In Depth: Why Shoe Companies Are In A Headquarters Building Frenzy

Under Armour
An architectural rendering of Under Armour's future global headquarters.
Courtesy of company.

Office design has come a long way from the fluorescent-lit cubicle farms of the past. Thanks to mobile technology, changing work styles and the growing influence of millennials, today’s workplaces are now sleek, employee-focused enclaves decked out with lifestyle amenities such as rooftop decks, gyms, coffee bars and lush green spaces.

Companies now see their office facilities not as a cost burden, but as a powerful competitive advantage. According to experts, a well-designed work environment can boost employee productivity, drive creativity and innovation, and help companies attract and retain top talent.

“It’s become such a competitive landscape, especially in the fashion space, and companies have become savvy to just how much potential the workplace has in creating an engaged and innovative workforce,” said Jean Anderson, a principal at global design firm Gensler, whose clients include Sam Edelman and Michael Kors.

That’s proving true for some of the shoe industry’s biggest players, among them Converse, New Balance, Under Armour, Wolverine World Wide and Deckers Brands, which have all recently unveiled flashy new corporate headquarters.

Wolverine’s Boston group, which encompasses the Keds, Saucony and Sperry brands, moved into a 230,000-sq.-ft. office last month. President Richie Woodworth said the building — which features a state-of-the-art fitness center and a café serving fresh local food — already is having a profound impact on his team’s work.

Wolverine Boston Office Wolverine’s new Boston office debuted this summer and was designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects. Courtesy of company.

“It’s been a complete renewal for us — you can feel a strong sense of energy here, just by the nature of how the space flows,” Woodworth said. “In our old building, we were very silo-ed from brand to brand. Our new headquarters is much more open and team-friendly, allowing us to communicate better and create more opportunities for collaboration and idea sharing between our brands.”

Likewise, Converse’s 10-story Lovejoy Wharf headquarters (completed last year) in Boston has delivered tremendous benefits for the brand, according to John Shipman, senior director of workplace design and connectivity.

“We’ve seen more collaboration, improved retention, less dependency on email due to the closer proximity of teammates, and spontaneous brainstorming and problem solving,” he said. “And above all, [the new headquarters] shows we’re a force to be reckoned with in the industry.”

Converse Lovejoy Wharf Converse’s Lovejoy Wharf headquarters, opened in 2015, houses a 10,000-SF common area, a full gym and flagship retail store. Courtesy of company.
Converse Lovejoy Wharf Converse’s Blank Canvas customization center in its Boston headquarters. Courtesy of company.

Open for Business

Perhaps one of the biggest trends shaping office design today is a move toward more open, fluid floor plans that break down the walls — literally — between functions, departments and even brands. The goal is to create greater transparency within the organization and promote opportunities for interaction between workers, with a larger emphasis on communal spaces, both formal and informal.

“The shift has been toward providing more shared space that benefits a greater number of people and supports collaboration,” said Jodi Williams, senior workplace strategist for architecture firm CallisonRTKL.

This trend is being driven, in part, by the growing influence of millennials, who last  year surpassed Generation X to become the largest generation in the American workforce, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data.

As a group, millennials thrive on collaboration and social connections and favor notably different work styles than other generations. They have less demand for privacy and are often more productive working in casual settings such as cafés and lounge areas than in traditional workstations.

Converse Lovejoy Wharf The 10,000-sq.-ft. common area in Converse’s Lovejoy Wharf headquarters is nicknamed “The Union.” Courtesy of company.

What companies need to keep in mind, Anderson said, is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. “It’s about making sure employees have access to a variety of different workspaces to fit their needs,” she explained. “You want to empower people and give them a choice in how and where they work.”

Even the way people navigate through a building presents opportunities for bringing workers together.

One of the most prominent design features inside Converse’s headquarters is a central staircase that connects each floor. “Rather than needing an elevator to go to another floor, there is this very open staircase,” said the building’s architect, Jennifer Carpenter. “You can stand on the stairs and see all the hustle and bustle of people moving around the space. It’s a great way to promote the kinds of chance meetings and interactions that lead to collaboration and creative thinking.”

Still, as office layouts shed their walls and open up, companies are recognizing the need to also provide quiet, distraction-free areas. “Any company with an open environment needs to think about how to control for sound and privacy and offer places for employees to work alone when needed,” Carpenter said, citing solutions such as acoustic treatments, phone rooms and designated quiet zones.

Tech Support

To create and support a modern work-anywhere culture, technology plays a critical role. Companies must invest considerably in virtual connectivity to free up their workers.

“ ‘Untethered’ was the theme we worked with for our new headquarters,” said Converse’s Shipman. “We removed all desk phones, switched to follow-me printing and installed world-class Wi-Fi as well as an integrated audio-visual system. The goal is to keep employees mobile and connected, no matter where they move in the building.”

But assembling the right suite of technology solutions can be a daunting challenge, Gensler’s Anderson noted. “Technology moves so fast, and if you’re working on a building project that takes 18 months, that’s a long time in technology years,” she explained. “Everyone wants the latest and greatest and also to future-proof for what’s coming but, ultimately, you have to figure out what’s best for your business.”

Health Matters

For footwear companies tackling new office projects, employee well-being has become an increasingly important consideration. Whether it’s on-site fitness centers, yoga studios and meditation rooms or more-fundamental elements such as exposure to natural light and views of nature, companies are focused on creating a healthy, stimulating place where people want to spend time.

Demonstrating the momentum of this trend, a new building standard, dubbed WELL, was introduced in 2014. Set up similarly to LEED, WELL measures building attributes that impact occupants’ health and wellness, according to seven core factors: air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind.

“Companies realize that people are their greatest asset and that keeping them healthy and happy is crucial to the success of their business,” said CallisonRTKL’s Williams.
“A well-designed office can support that goal and have a positive effect on mood, well-being and productivity.”

New Balance headquarters New Balance’s world headquarters, opened last fall in Boston, features the “Athletes Park” green space for both staff and the public. Courtesy of company.
New Balance headquarters A coffee shop and cafe inside the New Balance headquarters. Courtesy of company.

Another vital wellness feature is outdoor space, designed to counter the stress and mental fatigue that workers sometimes experience during the day. New Balance’s Boston Landing campus has a sculpted lawn where employees can relax or play sports, while Converse has two roof decks offering sweeping views of the Charles River.

“[These outdoor areas] give employees a chance to connect to the city and to nature, providing a quick escape to relax and rejuvenate when they need it,” Shipman noted.

Finding Balance

In line with the wellness movement, office design also is more focused on fostering better work-life balance — an important consideration now that the average workweek clocks in at 47 hours, according to Gallup.

At Deckers’ Goleta, Calif., headquarters, opened in 2014, time-crunched staffers can take advantage of a dry cleaning drop-off-and-pickup service, on-site car washes, Friday pedicures, chair massages, as well as an equipment closet to borrow bikes and surfboards.

“We want to make everyday life easier for our employees,” said Dave Powers, Deckers’ CEO. “The greatest validation of our campus life comes directly from our people, who continue to rate Deckers high when it comes to pride and job satisfaction on surveys. Maintaining a good work-life balance is critical to our culture.”

Deckers headquarters Deckers Brands’ office in Goleta, Calif., opened in 2014. Courtesy of company.
Deckers headquarters The Deckers headquarters features panoramic windows and plenty of natural light. Courtesy of company.

What’s more, perks and amenities like these give companies an edge in attracting the industry’s brightest talent.

Noted Woodworth, “Where we are in Boston, it’s footwear central. There are tons of shoe brands, big and small, and we compete against them all when it comes to recruitment and retention. Our new space and all the amenities we
offer help us do that.”

Community Center

Taking the work-life balance notion even further, New Balance and Under Armour are raising the stakes by anchoring their corporate offices alongside larger, mixed-use developments, connecting them deeper to the local community.

Next to its world headquarters in Boston’s Allston-Brighton neighborhood, New Balance is transforming a former industrial site into a vibrant destination. Currently under construction, the 15-acre development will house Boston Bruins and Celtics practice facilities, a track and field complex, a boutique hotel, apartments, shops, restaurants and a commuter rail station.

“New Balance has been headquartered here for 30 years. This is our home, and we are strongly committed to this community,” said Amy Dow, senior global corporate communications manager. “When completed, [Boston Landing] will be a visionary and transformative project.”

And in January, Under Armour unveiled the multibillion-dollar master plan for its sprawling, 50-acre Port Covington campus along Baltimore’s waterfront, expected to house 10,000 employees. Set to be built over multiple phases, with a targeted completion date of 2041, the campus will feature several towers, a stadium, a field house and a man-made lake.

Under Armour Inside the first building completed within Under Armour’s Port Covington campus in Baltimore. Courtesy of company.
Under Armour Under Armour’s new Building 37. Courtesy of company.

Adjacent to the campus, Under Armour also plans to develop the rest of the 260-acre peninsula, which juts into the Patapsco River’s Middle Branch, with homes, parks, shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.

“Our campus is going to be beyond amazing,” explained Neil Jurgens, VP of corporate real estate, “but there is much more to it than that. There will be a lifestyle component, where our people will be able to live, shop and dine in the development.

“It fuels our mission of being innovative and attracting world-class talent, while also serving as a catalyst for growth for the city we call home. We see this as a real game changer.”

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