Adidas AG has mastered the listening ear.
In a retail landscape defined by ubiquitous advertising messages and hit-and-miss omnichannel strategies, the spirited revival of the once-fledgling Germany-based brand has hinged on its ability to distinctly hear the voice of a grossly misunderstood consumer.
“The biggest pivot we’ve made is to put the consumer first,” explained president of Adidas Group North America Mark King in an exclusive interview with Footwear News. “We have been able to build an infrastructure around staying connected to the consumer, listening to the consumer and reacting with speed to the consumer and have built a brand that the consumer is excited about.”
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In the current age, that’s no small feat.
The e-commerce boom, hefty brick-and-mortar costs, consumer shifts to experiential spending and the uncertainty surrounding the presidential election last year have all been cited as factors sending fashion brands and retailers to the bankruptcy courts at an unprecedented rate.
The Sports Authority, City Sports, Bob’s Stores, Sport Chalet, MC Sports and Luke’s Locker are just some of the sporting goods firms disproportionately hit by retail’s challenges: They all sought Chapter 11 protection over the past two years.
And, for what it’s worth, many companies — fledgling or surviving — during the past few years have taken a stab and digital growth and product improvements. But few can boast the across-the-board growth numbers Adidas has produced.
In 2016, the company saw 30 percent sales gains in the highly volatile Americas region and double-digit growth in nearly every geographical segment in which it operates. And looking ahead, the firm predicts more robust numbers. After announcing a record-breaking fourth-quarter and fiscal 2016, last week Adidas significantly upped its profit outlook for the next three years.
“I don’t think it’s a secret — a lot companies talk about a lot of things because it’s what’s been proven or works for other successful companies,” King said. “[But] the core of what we do is sport, and we’re listening to what athletes want. And what do they want? They want collaborations with Pharrell [Williams], and they’re excited about Kanye West. We really said we’ve got two opportunities here: one on the performance side and one on the style, and [we decided to] bring those together.”
So when Adidas recruits athletes these days — James Harden, Kristaps Porzingis and Lionel Messi are among those to don the brand’s signature three stripes — “we’ve got great performance products when they play their game and great style products when they’re off the court, pitch or field,” King said.
Coupling its sports-culture formula with a strategic plan to expand globally through its influence in major cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Tokyo, is setting the firm up to yield serious dividends.
And, with a blockbuster 2016 in the books, King shrugs off concerns about whether the brand can sustain its momentum.
“I felt a lot more pressure two years ago when nobody wanted to buy our stuff. I think you live for this moment to create something unique and special and drive that forward,” he said. “We’re very pleased with the progress, but we’re not satisfied with where we are. We think we have a lot of runway to improve and get better and bigger.”