MEXICAN HOSIERY GIANT PULLS INTO U.S. WITH KAYSER-ROTH BUY

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MEXICO CITY-Emboldened by the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican hosiery king Grupo Synkro has set its sights abroad, aiming to make its brand names-if not its advertising-common currency throughout the hemisphere.

Multinational in the making Grupo Synkro in January added to its already existing Argentine and Mexican franchises with the purchase of No. 2 U.S. hosiery player Kayser-Roth. The move was particularly aggressive considering a Mexican company was acquiring to the north while the majority of cross-border activity still comes from U.S. companies acquiring or expanding south.

The move gives Grupo Synkro, which holds a 58% share of the $224 million Mexican hosiery market, a launching pad for its leading department store-distributed Dorian Grey brand to the north. But because of dissimilarities in positioning of its brands and cultural differences, Synkro isn't likely to move ad campaigns wholesale across the border.

With the deal, Synkro also picks up an instant 13% share of the U.S. mass market drugstore and supermarket-distributed hosiery category behind Sara Lee's L'Eggs with about a 44% share of the $2.4 billion hosiery market.

"We think that there's space for a second hosiery manufacturer in North America," said Alberto Cabal Hermosillo, Synkro's marketing & planning director. "If you continue in your domestic market, you're dead."

Analysts said the move was also a reaction to Sara Lee's bid to become a bigger player in North America with its purchase of Mexican hosiery company Mallorca with about a 14% market share in Mexico.

This isn't Synkro's first move in the Americas either. In 1992, the company bought Argentine hosiery marketer Modecraft, which held 4.3% of the market, and renamed it Arcoplus Argentina. Arcoplus now has a 7.4% share of the $173 million Argentine market, a very fragmented category where most players have no more than a 2%-3% stake.

Synkro used Arcoplus to introduce its Dorian Grey and Carla Conti brands to Argentina last year and took advantage of a new distribution outlet by placing Dorian Grey in supermarkets, an innovation in Argentina.

The No Nonsense purchase will also give Synkro a leg up in the Mexican mass market outlets where No Nonsense is already sold along with L'Eggs and Hanes.

Synkro found, however, that one thing that doesn't always travel well across borders is advertising-a lesson it's likely to remember as it sets out to build Kayser-Roth in the U.S., where Lois USA handles No Nonsense.

Take for example the company's earlier experience in Argentina when it found Mexican hosiery TV ads for its Carla Conti didn't travel well.

The TV spot showed a woman taking the initiative in a sensual scene, a concept that failed in focus groups and never aired because while the ads were enjoyed in Mexico, Argentines prefer to see the man as aggressor. The themeline for the ads both countries is: "Makeup for your legs."

Synkro hired Wunderman Worldwide in Buenos Aires to adapt the campaign locally while Paulino Romero y Asociados in Mexico City handles all Synkro's hosiery and sock lines in Mexico.

The positioning of Dorian Grey in Mexico and No Nonsense in the U.S. is very different. Dorian Grey has for nine years run beauty contests for Miss Dorian Grey, with segments of the pageant run on TV variety shows.

No Nonsense, on the other hand, takes a more feminist tack in its U.S. advertising, featuring real women its advertising and running an awards program for women "who have made a difference" in public life.

Its TV ads show men fantasizing about women wearing Dorian Grey. In one, a male airline ticket agent daydreams that he's a pilot escorting her into a private jet. When he snaps out of it, he faces the woman, enraged because he gave her the wrong ticket.

Mr. Cabal said Synkro hasn't decided on an agency or completed plans for Dorian Grey in the U.S., but it is slated to be the first of Synkro's brands expanded northward.

Targeted first to Mexican-American women who know the 39-year-old brand, it will be advertised in Spanish-language media in areas where there is a heavy concentration of Mexican Americans, such as Los Angeles and Texas.

Kayser-Roth's experience in the ethnic market, with its "Shades of You" line for African-American women, should also help in the Dorian Grey introduction. "We have to conduct surveys to find out Dorian Grey's potential outside the Hispanic market," said Mr. Cabal.

No Nonsense will translate better to the Mexican market, said Mr. Cabal, given Mexicans' appetite for imports. "The Mexican market is very fragmented. No one else has the distribution that we have."

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