Rawlings joins the race to cash in on high-end sportswear | Local company

BY LISA BRUN • > 314-340-8127

Rawlings is once again bolstering its brand power by launching a portfolio of premium shirts, shorts and leggings that the venerable sports equipment company’s apparel line currently lacks.

With the new apparel, the Town and Country-based company will compete with Nike and Under Armor in the lucrative high-end performance apparel market. The aggressive move highlights the priority Rawlings owner, New York-based Jarden Corp., has placed on developing new products and leveraging the Rawlings brand in new markets.

Rawlings already offered “base layer” clothing – clothing worn against the skin, such as t-shirts – but the company realized it was missing an opportunity in clothing designed to enhance performance, with features such as mesh fabric on the sides of the shirts for breathability. .

“We found that kids were wearing our uniforms with other brand shirts underneath,” said Matt Bensing, senior apparel director for Jarden Team Sports, a Town and Country-based division of Jarden. Rawlings and other deBeer and Worth sports equipment brands are operated as subsidiaries of Jarden Team Sports.

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So Rawlings has spent the last year developing her new clothing line, even enlisting athletes from local high schools and universities — including the University of Maryville — to test out the new clothes.

The incentive is powerful. Sportswear sales are on the rise even as the United States battles rising obesity rates.

Sportswear sales rose 4% nationally in 2010 to $59.4 billion, compared with annual growth of 1.9% for the fashion apparel category as a whole, according to NPD Group, a New York-based market research firm. The group defines sportswear as clothing worn as part of an active lifestyle, including performance clothing and hoodies.

Sports fans help drive sportswear sales whether or not they participate in sports, said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group.

“The fanatical consumer is a very dedicated and loyal customer,” Cohen said, adding that the strong power of the Rawlings brand in team sports gear should help him in his efforts to attract even non-athletes.

“It sure doesn’t hurt to have a recognized brand,” he said of Rawlings’ apparel launch.

Last month, Rawlings launched new premium apparel aimed at the baseball market. The clothes, which retail for between $25 and $59, are now available at select sporting goods retailers, such as Hibbett Sports.

The company won’t disclose its marketing spend for the new apparel launch, saying only that it’s investing heavily in new point-of-sale displays at retailers and in-store and online sweepstakes to drive customer traffic. .

“In order to launch this type of comprehensive program, this is the first time we have invested this amount of money in a new market for Rawlings apparel,” Bensing said.

Rawlings has built its brand over the past 124 years by becoming a benchmark in baseball equipment, including gloves and bats. The company exited the football helmet market two decades ago, but has launched a new range of football helmets which will hit stores in March.

Since acquiring Rawlings in 2007, Jarden has bolstered the subsidiary’s new product launches, including a new Rawlings S100 batting helmet in 2009.

Jarden, which also owns consumer brands such as Coleman and Crock-Pot, saw sales rise 15% to $6 billion last year due to new products across its business.

Martin Franklin, CEO of Jarden, said 30% of Jarden’s sales come from products introduced in the last three years.

“We think that’s what’s driving our business and our growth,” he said in a Wednesday conference call with analysts.

Rawlings’ baseball performance apparel line launched first, at three major sporting goods chains in January: Modell’s Sporting Goods, Hibbett Sports and Sport Chalet.

A spokesperson for Hibbett, which has seven stores in the St. Louis area, said it was too early to comment on how Rawlings’ new clothes are selling. However, the publicly traded company’s executives were bullish on performance shorts and shirts from Nike and Under Armour.

In a November call with analysts, Becky Jones, vice president of merchandising at Hibbett, said sportswear sales rose “mid-teens” in the third quarter that ended on October 30, helping to push Hibbett’s sales to $167 million, up 15% from a year earlier.

So far, Rawlings said initial sales have been strong.

“The first two weeks of sales have gone really well, so we know we’re headed in the right direction,” Bensing said. “The apparel market is huge and growing, and it takes our brand on the apparel side to the next level.”

Specialist team stockists, such as Johnny Mac’s, will begin selling the apparel later this month. A line of Rawlings football performance apparel will launch later this year, as will new performance apparel for softball brands Jarden’s Worth and lacrosse deBeer.

Rawlings has partnered with Power Balance, a company based in Orange County, Calif., for some of the garments in its new clothing line. Power Balance sells hologram-encrusted wristbands that some professional athletes, including the NFL’s Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees and the NBA’s Derrick Rose, say increase their performance.

Rawlings said the Power Balance brand’s popularity among athletes makes it a worthwhile partnership.

“It’s something that athletes at the highest level use,” and it has authenticity on the court, Bensing said.

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