Michael Phelps' sponsors, such as Speedo and Visa, have gotten their money's worth in rub-off glory from his record eight gold medals. But an unexpected brand, not a paid sponsor, also has gotten buoyancy from his performance in Beijing: women's clothing retailer Chico's chs.
That's because Phelps' mother, Debbie — a loyal Chico's customer, but not an official endorser — has worn its garb throughout the Games. Every time she's been seen in print, online and TV coverage in her Chico's attire, the chain has gotten free exposure.
It's also been swamped with demand to buy Debbie's fashions, brand President Michele Cloutier says.
"Customers have been coming in and asking for what she's wearing," she says. "They're saying, 'I want that jacket,' and they can describe it perfectly."
Chico's is "working closely with her management team" for an official partnership, Cloutier says.
Chico's didn't give Debbie a discount on her Beijing wardrobe, though it did send her a $100 gift card and a note to say good luck before she left. But now, even without a formal deal, Chico's website is touting the chain's role as her dresser.
Chicos.com prominently displays a photo of her with a link to an area with items under the name "The Debbie Phelps Collection." That page shows examples of shirts, jackets, pants and jewelry she took to China.
Chico's, known for colorful clothing in unique patterns, targets Baby Boomer women. And Debbie Phelps — a 57-year-old, Maryland middle school principal — falls into its demographic, Cloutier says.
"She completely articulates who we are as a brand," she says.
Debbie has returned to the USA and was seen in Chico's fashions when she was interviewed this week for TV shows including Good Morning America and Access Hollywood. She also donned a black and gold jacket from Chico's for a Johnson's baby brand ad shot on Tuesday that will air during the closing ceremony.
Says Dan Mintz, founder of China-based ad agency DMG, "Phelps is a phenomenon, and his mom, Debbie, is a pillar of strength. (She's) the hero behind the hero, and now the star behind the star. That's a powerful combination for brands to associate with."
For Chico's FAS, which owns Chico's, White House/Black Market and Soma Intimates, the boost comes at a needed time. July same-store sales for all brands dropped to $113 million, down 18.5% vs. a year ago. The Chico's unit accounts for the bulk of sales.