The very first order that Wacoal Sports Science Corp. wrote for its CW-X performance apparel hangs on the wall of the company’s Madison Avenue headquarters. The 10-year-old document, from Paragon Sports, still one of the company’s top retail accounts, reminds WSSC executives of how far they have progressed since launching what in 2002 was a new category of engineered endurance apparel.
The CW-X Support Web system, which works like exo-skeletal kinetic taping, was developed and launched in Japan in 1991 in CW-X products by Wacoal Sports Science’s parent company, Wacoal Holdings Corporation, a $2 billion intimate apparel manufacturer. Since then the technology has generated 50 patents worldwide for the company. CW-X Conditioning Wear was introduced into the U.S. in August 2002 to support all three phases of an athlete’s conditioning cycle: pre (warm-up), peak, and post (recovery) performance.
Today, CW-X is sold in over 1,500 retail locations in all 50 states, and in countries including Canada, the UK, France, Spain, key South American countries, and even tiny Iceland. The CW-X brand also remains a strong, growing brand in its home country of Japan.
According to Leisure Trends Group RetailTRAK market share data for the running specialty retail channel, for the year ending April 2012, CW-X was the number one brand in women’s tights with an 18.2% share, and the number two brand in men’s tights at 19.3%. This is particularly impressive since the CW-X products captured in the data had average retail price-points at least 22% higher than the next closest competitor.
Despite the worst recession in a generation a few years ago, the company has experienced an average annual growth rate over 35% due, in part, to the passion of its original management team of former collegiate and international level track and field athletes, and ski racers who are still at the helm.
When the company celebrates its 10th anniversary this August at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012, the Salt Lake trade show where it all started, WSSC executives will take a brief moment to toast their first 10 years, then continue their steady pace towards U.S. and international expansion of the brand.
Company president and chief operating officer John L.A. Wilson, a former track runner for Boston University and Great Britain, and veteran of Reebok, Converse and Duofold, assembled a team of fellow competitors who view past success of the brand as a building block for future growth.
“As athletes, we’re never satisfied. We’re always competitive. We’re pleased with our growth over the past decade, but are much more focused on seeing how far we can grow in the future. We still have a great deal to accomplish,” said Wilson.
Positioning WSSC’s CW-X performance apparel as “equipment” for the endurance athlete, Wilson’s strategy is to concentrate more resources on product and marketing tactics that have been most effective in growing the company, and consistently targeting specialty retail distribution channels.
The company’s print and web advertising has an edgy yet tongue-in-cheek attitude to make media budgets work harder with headlines such as: “If Cheetahs had to wear tights, these would be their tights (they’d need a hole for the tail of course)”; “when you go for a run, your boobs shouldn’t go for one of their own”; and “fresh powder today, fresh legs tomorrow.”
Sponsorships over the past decade have tended towards product support of a variety of teams and events, from the U.S. Bobsled, Luge and Skeleton teams, to the U.S. Telemark Team, USA Mountain Running Team, the Alpine Canada Ski Team, Gloucester Rugby FC (UK), the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, and most recently, the Jubilee Arctic Expedition to the Canadian High Arctic, and the upcoming Pikes Peak Marathon race series.
WSSC also promotes a disciple-like following through various social media outlets, a Sports Medicine Advisory Board, and its Team CW-X comprised of regional and national level endurance athletes and ultra-distance racers. In fact, CW-X has been extensively tested and proven in competition by Olympians, Tour de France cyclists, successful Mt. Everest expeditions, and professional baseball, football, soccer, and rugby players.
“It’s never about what you spend for marketing, it’s about how creatively you spend it,” says Wilson. “We don’t have the vast resources and funds to compete with the large global sports brands so we have to look for unique niche opportunities to build brand awareness and trial, beyond just writing a big check for an event or superstar athlete.”
Wilson continues, “Our goals for the next five years are to remain true to our brand positioning, continue to develop innovative products, increase brand awareness and market share in the U.S., and develop the international business.
“We know who we are, and we concentrate on what makes the brand unique. The formula has worked for 10 years and has been a proven recipe for our success.”