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SGB: Skins is very well recognised with consumers and retailers for doing one thing really well; is there any worry that the new ranges - ie cycling gear - might weaken your core brand and the principles you're recognised for?
Ian Reid: It's important to point out that at the core of our brand and product proposition is gradient compression. We operate across many sporting categories and we provide a product that above all, delivers more oxygen to your working muscles. Whether you're a cyclist, play cricket or football, it's the same principle - if you have more efficient oxygen delivery, then you can perform better and also recover quicker.
So in terms of diversifying the range into cycling, it's a very natural and logical step in that, from a lower extremity perspective, cyclists will suffer more so than many other athletes in terms of the punishment to their muscles. Therefore, we've created a range that takes what's already established in cycling, that compression fit, and added our own unique gradient technology which increases the blood flow back to the heart and in turn improves performance in those bigger muscle groups.
SGB: So you're essentially taking what you have always done to a wider audience with a slightly different product...
Ed Hames: Yes, it's basically taking a compression garment and making it suitable for use on a bike. So the diversification isn't actually out of a category, we're still making compression garments, we're just making them suitable for that specific sport where there are specific requirements in that garment technology.
SGB: Many sports shops deal with triathlon gear, but has it been difficult getting into bike specialists?
EH: The last thing we want to do is go into a cycle shop and say "Here's another pair of black cycle shorts," because they'll just look at the wall of black cycle shorts they have and go "Right, we need that like a hole in the head." So we've gone in with the gradient compression story. The problem within cycling is that we're breaking new ground again; cyclists may have touched on compression within recovery but use on the bike, that's completely new ground and we're the only voice talking about it as well at the moment. So it's a new concept for them. The difficulty is getting them to grasp the concept of gradient compression and clothing improving performance on the bike. Where you get an individual that clicks on to that we've done very, very well, but generally speaking it's a new sell so it's quite a long process to get in there.
SGB: How do you do that?
EH: Knock on doors and explain you've got a unique proposition which will lead to additional sales - not substitutional. You mentioned triathlon, triathletes tend to be the driving force on technology, they like their ‘techie' products. They're early adopters of new technology and that's been reflected in our launch period.
IR: We've also been getting some great product reviews and editorial coverage. We're working hard to ensure that as well as knocking on doors, consumer awareness is being maximised, through extensive print and PR activity.
SGB: Have you got any pro cyclists wearing your gear?
EH: Yes, we've got three Pro Tour teams - Columbia HTC, Rabobank and Milram. They're the three big names, and we've got several high profile mountain bikers wearing the product as well. The nice thing is that we're starting to get riders that we're seeing wearing products that haven't been in contact with us, they're just going out there sourcing it, the physios are sourcing it and that's starting to feature quite heavily.
SGB: How has ICE gone down with retailers?
IR: ICE has been in store now for a couple of months and the response so far has been fairly positive. Having already established as market innovators in the compression category, we raised the bar again by offering the first compression garment of its kind that incorporates active agents that create the perception of cooling for the wearer. As we come into the summer period (hopefully) just now, we're expecting big things to happen with ICE, the range absolutely lends itself to cricket, has obvious pre-season benefits for those involved in team sports and can offer a credible solution for those exercising and participating in a hot, indoor environment. It's out there now, it's unique and it's doing well, more so, it will come into its element over the next couple of months.
SGB: In a marketing sense, how will you handle these three similar but slightly disparate products? You have to target cyclists specifically, as well as the other sports you're encouraging - like cricket, as you mentioned.
IR: There needs to be an element of consistency across and communication message we put out there, it's important that the Skins brand position is not lost or diluted across different product categories. We've become quite renowned for our slightly quirky and provocative way of advertising and we're keen to maintain this thread across all that we do, but at the heart of all marketing that we do, it's equally important that we also maintain our technical proposition and that our product truth comes through. Just now we're focused on ICE and doing quite a bit around cricket, the Ashes especially, as that fades away as we move into the start of the new season, thermal becomes more of a focus for the autumn/winter season, so the timing changes slightly. Cycle is a new and interesting category for us and we are getting some great feedback on some of the creative work and execution, in establishing ourselves as a credible cycle apparel brand.
SGB: What attributes do you look for in a retailer that you want to stock Skins?
IR: From our perspective, it's important to work with like-minded retailers, retailers that understand our what we do and who attract customers that demand technical products to help them perform better. We are very protective of our brand and the recognition we have achieved in the relatively new category, so it's important to us that retailers not only get it, but can also understand communicate the technical benefit that set us aside from our competitors.
SGB: Where next? You've done hot, done cold...
IR: The range develops, it moves on. We will stay true to our core in terms of developing technically superior base layer product. I think there are still many markets that we are yet to penetrated and others that we have more work to do to drive greater awareness. Individual sports as an example we have quite a good following in running but I think there's still work to do before Skins is instantly recognised as a running brand. We started in team sports and we've done a lot of stuff around team sports and that works really well, but there's a lot more categories that we would like to get involved in. And hopefully in terms of product development you'll see that coming down the line.