Friday, September 17, 2010

Sneaker Wars

Title:  Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sports
Author: Barbara Smit
Publisher: Harper Perennial
The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover.  It displays a picture of an Adidas Gazelle sneaker in marine blue suede with white leather highlights and a pair of Puma Suede sneakers in red ribbon suede with white highlights.  I have been buying various types of Adidas and Puma’s for many years now and so I instantly wanted to know what this book had to say about them.  This book tells the story of the sneaker war that developed between the sneaker brands Adidas and Puma.  The most interesting part of these two brands is that the creators are both brothers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler.  The book starts off by telling the story of how the Dassler family lived in the small German town of Herzogenaurach, when suddenly both brothers were called to join the First World War.  When they returned, Adolf or “Adi” decided to build a small shoe production company using debris from what the army had left behind.  Three years later in 1923 his older brother Rudolf decided to join him in his production and form Gebrüder Dassler.  Adi would design and create the shoes, while Rudolf would handle the business side of the company.
Unfortunately over the years the Nazi movement started to grow and their success came from supplying the army with spikes.  During this time Adi got married to a girl named Käthe, and Rudolf married a girl named Friedl.  Eventually the Nazi movement, which both brothers did not embrace with warmth, forced them to join the war again.  However, Adi was released early while Rudolf was forced to stay behind causing him to believe that Adi along with Käthe (who he believed was hostile towards him) were trying to oust him from the shoe company.  After the war the years that followed contained a series of misunderstandings, deceptions, and accusations that created animosity resulting in both brothers having to split the company.  Their feud also divided Herzogenaurach in two by placing family members and employees against each other.  At one end Adi decided to name his shoe company Adidas, combining his name and surname together.  At the other end Rudolf also wanted to name his company using a combination of his name (Ruda) however he settled on the name Puma instead.
In order to distinguish itself as a quality made brand, Adi decided to add three white stripes to his shoes, which not only acted as a logo but also strengthen the sides of the shoes.  Rudolf also placed a logo on his shoes; a stripe (Formstripe) that ran across the shoe and would become thinner towards the heel.  Although initially Puma sales rose rapidly, what ultimately gave Adidas the advantage was Adi’s friendship with Sepp Herberger, Germany’s national football coach.  This friendship allowed Adi to supply the German national team with Adidas cleats for the 1954 World Cup.  Referred to as “The Miracle of Bern” Germany went on to win the World Cup, and provided the world a chance to see Adidas.  Observing the power that an athlete wearing a particular shoe could have for sales of a shoe, both Adi and Rudolf began a contest to see who could get more athletes wearing their shoes.  But as both Adi and Rudolf became older, their son’s took over the struggle to outwit the other.  Horst Dassler the son of Adi took over for his father, while Armin Dassler the son of Rudolf partially took over for his father.  Their competition would be most extreme in the Olympics and World Cup, where they would try to bamboozle each other, and even illegally pay athletes to wear their shoes.
As both these companies grew bigger and more successful, their feud would not allow them to concentrate on more important issues.  Both of them suffered from various issues such as; not being able to deliver their products on time, focusing too much on the European market while ignoring the American, manufacturing their products in Europe, expanding their distribution rights uncoordinatedly, over spending on endorsements, being too arrogant to listen to their customer’s feedback, and brushing off competition from smaller shoe companies such as Blue Ribbon Sports.  Ignoring all these issues ultimately caught up with them in the mid 80’s when Blue Ribbon Sports who would become Nike, would take away the American sneaker market from Adidas.  By the time Horst realized that Adidas sales were dropping because of Nike and Reebok, it was too late to do anything.  Although he did strike back at Nike (promoting Adidas with Run DMC), it wasn’t enough to topple them.  Adidas and Puma’s decent caused each Dassler family to face bankruptcy offering them no choice but to sell off their companies.
The part of this book that I really enjoyed was when it spoke about the work that Peter Moore and Rob Strasser had done for Adidas.  Both Moore and Strasser had just left Nike when they joined Adidas.  They were very talented because they had helped launch Nike Air and Air Jordan when they worked for Nike.  As soon as they came over to Adidas they demonstrated their talents by launching new athletic concepts such as Equipment, creating a new logo, and trying to organize Adidas America.  Lamentably this was short lived because in 1993 Rob Strasser died from a heart attack.  Fortunately over the years, both Puma and Adidas have been able to stay afloat and regain some control of the sports wear market.  Puma has found success by mixing sports wear with high fashion, and investing in Formula One.  Adidas has found success by buying out Reebok, getting both the NFL and NBA license, and attainting endorsement deals with superstars such as David Beckham.  I really enjoyed this book because it pointed out the problems that caused the downfall of Adidas and Puma.  It also serves as a great warning to Nike, that history can repeat itself if they follow the same mistakes that Adidas and Puma did.

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