Though Under Armour is not new to a number of outdoor specialty retailers, it is just now making its debut at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008. Peter Gilmore, GMM for the outdoor division, told SNEWS® that, “We wanted to come to in at OR only when we felt like our brand and product were right.”
For Gilmore, despite the fact that Under Armour has been exhibiting to the hunting and fishing market at SHOT show for the last four years and despite the fact that a number of its existing customers have been attending Outdoor Retailer for some time, there was still no point in going to OR unless Under Armour could offer something unique to the outdoor specialty market.
“Outdoor Retailer for us was a matter of finding a show that could support our spring business. We also wanted to make sure we could offer up something unique that represented a more youthful connection with a broader audience of consumers,” said Gilmore. “We have developed a line that is differentiated from what goes on at sporting goods, so the time is right for us to be at OR now.”
That point of differentiation, Gilmore believes, is built around the company’s new outdoor performance training line, one that includes performance T-shirts with 50 UPF sun protection and 100-percent post-consumer recycled yarns. The outdoor performance line will be sold exclusively to the outdoor specialty channel, Gilmore told SNEWS.
Of course, the definition of outdoor specialty is a bit broader for Under Armour than perhaps other companies.
“When I was at EMS, I thought of us and REI and of course all the other stores as outdoor specialty, but at UA, there are hook and bullet that are also great outdoor retailers,” said Gilmore. “We look at the world as a performance brand that wants to connect with consumers that enjoy the outdoors in all ways and we are going to successfully market and brand to all of those consumers.”
According to Gilmore, it is the Under Armour’s connection with youth, coupled with the enormous brand recognition from the company’s dominant position in team sports, that will drive sales at specialty outdoor.
“We are a premium performance brand with our roots that come from team sports and football, and we talk about being youthful and providing a line of products that appeal to that next generation of consumer,” said Gilmore. “When the athlete gets out of college who has been wearing UA and knows how good it is, we still believe UA is that undergarment of choice for them as long as we do not throw same stuff out there that is at stores like Dick’s and TSA.”
While Gilmore acknowledged that UA has a fairly wide distribution that might, on the surface, make the brand less than desirable to a specialty outdoor retailer, he said there were many other brands with much broader distribution already selling well to outdoor specialty retailers. What makes Under Armour different, he told us, is that his company sees every retailer as a partner.
“Our brand is primarily found in sports and specialty doors because we believe in and partner very strongly with our retailers to promote and protect the brand,” Gilmore told SNEWS. “UA is a full price brand with the exception of seasonal colors. We are a high-margin brand, and we maintain that high margin because the consumer understands that they have to pay to get Under Armour and they are willing to do that.”
Under Armour is also counting on the fact that it is debuting running footwear at Outdoor Retailer which the company expects will attract additional retail attention at Outdoor Retailer, and subsequently more attention from consumers going to outdoor specialty stores.
“We are a brand, more than an item business and we have shown an ability to enter markets other folks might not be able to do so well in – our licensee in backpacks sells numbers that are mind-blowing,” Gilmore said. “No one needs another synthetic T-shirt company any more than they need another footwear brand, but we expect to do well in both categories.
Gilmore told us that Under Armour’s recipe for success in all its ventures is simple: Build a great performance product and then back up that quality and innovation with marketing that creates excitement.
“Our entire marketing department is internal to UA and we do not use a marketing agency, so we are able to connect with the product and the consumer in a real and understood way,” said Gilmore. “We launch products in a way movie companies use movie premiers to build excitement for a new film.”
With the running shoes, Gilmore tells us that there will be two styles per gender and four color ways. Each style is built on a running last with what he described as “unique midsole technology.” Gilmore also told us Under Armour will be very selective in choosing the retailers it will work with for the product launch.
SNEWS® View: The arrival of the UA juggernaut into the outdoor specialty realm has been inevitable. It is only surprising that the company has waited this long. And for any retailer or competitor doubting the likelihood of success, think on this: There were those who laughed at the company’s entry into the hunting and fishing markets too. No one in that market is laughing now. In early July, on a weeklong trip into the Alaskan backcountry, Under Armour was the clear choice of base layer for an editor from Outdoor Life. He told us that UA is a strong player in the hunting and fishing stores and for good reason. UA has taken a page from the Gore-Tex playbook – make great product and back it up with exceptional and creative marketing. In the hook-and-bullet markets, UA sponsors a boat in fishing tournaments. It sponsors youth hunting programs. It works closely with retailers in that market to establish a connection with the marketing it does and the sales retailers make.
Consider another recent foray by the company into the snowsports market: While the company advertised logically in skiing consumer and trade press, it also embarked on a successful campaign with Maxim magazine to drive interest and new sales opportunities.
And, for those of you who watch mindless TV, look closely at the product placements in the Great Race and also in select MTV programming – all aimed at ensuring a younger market is fully attuned to the UA brand.
If there is any knock at all on Under Armour, it is that it is a brand a consumer can see at any sporting goods, hunting, or fishing retailer. UA is banking on the fact it is a full-margin product and the belief that consumers who are used to seeing the UA brand in ads and on so many athletes will naturally flock to the brand should it appear in an outdoor specialty retailer. It is certainly possible, maybe even probable given its recent history with the hunting and fishing world. However, there are many other brands, some bigger than UA, who have historically tried to make the leap from one market success to the outdoor specialty realm expecting similar acceptance, only to slink away sadly disappointed.