Supporting Independents: How Nobull’s Digital Expertise Is Keeping the Fitness Brand Going

With brick-and-mortar still temporarily shuttered in most parts of the country, brands with a strong physical presence have had to adapt to a digitally-led business model. The transition, however, is easier for some than it is for others.

Michael Schaeffer, co-founder of fitness-focused label Nobull, said being digitally native has been an advantage in navigating the forced isolation and social distancing.

“We do have retail but we didn’t start with that,” Schaeffer said. “Even from the perspective of working together as a team, we were used to doing that from a remote perspective from the beginning.”

During this time, Nobull has kept busy with product launches and charitable contributions. At the start of April, the brand partnered with United In Movement to raise coronavirus relief funds for the CrossFit Foundation, Action Against Hunger and Red Cross Global. To boost the efforts, Nobull created black and pink iterations of its Trainer silhouette with 100% of the net proceeds going to the organization.

And last week, Nobull introduced its “Jared’s Floral Shop” activation for the third straight year, a fictional business for CrossFit athlete Jared Stevens that promotes its line of floral print footwear.

Here, Schaeffer reveals the bright spots during these uncertain economic times and how Nobull will be stronger when business begins to normalize.

On bright spots:

Michael Schaeffer: “Actually, a lot of stuff is positive. Our community that we’ve built over the last couple of years, it’s amazing to see how engaged they are. Even when they can’t leave their home, even when they can’t go to their CrossFit box, if it’s hard for them to go for a run, they’re super connected with us — probably even more so now. We’ve tried to be as creative as possible and not just push product, which we don’t really do. It’s more about engagement. We’ve had a lot of fun with with our athletes hosting various things, not just workouts. We had a tie-dye session with Sam Dancer, he’s one of our athletes. There have been a lot of bright moments. It’s not all negative and depressing for us. There have actually been some really good evolutions coming out of this. From a personal perspective, we have some team members that are not based in Boston who I usually talk to once every two weeks. I’m more connected now with them  because we are in meetings every single day a couple of times, it’s becoming second nature. So there are actually some really positive developments coming out of this.”

On the coronavirus’ impact on product launches:

MS: “Launches are going strong. We definitely have a really strong customer base and community that we built. Initially, we did not know how coronavirus was going to affect production overseas. Our footwear is made in Asia, most apparel is made domestically, accessories are made overseas and we have distribution in Europe. So in the middle of March when this whole thing started going downhill, we weren’t sure what effect this is going to have on us. We had a little bit of a production delay with some of the factories shutting down. It’s still affecting us, actually more so in apparel now, but overall there have just been a couple of small hiccups from a supply chain perspective now. On the flip side, once we have the product, how we launch it, normally we go out and shoot, we create all of our content ourselves. We have an in-house content team and normally they’re about, bouncing around the world, meeting with our athletes, community members, creating amazing content. But we can’t do that right now so we have to do with a lot of stuff that we actually already had. One example is Jared’s Floral Shop, which launched last week. It’s been a yearly thing for the last three years. Jared is not a floral shop owner, he’s a CrossFit Games athlete and an awesome actor. It’s super natural for him. We had a lot of stuff in the can with B-roll that we reused, we reuse stuff, we did shoot the new product in a warehouse. It showed us that creativity is more important than routine.”

On the importance of a strong team: 

MS: “We have a code of conduct that Marcus and I started when we started working together in 2012. Even before Nobull, we found certain ways of working together that were advantageous for us. We have one rule that says, ‘Don’t be an a**.’ If you’re unpleasant to work with or interact with then we don’t want to work with you. That goes for employees, for people we hire, interview, our partners. We talk to employees about the code of conduct and we celebrate that with the team. And one specific one is, ‘Whatever, wherever, whenever.’ Most of our employees work in the office every day — but we are very flexible with regards to people needing time to do other stuff like working out or working from home. We we tried to create a flexible work environment that we had in place before this hit. This team is young, an amazing and energetic group that that makes me lively and passionate about going to work every day. Everybody has a lot of respect for each other, we don’t have any egos on the team. It’s even more important when you don’t have that one-on-one interaction physically and that’s really helped us the last couple of weeks.”

On where the brand will be in six months:

MS: “I think we’re getting leaner and meaner. Having to work on these doomsday scenarios from a financial perspective just to be prepared helped us to identify where we can get leaner, where we can come out of this stronger. We’re doing a lot now with fewer resources, so I think there’s a lot of learnings from that. Other than that, we hosted the film festival last year in New York, which was a huge highlight of the year in November. We’re planning hopefully to be able to do that again.”

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