In 1957 a UC Berkeley-trained engineer and Olympic gold medalist named Lowell North found the North Sails brand. A committed and driven competitor both on and off the water, North quickly drove his company to the top of its field…. Today the North brand is the world’s premier sail and kite maker with 63 major lofts and 56 service, sales and satellite lofts in 29 countries. From: www.northkites.com
Kiteboarding is an adventure water sport combining techniques from wakeboarding, surfing and windsurfing. Over the past 10 years its popularity has increased substantially among teenagers and young adults thanks to improvements on the equipment and techniques, which greatly reduced the number of accidents involving practitioners. This paper aims to analyze the market for kiteboarding equipment from the perspective of North Sails, a leading company for sailing equipment that has been working on repositioning its brand to attend the kiteboarding market. In the first section, we provide a short description of North Sails brand and the market in which the company used to focus its activities. After that, we discuss the emergence of kiteboarding as a popular sport and the demand for specific equipment to attend user’s needs. We also detail the target public in this new market segment and its specific characteristics. Following that, we analyze the strengths and weakness of North Sails while facing a competitor’s position. Finally, we propose alternatives on how it should position itself in the market. It is worth to point out that most of the information provided in this paper is based on personal experience from the study group members and discussions with other kiteboarding practitioners. Since this is still a new market in which only small private companies operate, there is not substantial public information available about companies’ financial data, market shares, and others. Nevertheless, the group considered the kiteboarding market as an interesting market to be studied because of its growth potential.
Background: North Sails and the sailing gear market
North Sails is the world’s leader maker of sails and Olympic sailing gears, including sailing clothes, weather gears, sailing shoes and boots, sunglasses and others. It serves teams in the most important sailing competitions across the globe including the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and the Olympic games. Focusing mainly on the competitive segment of the sailing gear market, North Sails adopts a conservative approach in characterizing its brand. North Sails website (www.northsails.com) is designed with white, gray and blue colors, filled with pictures of competitive regattas and advertisement on the high performance achieved by its products in international competitions. Its blue and white circle logo completes the brand position towards a conservative and competitive public. Exhibit 1 shows a snapshot of North Sails website and some of its products. It is important to note that different than other sports, competitive sailing can be practiced not only by teenagers and young adults, but also (and in certain categories mainly) by mid-age athletes (35-50 years old). This public is mainly concerned with the competitive advantage they can obtain from the quality and design of sails and other sailing equipment. The fact that North Sails was created and led by a competitive athlete who understands the needs of its targeted public favors the leadership position that the company has. We provide further details on the market segment for sailing gear on the next section. The emergence of kiteboarding and a new market opportunity for North Sails Attempts to power boats with kites are dated back from 1800s, but only in the 80s the first kiteboarding equipment was patented by the French brothers Bruno Legaignoux and Dominique Legaignoux. Following improvements on the safety devices, in the mid-90s the sport started to become popular in Maui, Hawaii. Due to...
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