The NBA Store opened its New York City storefront last week, before the Christmas rush, giving sneakerheads and fans of basketball shoes a new place to pick up the latest and greatest releases from Jordan Brand, Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and more.
The 545 Fifth Avenue location, operated by Fanatics, is home to roughly 250 styles of shoes, the largest selection of footwear at any of the online sports-apparel retailer’s physical locations. Footwear is on the lower level, a high-traffic area of the store that features jerseys, shorts, hats, collectibles and a place to have your jersey customized while you wait.
Footwear News spoke with Sal LaRocca, president of merchandising and business operations for the NBA, as well as Brendan McQuillan, VP of in-venue commerce for Fanatics, about the importance of footwear to the store and becoming a sneaker destination.
How vital is footwear to the success of this store?
BM: It’s a destination for basketball fans to know that we’re carrying the footwear. We want to take advantage of the excitement on the court and all those new launches and have the customer be able to come here and get them, and then obviously shop for other NBA product as well.
SL: Footwear has historically been associated with basketball, and certainly with the highest-profile players in the NBA all having signature basketball shoes. There’s a direct link between basketball footwear and the NBA. Consumers who come to the NBA Store have an expectation that they would find at the very least the footwear that the players in the league are wearing. With the high-profile footwear releases, there’s a built-in demand within the industry to buy those products and anticipate when those products are going to be released.
Will the store offer the more sought-after signature shoes?
BM: That’s our goal; we’re going to be a part of any new release that Jordan Brand or Under Armour or any brand releases.
SL: It has an opportunity to do that. Sneaker collectors usually know where the products are going to be available, and over time, for basketball shoes, the NBA will be one of those locations.
Why put the footwear on the lower level — the store’s largest level — with the most activity?
BM: We want people to come down here and find it — we want to drive traffic here. [It’s like] the milk in the grocery store: They keep milk in the back of the store so people have to go all the way there to get it. This is obviously a destination point.
SL: That was part of the decision. One of the things you want to make sure you’re providing to your customers is the best shopping experience. That was the area of the store that also provided for us the best operational paradigm. We didn’t want to have footwear displayed on one floor and then have to go to a warehouse location two floors away to retrieve the stock. The display of the footwear and where the shoes are kept are in close proximity to each other.
Will there be any in-store activations with athletes?
BM: Absolutely. We’re working through that now. We’ll have everything from signings to shoe launch parties. We’re starting to ramp that up now.
SL: We’ve had player appearances in our store many, many times; we have relationships with all of the major footwear companies, and we will be in discussions with them. The event of releasing a particular model is thought out well in advance by the folks at Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and so forth, so we’ll be in direct communication with them for ways to come into the store.
What made this location ideal?
SL: We’ve been on Fifth Avenue since we opened our first store back in 1999, and we felt that remaining on Fifth Avenue was important for us to continue to project our brand on a global basis. Fifth Avenue isn’t getting any bigger. [This is] quickly becoming a very high-traffic retail corridor, between 42nd Street and 52nd Street. It was ideal for us.