How Puma Emerged From the Shadows of Its Competition in 2019

On Dec. 3, Puma will be honored as the Brand of the Year at the FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 2 print issue about the German athletic giant’s game-changing moves throughout 2019 and the sneakers people couldn’t get enough of. 

The sneaker conversation in the U.S. has long been dominated by behemoths Nike and Adidas. But the truly insurgent name in the market this year was Puma, which has become a major player in both the lifestyle and performance categories.

In late August, the brand made a statement with the opening of its first North American flagship, an 18,000-square-foot storefront on New York’s bustling Fifth Avenue, within walking distance of its strongest athletic competitors.

“Opening on Fifth Avenue is a big investment and a commitment to the American market,” Puma CEO Bjørn Gulden told FN. “It’s an interactive place where consumers can talk to us and we can talk to them. We’re showcasing the brand in a way we haven’t done before, and we’re learning a lot from the conversations we’re having with the consumer.”

Puma has further connected with consumers through its robust ambassador roster of celebrities and athletes.

Among its latest developments, the company released a shoe and apparel collab in November with luxury fashion house Balmain that Cara Delevingne created; it delivered singer Selena Gomez’s second collection of shoes and apparel; and it produced prison reform–themed sneakers backed by rapper Meek Mill.

Puma also strengthened its growing NBA player roster by signing several star athletes, including New York Knicks rookie RJ Barrett and Los Angeles Lakers baller Kyle Kuzma, an athlete who is also fond of fashion.

“I chose to sign with Puma because of the positive way they were trending,” Kuzma said. “It’s a great company that’s been around for years, and they understand what the athlete wants. They’ve given me a lot of creative control on certain things and allowed me to have some input.”

From a product perspective, Puma further cemented itself as a lifestyle standout. Specifically, key retail partners such as Foot Locker had success with the brand’s court looks, classics and lifestyle runners, led particularly by the RS-X, a chunky silhouette offered in a multitude of bold colors.

“The business was reinvigorated by the fashion running products. [Puma] capitalized on the trend in the fashion running space,” said Foot Locker EVP and North America CEO Jake Jacobs. “That’s the main thing that’s turned their business around, and the consumer is responding to it.”

Foot Locker’s success with the RS-X was aided by several exclusive releases and activations throughout the year, including last month’s Sonic the Hedgehog launch. The retailer also worked with Puma on other initiatives that included delivering its Helly Hansen collaborative collection and exclusively stocking its Hacked series of altered iconic sneakers.

“Puma started to connect more relevantly from a cultural standpoint in the marketplace [in 2019], and a lot of the things they’re doing are working,” Jacobs said. “They’ve got quite a bit of positive momentum.”

In Q3, Puma posted a 17% increase in global revenue on a currency-adjusted basis — a company best, according to Gulden — led by double-digit gains in the Americas and Asia-Pacific. Footwear sales, in particular, rose 16.9%, which he attributed to the strong performance of new styles.

Looking ahead, Gulden is ambitious on Puma’s behalf and wants to see the company gain more traction.

“I’m not looking at the competition and saying, ‘I need to compete against these guys; I need to beat them.’ I [believe that] if we do the job for the consumer, we will be successful,” the CEO said. “We have to get more retail space, we have to talk even more with the consumer and then we will grow.”

He continued: “We have had a good run and have delivered what we promised, but we have a lot to improve and we know what to improve. We’re at the start of a journey that will go on for a long time.”

The 33rd annual FNAA ceremony will be held at the IAC Building in New York. Sponsors for the event include Klarna, Geox, The Style Room Powered by Zappos, FDRA, Micam Milano and Buchanan’s Scotch Whisky.

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