Mizuno Runs for More Growth

ATLANTA — Mizuno USA Inc. is ready to get noticed.

The athletic brand, a subsidiary of Osaka, Japan-based Mizuno Corp., has developed a cult following among core athletes but now aims to reach a bigger swath of customers by ramping up its marketing efforts and product development.

“The window of opportunity couldn’t be greater than it is at the moment,” said Bob Puccini, president of Mizuno USA.

“There is a lot of noise and confusion in the marketplace, as it’s a transitional phase with minimalism and barefoot. Consumers are inquiring about product distinctions and benefits, as well as risks, more than ever before. We believe we can provide sought-after thought leadership for runners.”

To that end, the U.S. division has doubled the size of its marketing department in the past year and hired a dedicated brand manager for the running group, which is its fastest-growing segment.

In fact, Mizuno’s domestic sales for running rose 27 percent in fiscal 2010. Global revenue from athletic footwear totaled 32.1 billion yen, or $417.9 million at current exchange rates, with further increases projected for this year.

“I believe we can double the size [of our business] in the next four years without really changing our focus,” said Fritz Taylor, VP and GM of running at Mizuno.

To fuel growth, the brand, which has a 10 percent market share in the U.S., is boosting its image through increased communication with consumers via social networking. And in November, Mizuno will unveil a major campaign for the 15th anniversary of its Wave Rider shoe, complete with print ads and a digital microsite.

However, Taylor added, the firm won’t stray too far from its past. “We’re not going to become a Nike,” he said, “but we want to tell people what’s going on.”

There is plenty to talk about. Since joining Mizuno in 2008, Taylor has worked to improve its focus on running and speed up product development. Previously, the company would debut a new style every few years, but in the first half of 2011, it introduced two new items — the $200 Wave Prophecy and $130 Wave Enigma — and released updates to already popular styles.

According to Taylor, the Enigma, a more substantial version of the Rider, could help the brand reach more casual athletes. “To become not just a niche-only, better-runner brand, Enigma was important for us. We want to offer a broader spectrum for a greater variety of runners,” he said.

Mizuno also is trying to garner attention at retail by deepening distribution with its current specialty accounts, especially larger merchants such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Hibbett Sports.

Sonya Estes, president of Runners Roost Lakewood in Lakewood, Colo., said the brand is performing well in her store.

“Customers like the lightness of their shoes. The new Prophecy did really well,” she said. “And at that $200 price point, it was somewhat shocking to do that well.” However, she added, few customers come in asking for the brand. “It will be interesting to see if [their marketing efforts] take effect.”

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