BY MEGAN TOMPKINS
SAN PIETRO DI STABIO, Switzerland—Assos of Switzerland is laying a foundation in North America in hopes of capturing a larger slice of the premium cycling apparel sales pie.
The designer and manufacturer of premium road cycling clothing recently launched a North American subsidiary with its own management team. The company opened and staffed a warehouse in Chicago, Illinois, to fulfill all orders, and will soon open an office close to New York City.
“The North American market is highly competitive with several players,” said Roche Maier, chief executive officer of Assos of Switzerland. “During the last four years overall sales growth for Assos has averaged around 30 percent. At this point in Assos’ growth, we need to personally manage the sales and marketing of our products. By opening a North American office, our goal is to improve our customer service to retailers and to continue to develop a well-respected brand.”
Illinois-based Ochsner International helped establish Assos in North America and has been its contracted distributor for the past 13 years. This relationship ended Aug. 31, and Ochsner picked up Spanish apparel brand Etxeondo.
Assos North America will now handle all sales and distribution for the region. Hans Bergman will manage operations as general manager of Assos North America. Bergman has more than 15 years of experience developing premium brands within the leisure and sporting goods industries. Pat Flanagan will head consumer and dealer outreach as vice president of sales and marketing for Assos North America. Flanagan has held sales positions with such companies as Zoic clothing, In Motion Inc., and Clif Bar.
Flanagan said steady European growth has fueled the Swiss company’s investment in the U.S. market.
“They’re really taking dollars from that and applying it to the U.S. and to build the brand by developing new products and developing infrastructure in Switzerland,” said Flanagan, citing a new in-house textile-testing lab.
Established in 1976 by Swiss engineer Toni Maier-Moussa, Assos remains owned and managed by the Maier family. Assos clothing is designed in Switzerland and cut and sewn in European facilities predominantly owned by the company. Since introducing the first Lycra cycling short to the market in the 1970s, Assos has earned a cult following.
But U.S. sales have lagged. Flanagan said the United States should be the company’s No. 1 market, but it’s currently No. 2 behind Germany.
“I think it still has the potential to grow here. Not enough of the consumers that could buy our brand know why our brand is important and different and significant enough,” said Flanagan, who is undeterred by the economic downturn.
Flanagan hopes to increase consumer awareness by working more closely with select specialty retailers to deliver a clear, concise brand message. He has established a dedicated sales force, with four sales people covering the Northwest, Midwest and Northeast territories, and plans to add more.
Bergman said Assos also strives to improve product availability to a targeted dealer base.
“Over the last few years, Assos products have appeared in shops that didn’t necessarily fit with the Assos premium brand image and product availability to retailers has been spotty,” Bergman said. “We are committed to improving product availability and shipments while firmly establishing the Assos premium brand in North America.”
Flanagan said the high-end brand is not a good fit for all retailers and the brand strategy is to focus on pro road shops. He plans to target key markets such as the Bay Area in Northern California, where the seasons highlight the technical attributes of Assos apparel.
“We want to have more product in less stores so consumers can see a full line and really receive the full experience,” Flanagan said.