Campus Entrepreneur Goes to Snatch Nike’s Soul!

One of our favorite campus entrepreneurs of all time is Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour (the short story is he came up with the idea for breathable undergarments while a football player at U of Maryland).

His company is making news right now as it launches its first line of running shoes. As an on again off again jogger and one time marathon participant, I know how serious the running shoe market is.

Foot injuries are a huge concern (from blisters to ligaments to plantar fasciitis) for all runners and shoes are seen as the single biggest factor in protecting feet. I have worn the same model (updated versions) of a single shoe for 5 years — the Asics Gel Kayanos. Before that I wore the Brooks Beast for 3 or 4 years.

I say good luck to Plank and the crew at Under Armour. Perhaps I will try a pair out next summer. If they want to send me a pair, I wear a size 15, but would be willing to drive to HQ in Baltimore for a fitting.

From the article by Ryan Sharrow of the Washington Business Journal,

Company officials said the shoes will be lighter and more technologically advanced than those sold by competitors, including Nike, which dominates the industry.

“Today is a very, very big deal for us,” Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said to an audience of about 75 people at Industria, a converted warehouse in the city’s meat-packing district. “Running footwear is the soul of any athletic brand.”

The shoes will launch Jan. 31 — one day before the Super Bowl. They’ll be priced between $80 and $120.

Executives teased a “rough cut” of the TV campaign — called “Athletes Run” — surrounding the shoe, set to debut Jan. 1 at 12:01 a.m. The commercial features various Under Armour endorsers running in the shoes at points across the world, including Baltimore, D.C., New York, Chicago and Rome.

I haven’t seen their advertising yet, but the focus on cities is smart. The urban landscape is often the most inspiring for runners and joggers — whether they live in big cities or are visiting.

In the end, my assessment is that winning a share of the running market demands great relations and knowledge sharing with the owners of running shops throughout the US. Many runners, fearing injury, will go into a running shops for a fitting until they find shoes that feels good (meaning perform pain free). The owners and workers in these stores have incredible powers in influencing the purchasing decisions of ‘real’ running shoe consumers.

My favorite part from the article, is the quote that running footwear is the soul of any athletic brand. This is definitely true of Nike from what I know and I interpret that to mean Under Armour intends to be a global brand active lifestyle brand on the order of Nike and part of that strategy is taking Nike’s Soul (remember Bowerman & the Oregon Track Team are the foundation of Nike as the Maryland Football Team is the foundation of UA).

I also happen to believe that UA’s customer base is younger than Nike’s and there are many UA customers who will become runners in the future (as they age a bit more and worry about health). Any thoughts?

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