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It seems only fitting that a company founded in 1936, originally tapped by the Soviet Union to clothe generations of its athletes, and subsequently later reborn out of Lithuanian independence, is making strides at becoming a Nike-caliber brand name across Lithuania and beyond.
At least that is what recent earning reports and a newfound focus on brand building seem to indicate to Audimas, the Kaunas-based sportswear retailer.
Audimas reported a nine-month total-sales-earning increase of nearly 7 percent from the same period last year. In the first three quarters of 2002, total sales amounted to 45.4 million litas (13.16 million euros), up from 42.5 million litas the previous year.
These figures include exports, which make up roughly 70 percent of Audimas sales.
In Lithuania alone sales of Audimas brand wares accounted for a 51 percent increase, jumping to 10.6 million litas in 2002 from 7 million litas last year.
Audimas will open its 12th Lithuanian retail shop in Marijampole this month and plans to delve into the Latvian market in November when it will launch a 150-square-meter shop at the Mols shopping center in Riga.
The company will follow suit with 6 additional shops on the Latvian-expansion docket by 2004.
According to Arvydas Povilaitis, sales director at Audimas, the good news comes as no surprise. The company is forecasting a 15 percent total sales increase for 2003.
"The substantial increase of sales in the Lithuanian market met our expectations. We focused our efforts in marketing this year and significantly expanded our retail chain. These are the reasons why brand awareness and customer loyalty are on the rise," said Povilaitis.
The marketing efforts include the widely recognized Orange Virus street-ball promotion. Audimas designed a special fashion line to match the tournament branding.
Coupling the athletic attire trademark with the country's national past time, basketball, proved a big success. This year over 2,500 players took part in the Orange Virus competition.
This and other efforts have helped the burgeoning company gain momentum across the country. Independent market research by the Economic Consultancy Group found that Audimas brand awareness has increased to three times what it was only a year ago.
Still, international sales account for the bulk of the Audimas success story. While comparing the company to Nike in terms of market-share and renown is quite a stretch, Audimas does provide the mythic sportswear giant with roughly 35,000 clothing sets per year.
"We are very proud that Nike is happy with the quality of our production and the work of our specialists," Nike project accountant Ausra Karaliute at Audimas admitted. The two companies have worked together for the past four years.
Nike is not the only big-name company that relies on Audimas for parts of its supply development. Sales to Ikea accounted for 12.8 million litas in 2001.
In the near-term the company will face new challenges as it tries to evolve its retail brand northward to Latvia, a more developed market with stiffer foreign competition and higher prices.
But Povilaitis thinks that Audimas is fit to compete. "Our brand is associated with quality, functionality and fashionable design. Nevertheless our ware price is lower. We plan to achieve success in Latvia with good product value," he said.
Only time will tell, but if history is any indication the odds seem to be in their favor. The textile manufacturer that dressed Soviet Union athletes for decades this year tailored its brand as an official sponsor of Lithuania's national Olympic team in Salt Lake City.