One brand that has seen steady growth and taken an unconventional approach in the space is Crons (Come Ready or Never Start), founded by former Pitt basketball captain Pat Cavanaugh.
The Pittsburgh-based company has used its motivational platform and a direct to team and athlete approach, vs. a consumer approach, to build a solid base at the high school and grassroots level for its apparel, its products and its motivational “Achievers Program,” which rewards athletes for hitting their goals both academically and athletically.
Crons also has growing success on the collegiate level, working with smaller conferences and supporting teams at schools that have not had support before, and has also made a slow push into retail.
However their biggest step in recent months was in becoming the “official motivational brand” of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. The alliance gives Crons its most forward facing consumer platform to date, with apparel in Penguins stores, online and by outfitting their extensive junior hockey program for the next three years.
Big Lead Sports spoke with Pat Cavanaugh about Crons, its growth and what the future could hold for this up-and-coming brand.
Pat Cavanaugh: Crons makes sure our goal-centric motivational message is front and center in all our sales and marketing communications. The brand exists to promote a specific mentality – summarized by our Come Ready or Never Start message – that assists people in achieving their goals. To inspire them to always strive for their very best and then make that best, better.
BLS: Is branding part of the message?
PC: We don’t get caught up with the message you’ll have a better chance of making the NFL, NBA or MLB with our logo on your shirt. We’re more about motivating people to set and achieve their own personal goals no matter in what area of life these goals pertain to. That’s why Crons has also developed a goal education curriculum: The Crons Achievers Program-for schools. The specifics of this Crons mentality are included in our advertising, on our hang tags, on point-of-purchase displays and are reinforced with messaging on the apparel.
BLS: You have league deals with the Atlantic 10 and others. What do those deals involve and what is excluded with schools in those leagues?
PC: These deals usually come about because of league commissioners and athletic directors who truly embrace the Crons mentality and how they see it as the ideal message they want to be sending their student-athletes. They usually involve some official designation of The Crons Brand as the official athletic apparel provider for the Conference and the exposure of Crons and its message to all the student athletes through the providing of the conference championship gifts. These agreements do not involve the member schools directly, but we have found the athletic directors and coaches being very receptive to our message and apparel options, opening numerous doors for sales to individual athletic departments.
BLS: You recently opened your first retail store in the midst of a tough economy. How has that gone and are there plans for more?
PC: We’re very satisfied with how things have gone with our first retail store – The Crons Mentality Store. What we’re most pleased with is the reception of the brand and its message by people who come into the store. We’ve received nothing but positive feedback and the conversion rate of store traffic into sales has been high. This first location is sort of our test store to see what works and discover the best merchandising strategies for the brand. We’ll use this feedback in designing future stores. We do have plans for other store locations in certain more urban markets in 2012.
BLS: Is Crons more a business-to-business brand or a retail brand at this point?
PC: Crons is more of a b-to b-brand at this point focusing on team business. However, as brand enthusiasm and awareness increases in this space, we definitely have plans to leverage that success into the retail space. The one division of the brand that has already enjoyed extraordinary retail success is also our Come Ready Performance Protein Bars. We finalized an agreement recently with GNC, the nation’s leading nutrition and supplement provider, and set a one-day record for Internet bar sales on its Web site on their launch date. The bars are also in over 1,000 GNC stores and early reports indicate that they can’t keep them in stock because of the higher than anticipated sales volume. We’re absolutely thrilled at this retail success story.
BLS: What are the three biggest growth areas for Cons in the next few years?
PC: (1) Retail business both in our performance apparel and nutritional products
(2) International business. We are currently finalizing licensing agreements in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia with several others to follow.
(3) Team business as we further penetrate the collegiate and high school markets.
BLS: You have been with March Madness schools each of the last two years. How has that elevated the brand?
PC: We couldn’t have paid for the national exposure we’ve received being the only new athletic apparel brand to have been in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments. Crons has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today and on CNBC and FoxBusiness News, exposing the brand and its message to millions.
BLS: Any plans for athlete endorsements of Crons?
PC: Yes. We’ve had numerous agencies approach us about signing any number of their athletes, but until recently, we’ve waited until our platform is ready to properly activate these athlete endorsements. We will be signing a short list of athletes in 2012 we feel embody the Crons mentality and have a strong Crons story to share with our customers.
PC: It certainly is as we’re a relatively new brand and just scratching the surface in terms of market penetration. Exposing our brand and its mentality to young athletes is very important to us. We feel the Crons mentality is a positive one and will help them achieve their athletic goals. We see Crons as performance mentality brand that motivates people to achieve their goals. If exposed to our brand at an early age, we hope these young athletes can enjoy success in their lives by adopting the Crons philosophy as they grow into adulthood.
BLS: How is the Penguins deal different from other apparel deals teams have?
PC: I can’t think of another professional team that has an “official motivation brand” like Crons. Looking past the usual sponsorship benefits like product sales in the arena, in-game advertising messages, being designated as the official motivation brand of the Pittsburgh Penguins and direct brand marketing access to Penguin ticket holders, we feel this deal is different because of our goals. Sure, we have marketing and sales expectations from this sponsorship. But we are also hopeful that we can help the Penguin organization-its players and front office-to be motivated to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals via the positive, inspirational messages coming from Crons. The same is true of the Penguins fans. That’s what really excites us.