Anta, an ambitious Chinese sportswear firm, does some fancy footwork

DING SHIZHONG, the founder and boss of Anta, the world’s third-biggest sportswear firm by market capitalisation, refused to let the covid-19 pandemic interfere with sales. In early February, as the virus forced shops to close, Mr Ding gave each of his 30,000 employees a new assignment: hawk Anta’s apparel and shoes to personal contacts on WeChat, a messaging platform. Such resolve to protect revenues is admirable. Yet it reflects insecurity.

Anta, established in 1991, has long been runner-up on its home turf to Nike and Adidas. The Western sportswear powerhouses together accounted for over two-fifths of China’s market in 2019, according to Euromonitor, a market-research firm. Anta has a sixth of the market but it is moving fast. Revenues grew by over 40% in each of the past two years, double the rate of the industry. Operating profit hit 8.7bn yuan ($1.2bn) in 2019. But that is still only half the sum made in China by Nike.

 Anta’s aim is to become “a Chinese brand that stands out in the world”. It is perhaps best known in the West as the shoe sponsor for Klay Thompson, a star player with the Golden State Warriors basketball team, and Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino boxer. But the brand generates few foreign sales. Even in China, many urban youngsters think Anta “lacks the cool factor”, says Lu Ge of the Beijing...



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