Pony Aims for Another Comeback

NEW YORK — After several ownership changes and failed attempts to recapture its past glory, Pony’s new leaders are hoping to revive the brand.

Now run by Hong Kong-based Symphony Holdings Ltd., which acquired the company in 2010, Pony will return to retail this fall with a focus on heritage products that were popular during the 1970s and ’80s.

“There have been a few groups ahead of us that tried to get Pony back on its feet and were not very successful,” said Pony’s global brand director, Arthur van der Kroft. “No one really took the time to understand the brand and look at the business in a long-term way.”

One of the executive’s first moves for the relaunch was to connect with Pony founder Roberto Muller, who started the label in 1972. As the brand’s creator, Muller was called upon to offer insight into how he helped grow the business to $800 million in sales during the 1980s.

“Roberto has been a fantastic asset,” said van der Kroft, adding that Muller’s knowledge of Pony’s history is key for marketing initiatives. “Since the brand has [changed hands] so many times, its positioning has changed many times. He’s the only person with the real story.”

Muller noted that Pony’s departure from its original ethos of being a brand for city kids is what led to its deterioration over the years. In fact, he pointed out, Pony’s name stands for “Product of New York,” a nod to where the line was founded.

“I had lost complete hope and I thought Pony would never come back, like many brands in the 1980s,” Muller said. “It’s all about DNA, and [van der Kroft] decided to do his homework and do things the hard way.”

For the label’s reintroduction, Pony’s new team is playing up those New York roots. Focusing on independent sneaker boutiques in cities throughout the East Coast, the brand will launch styles that were in its archives only between 1972 and 1986.

That plan has resonated with retail buyers. Susan Boyle, owner of Rime in Brooklyn, N.Y., said the $50-to-$90 price range positions the brand to be successful in today’s market.

“It’s the right time for them,” she said. “If they brought it back a couple of years ago, it may not have worked, but retro is hot and the price points are great.”

Clyde Edwards, buyer for 1973 by Mr. R in Miami, said leveraging Pony’s history in street culture will be a key selling point. Archival images featuring athletes such as soccer star Pelé and football great Dan Marino will be used for Pony’s comeback at retail.

“It’s always good to bring in something fresh that has heritage, and they definitely have that,” said Edwards, who will begin stocking the brand next month. “There’s a great story there and they have the opportunity, so it’s all about them taking advantage of it.”