh promote the brand’s ethos of empowering women through sports.
With the “Gym Meets Runway” tagline, Puma aims to strike a balance between form and function. It is now acceptable, even fashionable, to don its stylish outfits when working out and outside the gym.
“Everything we do at Puma is deeply rooted in collaboration. This is part of our DNA now,” says Mr Le-Bretton.
The retail experience
Puma’s e-commerce platform for Singapore is poised to launch early next year, adding a whole new dimension to its sales approach.
Nonetheless, the brand has enjoyed strong brick-and-mortar sales in the last few months, thanks in part to a forward-thinking retail strategy that enhances the shopping experience for customers.
The brand opened their first Puma Select store at Marina Bay Sands in May. Puma Select stores, mainly offers exclusive designer collaborations that are strategically curated for the profile of shopper traffic in that area.
The minimalist design — white walls and black tiles lit by dozens of mini spotlights — showcases the crème de la crème, as Mr Le-Bretton calls it, from Puma’s entire range.
A white and black leather sneaker with sunglasses embellishment from KARL LAGERFELD X PUMA collection greets customers at the store entrance. To the right, there is an assortment of pieces inspired from PUMA's 90’s archive collection from the brand's creative collaborator and ambassador, The Weeknd. Racks of shoes from dozens of collaborations fill up the entire back wall.
The Puma Select store opening is part of a retail-intensive strategy to increase the brand’s presence and boost its brand’s heat.
Mr Le-Bretton says establishing a physical presence is crucial, as there are intangible parts of the retail experience that cannot be replicated online.
These — including the tactile experience of trying products, interacting with store assistants and the retail environment — all play subtle but important roles.
In the last two years, Puma has added shops in prime locations such as Jem, Paragon, Bugis+ and Suntec City. It has also piloted a children's concept store in United Square.
The latest addition at Century Square mall in Tampines, which launched in August, brings the total number of stores in Singapore to nine.
“With stores all around the island, we can now cater to the needs of customers all across Singapore,” Mr Le-Bretton adds.