Why Under Armour Won’t Be Overlooked by Runners Any Longer

Under Armour has faced several hurdles since entering the running category in 2008. But thanks to the brand’s product updates and a refreshed distribution focus, the market has warmed to its efforts.

In February, the company introduced the two-shoe Hovr range, featuring the low-cut Sonic style and the Phantom mid. The sneakers feature the proprietary UA Hovr cushioning system, said to provide a plush feel underfoot, as well as energy return and responsiveness. And in a few short months, the sneakers have made an impact among retailers.

“In a specialty run store, you’re assessing [the customer’s] biomechanics, foot size and shape, and goals,” said Josh Levinson, co-owner of the Maryland-based Charm City Run chain. “You bring out three or four shoes, and if they don’t feel great at try-on, you lose. Under Armour wasn’t winning as much [as other labels] at try-on. But the brand is winning more now. When people try on Hovr, they’re  like, ‘Oh my God, this feels so good.’”

Under Armour Hovr Phantom
A women’s colorway of the Under Armour Hovr Phantom.
CREDIT: Under Armour

In fact, noted Levinson, those improvements in fit and feel have made Under Armour the fastest-growing footwear brand in his stores.

Aside from product, the athletic brand has been making internal adjustments to the way it approaches the category.

“We’re much more disciplined in our line architecture, our lifecycle planning in terms of how we roll products out, and are running the category like a best-in-class footwear brand,” said Topher Gaylord, SVP and GM  of Under Armour’s run, train and outdoor divisions.

This shift, according to the executive, began roughly two years ago, when the Baltimore-based company moved to a sport category-based structure, from its prior organizational system of apparel, footwear and accessories. During this transition, the brand decided to change how and where its best sneakers are sold.

“It’s been our intent to not overdistribute the product and to be thoughtful about the allocations in each region and channel. It’s helped accelerate and fuel demand and sell-through in every channel,” Gaylord said.

Under Armour Hovr Sonic
A men’s colorway of the Under Armour Hovr Sonic.
CREDIT: Under Armour

However, Matt Powell, The NPD Group Inc.’s senior industry adviser for sports, warned against Under Armour being too limited in its approach.

“The bulk of their business has been opening price point product,” Powell explained. “The core running business is only about 20 percent of the [total] running shoe business; it’s a much smaller piece of the pie than the mass casual running space. It’s good to focus on that core customer, but they’d be chasing a much smaller target.”

However, Under Armour’s new direction may already be paying off.

According to NPD, the brand’s dollar share of the U.S. running market has grown slightly, from 6 percent in April 2016 to 7 percent in April 2018. And over that period of time, its sales increased 16 percent. The label is now ranked No. 5 in the category.

While impressed with Under Armour’s new product offerings, Levinson wants more.

The storeowner confirmed that he’s scaling back on the brand’s other running styles in favor of Hovr, which will significantly reduce the number of Under Armour SKUs on the shelves of his eight doors.

“Under Armour is growing extremely fast, but they don’t have the breadth of product now to dominate the run specialty market,” he said.

That could change, though, before the end of the year as the brand doubles down on this successful franchise.

“You’ll see a significantly expanded and enhanced Hovr platform of styles in the back half of 2018 and into 2019,” Gaylord said. “In Q4 of 2018, we’re launching a cold-weather Hovr style called Reactor — it has a warm insulated upper on the Phantom platform.”

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