Sunday, January 22, 2006

De Bello Birkenstocko

War is raging in the Birkenstock family. So what? you might say.
Well, it’s not just a family tiff – big bucks are involved.
You see, the Birkenstock family has been producing footwear since 1774.
Over the last decades, the current generation of Birkenstocks were able to turn padded, hippie footwear into a multi-million dollar business.

As always, it’s a case of cherchez la femme – in this case Susanne Birkenstock, who married Christian Birkenstock at the age of 18 in the late 1990s, produced two children and then started divorce procedures.
Our Susanne is a hard-nosed businesswoman who spent seven years in the family's garage developing her own line of orthopedic shoes. (Since the family home is a castle, we can safely assume that the garage was big enough to do some serious shoe tinkering.)
Since a girl has to make a living, separated (and heading for divorce) Suzy started producing her own sandals, promoting them on talk shows. Since she has blond good looks, more money than the average high-tech startup and a well-known family name, the talk show circuit just loves her.
Her own Beautystep sandals boast a specially designed sole “mimicking the effect of a foot stretching out as it sinks into fine sand.”
The sandals are positioned to help the wearer to burn fat and reduce cellulite.

Needless to say, the original Birkenstocks (Christian and his two brothers, not the hippie wear) were breathing fire when they found out.
They screamed that Susanne is using the Birkenstock name to market her scientifically questionable product.
They demanded that she stops using the family name for any product endorsement.
Humbug” retorted the enterprising near-divorcee.
Birkenstock is my legal name and that of my children. I have been a Birkenstock for half of my life.”
For sure, the name Birkenstock helped to sell the more than 35,000 pairs of sandals in Germany, Austria and Switzerland since Beautystep was launched in 2004.

The B. brothers took aggressive action – they had their marketing executive sent a letter to all Birkenstock retailers and distributors, accusing Susanne Birkenstock of profiting from her married name.
They also petitioned a German court to stop her from using it in marketing.

In February 2005, a court in Cologne ruled that Susanne Birkenstock could use her name as the designer of her shoes but imposed restrictions on how prominently it could be featured in sales materials.
Toeing this fine line meant making some changes in Beautystep’s marketing, such as abandoning a website for SB International that used her married name and relying only on the Beautystep site.
The Birk brothers were still not amused.
They kept being plagued with inquiries from retailers and wholesalers about the Beautystep brand.
Instead of doing the sensible thing, buying up Beautystep, milking it for maximum publicity and increasing sales (as well as the inheritance of Susanne’s and Christian’s offspring), the brothers decided to make lawyers happy (brandname infringement) and petiotoned a higher court to toughen the rules established by the lower court.
The Birkenstockies are mainly ticked off by the fact that Beautystep keeps being referred to as Birkenstock by distributors, television stations or journalists.

In my opinion, the Birkenstocks should have a close look at the business potential of this smart cookie – with an initial investment in 2003 of Euro 200,000; she was able to break even in 2005.
Being one smart marketer, the Birkenstock group would be wise to appoint her as its Global Chief Marketing Executive. It would also save them a bundle in legal fees.

Who would have thought that the main footwear suppliers of Woodstock, environmenatalists and micro-biotic lifestyle seekers would be so 1980s business aggressive?
O tempores, o mores......

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