Under Armour has grown from humble beginnings — company founder Kevin Plank started the company from his grandmother’s basement in Washington, D.C. — into a worldwide brand that’s represented by some of the leading athletes today, including Tom Brady, Jordan Spieth, Stephen Curry, Misty Copeland, and many others. While having those stars associated with the brand certainly helps, what really differentiates Under Armour from its competitors is its commitment to technology — especially for its products.
Plank talked about the growth of Under Armour and how technology has been and continues to be a key driver in its growth in a keynote presentation yesterday at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York City.
Plank started Under Armour to solve a problem he dealt with playing sports (he played football at the University of Maryland): athletes didn’t have choices when it came to hot and cold weather apparel. It was simply T-shirts and shorts for hot weather, and long-sleeve shirts under jerseys for cold weather. Plank developed innovative products (at least they were in 1996 when he started) such as a T-shirt built from microfibers that wicked moisture and kept athletes cool, dry and light when playing in hot weather. He gave them to athletes to try. If they liked them, he asked that they share them with their teammates. A brand was born.
“We’re a product company first and foremost,” Plank said, adding that Under Armour seeks to “change the way athletes dress today through innovative product design and textiles.”
Under Armour is empowering athletes — from major leaguers to little leaguers — to perform better. As Plank said, the Under Armour brand is about enabling athletes to go from “aspirational into inspirational.”
Roots as a Wholesaler
Under Armour started as a wholesaler before adding a direct-to-consumer (DTC) component to the business. Now Under Armour sells DTC through its Factory House stores (i.e., outlet stores), Brand House stores, and e-commerce sites (desktop, mobile).
While physical is important to Under Armour, according to Plank, the retailer is growing most through its digital channels. Mobile in particular is making strides. Plank noted that mobile accounted for 28 percent of Under Armour’s Black Friday sales this past holiday season, and 60 percent on Singles Day (which turned out to be the biggest e-commerce day in the company’s history). In addition, Under Armour currently has 25 e-commerce sites globally, with plans to add five more this year.
“Personalization and localization” is Under Armour’s e-commerce strategy, Plank said.
This is a term that Plank and Under Armour have coined to describe its initiative to bring data together to help athletes better understand their bodies. Plank noted that many people likely know more about the health of their car — when its last oil change was, how much gas is in the tank, pressure of the tires — than they do about their own bodies. Under Armour is trying to change that.
Through a series of acquisitions, including MyFitnessPal, a free resource for achieving and maintaining health and fitness goals, and Endomondo, an open fitness tracking platform and social fitness network connecting athletes throughout the world, Under Armour has built the world’s largest digital health and fitness community, with over 160 million registered users. To put that into perspective, nearly one in every five Americans has one of Under Armour’s apps downloaded on their phone.
“We’re providing a digital dashboard for your health, from fitness to weight to nutrition to sleep to simply how you feel,” Plank said.
So what does Under Armour gain from this community? Data. The retailer now knows how these people purchased, what they ate, how they slept, how often they exercise. Under Armour is then able to use that data to create a single view of each customer.
However, as Plank conceded at the end of his presentation, the purpose for Under Armour’s Connected Fitness initiative is still rather simplistic: to sell more shirts and shoes.
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