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Supporting Independents: How On Has Found Strength in All-Things Digital

In the wake of the pandemic and economic fallout, independent retailers are facing serious challenges. In a new series, FN will spotlight store owners who are taking smart steps to weather the storm.

Swiss running brand On is a specialty run retail staple, however the coronavirus has taught its leadership that the brand can rely on its digital capabilities when facing a crisis.

Brand co-founder David Allemann explained to FN how being physically distant has brought On’s global team — which is working from home except in the countries where office work is permitted — closer than ever. “Everybody else has been super, super passionate and productive despite the fact that all of us have kids being homeschooled and that all the challenges that probably everybody participating today is very well aware of,” he said.

Allemann also shared insight on the performance of On’s e-commerce business, which he described as “incredible,” with customers searching the site mostly for running shoes and comfy-yet-stylish apparel. “In the beginning we felt there was a little bit of a state of shock for probably one week, 10 days, but then our e-commerce sales started to climb up significantly,” he said.

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During this time of forced isolation, On also pressed forward with its releases. The Cloudnova, it’s first lifestyle-driven sneaker, launched via online draw on May 6 via On-running.com with winners revealed May 7. Also, the brand let premium retail boutiques lead the launch of the shoe including Dover Street Market, Bodega and Atmos in Japan, among others.

Aside from working with premier boutique retailers, Allemann said On is also focused on ensuring the health of its specialty run retail partners, the channel where it established itself as a force.

“We established a digital affiliate program so retail doors that were closed could send their customer to our e-com play where we have a full supply chain for fulfillment to take place,” Allemann said. “[We] especially [want to help] those who didn’t have a solid e-com play in place to support them through the lockdown, because we feel specialty running is a very important part of our community with expertise out there supporting runners.”

Here, Allemann talks launching a sneaker amid a pandemic and shares the digital framework On created to support its specialty retail partners in challenging times.

On the On team’s motivation:

“It’s now probably 10 weeks that a whole team of 45 people went to the home office. We were quite nervous about that because what will it do to collaboration? What will it do to productivity? And also the happiness of our team. The most inspiring experience for us has been how the team came together. Even in the digital space, virtually, [the team] has been nothing short of amazing. We feel we’re almost closer together now after hundreds of one-on-one and cyber coffee chats. Everybody kind of has been very close and meeting each other in their living rooms virtually and everybody else has been super, super passionate and productive despite the fact that all of us have kids being homeschooled and that all the challenges that probably everybody participating today is very well aware of.”

On Cloudnova White Nova
On Cloudnova “White Nova.”
CREDIT: Courtesy

On releasing its first lifestyle sneaker during the pandemic:

“People have always gravitated to basically saying, ‘What if I could get my running shoes all day, every day?’ Because hey, it looks quite good and I can completely pull that off.’ A lot of technical running shoes have actually made it into a very active lives every day of people. We’ve seen for the last four or five years. For example, [Emmanuel] ‘Chivo’ Lubezki was a triple Oscar winner wore his On shoes on the front cover of the Variety magazine Oscar issue because he’s just been seen on the red carpet in his tuxedo, in an On Cloud. In the same year the On Cloud was also winning the silver medal in the Rio Olympics. We felt it’s part of our mission to bring latest technology back to the city. The Cloudnova is the first sneaker from On and we felt especially in the fashion world that it’s not just the silhouette of a sneaker that made this very successful in the first place, it’s not just counterculture, it’s also the technology, it’s is super comfortable and takes you everywhere. … Performance almost used to borrow from from fashion and now it seems that fashion is borrowing from performance.”

On helping its specialty run retail partners:

“Everybody was home and available so we, first of all, started a retail affiliate network, as we call it. … We did workshops with them on how we can support by ramping up digital advertising, we support them with digital communication packages that they could use to send customers to their to their shop on Onrunning.com. And we [connected] specialty run retailers together through all the regions to talk about the current situation, learn from each other, we facilitated all of connections between specialty run retail themselves from different cities so they could share their experience and what they’re doing to prep for reopening.”

On state of e-commerce business:

“We saw an incredible increase our in e-com. In the beginning we felt there was a little bit of a state of shock for probably one week, 10 days, but then our e-commerce sales started to climb up significantly. We felt people were stocking up on essentials and that was, first of all, running shoes, to make sure that they can go out there. We felt a lot of people returned to running so we also started to do running tips, indoor workout classes that that people could tune in to serve our community. Then a lot of people sport our performance apparel because it’s super comfy, it’s very technical, so if you want to have an essential that you can sit in front of a Zoom video conference for five days a week then it’s definitely one of the comfier pieces that you want to wear.”

On what he’s learned about the On staff amid crisis: 

“I learned to be even more amazed by my peers and our team. What we all learned that it has not been different at all, that we can be very effective and still very close to each other, even if it’s if it’s over video working with digital tools. The passion and determination of the full team, and the positive spirit that the full team brought to the table in this situation was nothing short of amazing. Many of our salespeople are not on the road so they basically set up a very nice white wall in their living room, dressed in On gear, bought themselves a good camera and started to interact with our customers on our website, they started to recommend shoes and answer questions and so on, so they completely [moved] from sales to customer service and that was pretty much organic. We didn’t have to steer that, the team asked ‘Where can I help the most in this situation?'”

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