Under Armour To Unleash Basketball Shoes

By now, people are used to hearing Kevin Plank, Under Armour's CEO, boast about how the brand is going to continue to take market share away from behemoths like Nike and Adidas. But with the launch of the brand's new basketball shoes -- scheduled to debut in select stores in late October and early November -- he's more believable than ever.

Plank told investors at the Goldman Sachs Seventeenth Annual Retail Conference this week that the basketball shoes have been in development for more than two-and-a-half years, and getting solid feedback from the athletes and teams that have been testing them. "When we do enter basketball, we will take share," he told the group, in a presentation that was also webcast.

Plank also discussed the timeline of the Baltimore-based company's plan for world footwear dominance. "People say we're not a footwear brand yet," he says. "And that is not true. We launched footwear with our football cleats in 2006 with just 14 people on the shoe team." Today, he says, there are 93 in Baltimore, more all over the globe, and 10 on the bench waiting for noncompetes to expire. "We believe we can be No. 1. It's not a question of if, but a question of when."



He also commented on the time required to build its footwear infrastructure. "It takes 3 months to recruit, 12 months for a noncompete to expire, 6 months for a person to figure out which end is up -- and then there's an 18-month product cycle. The great apparel business we've got is allowing us to make those investments."

He also says that apparel sales continue to be up 30% over last year, and that women's now accounts for about one-quarter of its revenues. For the year, the company recently raised its total revenue forecast to $1 billion. "We believe we are the biggest, baddest apparel brand on the planet, and we've taken that swagger from our men's to our women's. We've said we think we can make our women's apparel sales bigger than men's, and I believe we can."

Plank was candid about mistakes made along the way. "When we launched training shoes in 2008, youth sales -- to kids under 10 -- were half of our business." Yet when the company launched running shoes in 2009, factories were not online yet to make youth shoes. "Looking back, you think, why didn't we?"

Going forward, he says the brand will continue to push its definition of itself. "We don't want to make more fashionable products, but we want to make performance more fashionable. We know we're doing it right when a consumer follows the 'Is that an Under Armour shirt?' question with 'What does it do?' That's the DNA of our brand."

Plank says the company is also looking to push past the black, white and blue compression garments it is best known for to more subtle looks that can make the trip from the playing field to the coffee shop. The brand has been testing concepts with Bloomingdale's, for example, "to see how we do in a more sophisticated environment."

Still, he says, he has "Don't forget to sell shirts and shoes" written on a board in his office. "Whether it is a bag or a hat or any of our accessories, the idea is [to] draw people and attract them into our core businesses."

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