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Business

The Brothers Dassler Fight On

Puma has announced worldwide sales eclipsed 1 billion euro for the first time in history. But is that enough to unseat the German sports powerhouse they share a family history and city with?

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Taking a step forward

There is reason for rejoicing in the house of Rudolph Dassler.

Puma, the sporting goods company he grounded in tiny Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, announced on Wednesday it had broken 1 billion euro in worldwide sales for the first time since Dassler set up shop in 1948. The news was heartening for Puma, which has sat in Adidas' shadow ever since Rudolph had a fight with his brother and left the company they grounded together in the 1920s.

Since then, Adolph "Adi" Dassler’s company has been leaving Rudolph’s far behind. Adidas announced earnings of 6.1 billion euro in 2001, a number that has been steadily increasing since 1998. They hold second place behind Nike in the worldwide sporting goods market.

But this year, Puma executives are feeling feisty armed with fourth quarter 2001 statistics that show double digit percentage increases in all three of their product segments: apparel, footwear and accessories.

A big year ahead

There could be more good news ahead.

Puma is sponsoring four teams is this year’s soccer World Cup in Korea and Japan, including African champion Cameroon. With the world watching, Puma will present a new soccer cleat ("shuhdo") and a revolutionary new jersey (the sleeveless jersey worn by Cameroon) to try and grab some attention from the other big German brand.

"We’re the third strongest brand in the World Cup," said Puma spokesman Ulf Santyer said. "It’s a very important stage on which to present our product."

Puma chairman Jochen Zeitz, in the position since 1993, echoed the sentiment on Wednesday.

"We need concentrate on increasing the potential of our brand," he said, upon announcing the statistics.

Jochen Zeitz

Der Vorstandschef des Sportartikelherstellers Puma, Jochen Zeitz, laechelt auf einem undatierten Archivbild. Puma hat mit einem Rekordumsatz und -gewinn alle Erwartungen uebertroffen. Die ernorme Nachfrage in den USA und in Westeuropa habe den Umsatz um ein Drittel auf 588 Millionen Euro steigen lassen, teilte Puma am Donnerstag, 14. Feb. 2002 mit. (AP Photo/HO/Puma)

The brand has done well under Zeitz (photo). Last year marked the fourth year in a row Puma’s annual sales figures increased by more than 20 percent. He expects the same in 2002 and for the next four years after that.

"I’m ruling out the purchases of other brands at the moment," Zeitz said. "But one should never say never."

The confidence will most likely not bother the folks at Adidas, whose company is shares the 23,000-strong Bavarian town as its headquarters. Adidas has long held a superior footing in the sporting goods industry, earning the reputation as global mark long ago.

Adi, the shoemaker

Perhaps family history has something do with it.

Of the two brothers, "Adi" was the expert shoemaker and designer, fashioning his first track & field cleats at the age of 20. The pair grounded the Brothers Dassler shoe company in 1924 and went on to celebrate a number of successes.

Their shoes were worn in tennis and soccer championships and American sprinter Jesse Owens brought them international recognition when he won gold in their shoes four times at the Summer Olympics in 1936.

"In fair Herzogenaurach where we lay our scene..:"

Following the end of World War II the company benefited from the new slew of war refugees that moved to Herzogenaurach. But in 1948 the brothers had a monumental fight, the details of which are not known.

Rudolph left in a huff and started Puma across town. Adi stayed and, a year later, renamed the Brothers Dassler company using the first syllables of his first and last name.

The tiny town became a modern-day Verona. Like the Montagues and Capulets of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Puma employees and Adidas employees stayed as far away from one another as possible.

"Puma employees wouldn’t be caught dead with Adidas employees," said Adidas spokeswoman Anne Putz. "It wouldn’t be allowed that an Adidas employee would fall in love with a Puma employee."

That has all changed, of course – mostly.

Santyer says he has no problem talking to an Adidas employee, but still has difficulties pronouncing the name of the competing brand, preferring instead to refer to them as "the ladies and gentlemen with the three stripes."

No publicity, it seems, is too small when it comes to Puma's fight to regain footing in the worldwide sporting goods industry.

  • Date 16.03.2002
  • Author Andreas Tzortzis
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/1zEK
  • Date 16.03.2002
  • Author Andreas Tzortzis
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/1zEK