Reebok Fights For U.S. Revival

After finding early success with its fitness push, Reebok aims to pump up market share in the U.S. through unique endorsement deals and a stepped-up retail presence.

Reebok President Matt O’Toole said 75 percent of the brand’s business is international, with just 25 percent coming from the States. “The U.S. is an important market for us, and we’re a big brand in the mind of the consumer,” he said. “What we have to do now is make our fitness and running and heritage products more available.”

To do that, the label — which has been challenged since Adidas acquired it in 2005 — plans to strengthen direct-to-consumer, which accounts for roughly half of its business.

O’Toole said Reebok will also continue to grow its mono-branded store roster as it ramps up e-commerce.

Reebok will focus on having its own space within retailers, much like the “Fight Shops” set up in Sports Authority locations that highlight the brand’s combat-training and UFC products.

Reebok’s partnerships with CrossFit and UFC bolstered its presence in the fitness community. This year, to further strengthen its standing, the brand also signed individual deals with UFC athletes, including champions Ronda Rousey and Chris Weidman, as well as NFL star JJ Watt, who is known for his intense workout regimen.

“We’re not in the football business, but we’re looking for people who have a shared set of values about fitness. We were attracted to JJ for that reason,” O’Toole said. “There are people like that in a lot of other sports who are going to be good ambassadors of our view of what the role of fitness is in your life.”

An integral part of Reebok’s fitness growth is the women’s market. O’Toole said Reebok has been catering to female fitness enthusiasts for decades and that women’s products already account for 40 percent of the brand’s business. His goal is to get that to 50 percent.

“In the post-Title IX era, Reebok was the brand talking to women about working out, sweating, having muscles,” the exec said. “[Today], Ronda is opening a lot of people’s eyes to what the body type for women can be, and in the CrossFit world, the definition of what is beautiful has changed as well, the view of the women’s bodies by women themselves — that it’s OK to have muscles and be strong.”

Ronda Rousey hand wrap
UFC fighter Ronda Rousey getting her hands wrapped.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Reebok

But with its focus narrowed to primarily fitness categories, the question is, will that be enough for Reebok to survive? O’Toole believes it will.

“The trick for us is to not see ourselves in some kind of head-to-head battle with Nike or with some of the other traditional sports brands, but to pave our own lane,” he said.

Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at The NPD Group, said no brand currently owns the important and growing fitness market, and Reebok’s emphasis on it presents a great opportunity for the brand. But the analyst emphasized that product is king.

“In today’s world, it’s easy to lose shelf space and hard to get it back,” he said. “Reebok needs a hot item to get back on shelves.”

O’Toole hopes Reebok has that hit shoe for spring ’16. The brand is expanding its CrossFit line by introducing CrossFit Speed TR, a lighter shoe than the brand’s popular Nano silhouette.
It’s geared more for the first-time CrossFitter than the veteran.

While the brand is pouring most of its energy into the fitness market, O’Toole said a secret weapon is its Classics label, which accounts for a third of Reebok’s business.

O’Toole believes releasing selections from its past catalog allows the brand to celebrate its heritage.

In the midst of all these intiatives, chatter continues about a possible sale of the brand — rumors that Herbert Hainer, CEO of Adidas Group, has publicly denounced. O’Toole confirmed there’s no truth to the talk. “Herbert Hainer has said on several occasions that he’d be crazy to sell Reebok now, after all it’s taken to get Reebok to where it is, with nine consecutive quarters of growth and every reason to believe we’ve got another nine ahead of us,” O’Toole said.

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