Jim Gerson talks about his first six-months back at Speedo North America

In January this year, Pentland completed its acquisition of the Speedo North America business from PVH Corp. and in May, Jim Gerson, who was President of Speedo North America from 2010 to 2016, returned to the brand to lead the Speedo business across the region.

We spoke to Jim about his first few months back at Speedo; taking on a business in the middle of a pandemic; the Speedo response to the Black Lives Matter movement; and his hopes for the Speedo USA team at the Tokyo Games next year.

You re-joined the Speedo business in May this year. What’s changed and what remains the same?

The world has certainly changed over the past six-months! Customers have limited their shopping stops and when in doubt, have shopped online.  Competitive swimming has been challenged with the lack of meets, while the recreational swimming products have flourished.  Consumers are looking for outlets and many have moved their activities to the beaches, lakes, and backyard pools. Consumers are also continuing to gather information through digital means, so owning the relationship with the end consumer is paramount.

So, what’s the same?  The passion at Speedo remains the same!  We’re a dedicated group that tirelessly works to meet the needs of our consumers.  The Speedo brand is so ‘trusted’ by our end consumers and it’s our job to evolve the ‘emotional connection’ with our brand with all consumer types.

How are the Speedo North America team managing through Covid-19 and how has it impacted the business?

The business has managed through this pandemic with caution and foresight.   We are cautious with our approach to the health of our employees, yet we’ve also looked at ways to evolve our business too.  Our ability to reposition our focus on the core markets, evolve ourselves to an ‘activity based’ model and put strategies in place to build our digital relationship with the end consumer, will mean Speedo is in a stronger position once we have emerged from this pandemic.

How has the pandemic impacted your retail customers – which will survive and thrive post-pandemic?

The pandemic has impacted all our retail customers in various ways.  The consumer has looked for retailers that offer a one stop shopping experience.  The ability for consumers to limit their exposure in public has benefitted the Target’s, Walmart’s and Costco’s of the world.  Specialty retailers have not seen the usual traffic in store, and this has challenged their sales.  That being said, all distributions have benefitted from online sales.  Consumers have had a seven-month tutorial on how to shop online and if they didn’t know how to do it before, they surely know how to do it now!

Retailers who have a strong online presence and ability to service multiple needs, will benefit from this shift in the market.

The Black Lives Matter movement has made many brands rethink their role in reaching out to and supporting the black community.  What has been Speedo North America’s response?

A recent article in Swimming World magazine stated that only five black or mixed-race swimmers have represented the US in the Olympics since 2000.  That’s less than 2% of the swim team and, when African Americans make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, it shows there’s lots of work to do in improving diversity within the sport.  We feel that it starts with getting more children, from diverse backgrounds, learning to swim and loving the water.

Speedo has been involved with inner city swim programs for the past 10 years.  We have sponsored learn to swim programs at the Boys and Girls Club of America, which directly addresses inner city youth and minorities. We’ve also used our social media platforms to promote programs like Empowered Swimming.  Their mission is to provide access to professional, affordable, and dependable aquatic services to the marginalized community.

Pentland completed its acquisition of Speedo North America in January this year, what are the benefits of being part of the Pentland family?

The Pentland family is just that, a family’.  A privately held family business that looks at strategies which build brand strength for the long term, while developing the engagement of their employees.  Pentland understands ‘sport brands’ and the importance of enhancing the experience of the end consumer as they participate in each of those disciplines.  A perfect fit!

What are the biggest opportunities for the Speedo brand over the next 12-months?

Speedo has a big opportunity to leverage our global businesses and emotionally engage with our core consumers over the next twelve months.  We’ve been the trusted brand on ‘race day’ for many years, but now it’s time for us to emotionally engage the hearts of our core consumer and inspire them to ‘train for their greatness’.

Looking ahead to the Tokyo Games in 2021, what can we expect to see from the Speedo USA team?

The 2021 Games will feature amazing Speedo athletes from around the world.  The USA Speedo Team will be anchored by Caelab Dressel, Kathleen Baker, Ryan Murphy, Nathan Adrian, Hali Flickinger, Becca Meyers, and Kevin Cordes.  While we still don’t know if this will be a virtual event, we know the competition will be fierce.

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