How Philipp Plein’s New Plein Sport Brand Is Disrupting Activewear Retail
Market hacking, self-service modular stores, and shoe boxes with built-in entertainment systems are all integral to Plein Sport’s disruptive retail experience. Just don’t call it a diffusion line.
There’s a black, high-gloss, two-story articulated truck sitting outside Philipp Plein’s Swiss HQ where the German impresario is unveiling his strategic roadmap for Plein Sport, the activewear brand he launched in January. And both are quite the ride.
Around 50 Plein Sport self-service stores worldwide are slated for 2023 with that total doubling year on year over the next three. All in premium shopping mall locations, under 100 sq. ft., 50% stock — 70% of which involves sneakers — with shoe styles displayed in consumer accessed stacking systems. Returns can be effected via a drop box.
The store fittings are modular so they can be replicated at scale for multiple locations. Business is all about the volumes. This high footfall, high visibility and minimum of human resources approach makes for an extremely profitable model with low break even point he says.
Prior to the 2023 Q1 launch of the first Plein Sport static store in Madrid’s Plaza Norte 2, the Plein Sport retail hackathon begins with aforementioned articulated mobile retail experience. Following a trial run in Switzerland’s Lugano, things kick off in earnest at the end of December when it will park up outside the Atlético Madrid Metropolitano Stadium (Plein sponsors the soccer club) in the Spanish capital before moving to the next fixture.
Going forward, the truck will be used to assess the viability of other mall locations before he commits to a lease. He’s renting parking spots outside each prospective venue for a month or so. “If business is good, I’ll open a store inside. I don’t want to burn my hands or my money. I’m not opening a store before I test it any more than I’m not going to put a sports shoe on the market unless I’ve run six kilometers in it,” he says.
Which brings us to that all important product. And while he’s not reinventing the wheel, Plein Sport taps into an under-exploited area in terms of both category and positioning.
The luxury fashion market is completely over-saturated with hundreds of brands jostling for pole position but activewear is dominated by only a handful of major players he contends. The logic is simple but compelling.
“The active market is bigger than the luxury market yet it is completely underdeveloped,” he continues, citing the turnover of Nike in comparison to LVMH’s combined luxury fashion output. In 2021, Nike’s revenue was $44.5 billion while that of all the luxury fashion brands in LVMH Group came to approximately $32 billion. “It’s a huge opportunity sitting right in front of you — like Columbus coming to America, there’s so much land and nobody’s claimed it yet.”
And then there’s the pricing structure and positioning to consider. There’s only one price point in sports shoes he says — which stands between $50 and $250. “Anything more fancy is untouched.” Plein Sport footwear ranges from $198 to $550 and it is, as he puts it, “fancy”.
Take the tiger head done in metallic relief on the underside of his bestselling Genx models. It cost some 0.5 million dollars to develop as there were eight molds for each of the 12 sizes.
This premium, experience driven approach extends to the packaging. Done for the main in sturdy transparent Perspex, higher priced models come housed in solid black cardboard containers. Upon opening, a Plein Sport campaign film plays out on an integrated miniature screen. The boxes cost him $12 and $20 respectively. “Nike’s are a matter of cents.”
But while the aesthetic is Philipp Plein DNA maximalist — its distinct point of view setting it apart from the more conservative look of market competitors — both product and execution is reassuringly performance driven with technical fabrics and air injection, shock absorbing and suspension soles.
Plein is candid and pragmatic. “I’m not Houdini, I cannot invent something which has not been done before. I have a very competitive product which I put in different packaging. We all cook with same materials and nobody owns the recipe or the ingredients but I deliver added value and excitement on top.”
Plein first launched Plein Sport in 2017 but pulled it after a couple of seasons because there wasn’t enough differentiation from the Philipp Plein original and clients were starting to switch their budgets. Second lines cannibalize a brand, he says, citing Emporio Armani plus the shuttered D&G and Versus labels as examples.
He emphasizes that the new Plein Sport brand is not a diffusion line. “It doesn’t compete with Philipp Plein, it completes it.”
He’s made his name on being different: “I have to be different because we are a smaller, niche independent brand but I am a master of making my weaknesses my strengths. Because we’re independent we can do things that other brands can not.” Plein Sport excites him because it gives him the opportunity to build something from scratch while leveraging the brand equity he’s created with Philipp Plein.
“I do it because believe in it and then I make other people believe in it too.”