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New Balance
March 2014

It’s all new for New Balance

New campaigns, new sponsorships, new product and a new management team with a new structure ... New Balance SA is looking forward to an exciting 2014

2014 is going to be an exciting and interesting year for New Balance SA. They will be working flat-out to maximise the benefits of being the new Comrades Marathon technical sponsor — starting with the launch of a special Comrades shoe to offer visual bragging rights to the athletes who’ll run the 2014 marathon.

The NB Comrades 890 running shoe, available in men’s and lady’s, is designed for high mileage training, race day running and will be available as a limited edition from March 2014. Then there is the change in top management, giving practical meaning to the phrase the world’s a village. Ricky Knight is overseeing New Balance in South Africa from his base in Australia, where he has been managing the Australia, New Zealand, and lately the Pacific Islands region, for more than ten years.

In line with their policy to act local, think global, they appointed former New Balance SA sales manager Craig Bowen as a country manager, after former GM Gary van Rooyen left to owner-run the global surf brand Coreban.

But, as they explain, with the advances in communication, distances shrink to the size of a computer screen. Knight and Bowen keep contact with regular Skype sessions — and probably see as much of each other as other general managers working in the same city. They will also be working hard to achieve New Balance’s international goal of becoming a top three global athletic brand.

New Balance is currently the fastest growing sporting brand worldwide — and they have the figures to prove it, says Darren Tucker, appointed New Balance vice-president Asia Pacific in November 2012. Even though they are a privately-owned unlisted company whose sales figures are not in the public domain, they can compare their growth with that published for competing big brands. Knight and Tucker visited South Africa at the end of last year to attend the sales conference and introduce Knight to the local staff.

They became New Balance colleagues twenty years ago when Knight joined the Australian team headed by Tucker. Before that Knight got to know the other side of the industry from a retail and sales agent perspective. He followed in Tucker’s footsteps as general manager Australia — and later Pacific — after the latter became general manager of the brand’s Asia Pacific region in 2001. Despite his laid-back demeanour, Knight has done a lot to grow the New Balance business in Australia and New Zealand, says Tucker.

The inclusion of South Africa in the Pacific region was prompted by New Balance’s policy of looking at similar customer profiles when grouping areas together, Knight explains. South Africans, Aussies and New Zealanders share an interest in popular sporting codes like cricket and rugby, our retail market is fairly similar and our seasons correspond — our consumer markets therefore have much more in common than with the American or European markets with their different seasons.

Together these markets are big enough to warrant the development of unique products best suited to our market needs in the Singapore R&D centre. And importantly, to develop the ranges at an appropriate time. When Bowen was appointed national sales manager in the middle of 2013, the intention was that he would have about three years to learn from MD Gary van Rooyen, before becoming head of the regional office. When Van Rooyen left New Balance to run the Coreban brand globally, Bowen was “propelled into the hot seat only three months after joining the company,” says Tucker.

Bowen gained insights into the South African athletic footwear industry as head of sports footwear market research at GfK South Africa. He was responsible for setting up the GfK Sports Panel after a major sports brand approached the global research company in 2008 to monitor the sports footwear market in South Africa.

Bowen had joined GfK six years before as a product specialist for consumer durable goods and therefore had ample experience of convincing brands to sign up to receive reports and retailers to give them access to sales information. It helped that many of the big retailers had already signed up for GfK’s other consumer product panels. By the time retailers started selling soccer boots before the 2010 FIFA World Cup period, they were in place to track the effect of the tournament on local boot sales.

Bowen gained further insights into the local retail market when writing his MBA thesis on The effect of mass retail buying practices on competitiveness in the retail value chain, which he completed at the end of 2012. He explored what the main retail competitiveness and sustainable drivers are and how certain factors and strategies can affect everybody in the retail value chain.

His work at GfK mainly centred around market and trend analysis, forecasting and strategic merchandising, which was valuable when he joined New Balance. But, being on the inside is very different from dispassionately analysing a brand’s performance from the outside, Bowen admits with a rueful smile. Now, he is responsible for the performance of the New Balance SA sales and marketing teams, whilst support structures (e.g. finance and HR) report directly to global structures.

Their partnership with the Comrades marathon is going to be a major marketing focus this year, with several events planned for their Road to Comrades campaign leading up to race day on June 1. For example, New Balance will support the Unogwaja Challenge — a 10-day cycle trip from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg, followed by the Comrades Marathon run on the 11th day — as apparel sponsors. This event raises funds for charities and hopes to raise R1-m next year.

Running innovation

The New Balance’s global Runnovation campaign will further reaffirm them as a running brand. They define this as a noun describing running as follows: from Boston to the Canary Islands, from the science lab to the city streets, running is becoming more social, interesting and more unpredictable. Runnovation seeks to inspire people to think about the sport in exciting new ways.

The campaign, launched in December 2013, features New Balance athletes, as well as real everyday people in three storylines: how running is evolving into a more social and participatory sport through focusing on a grassroots training group; how athletes are challenging the limits of the sport through focusing on New Balance athlete Anton Krupricka, two time winner of the Leadville 100 race; looking at the latest in innovative running product technologies produced at the innovation Studio at New Balance Lawrence, Massachusetts, office.

Key innovative Fall 2014 New Balance footwear and apparel products will be featured in the campaign, including the new Tri-Viz collection, which helps highlight athletes during all types of low light conditions. An important update to the popular 880V3, a go-to neutral cushioning shoe, offered exclusively at speciality running shops, will also be featured.

While running remains at the core of New Balance, the brand is flexing muscles and growing their footprint across sporting codes like tennis, baseball, cricket and through subsidiary brand Warrior, soccer, rugby and lacrosse. This is a two-pronged advance, driven by innovative product as well as high-profile endorsements.

Athlete endorsements from the brand that ran an Endorsed by no-one marketing campaign in the 1990’s? With a difference, explains Tucker. It is true that New Balance always steered clear from high profile athletes who could harm the brand by becoming embroiled in unethical practices, but, in line with New Balance co-owner Anne Davis’ motto whatever you do, do good, they require all sponsored athletes to give back to their community through involvement in some kind of charitable work.

They are therefore very careful about the athletes they sign, while recognising that when fans admire certain qualities in an athlete, they transfer this admiration to the brand they represent.

Young role models

Therefore, young, energetic, achievers like hard-hitting cricket pro David Miller or world #1 bowler Dale Steyn, world #11 Canadian tennis star Milos Ranic, and 2013 MVP Award winner Miguel Cabrera, introduce young consumers, who might not be familiar with the brand, to New Balance in a positive way.

“We do not necessarily believe that the fact that David Miller uses a New Balance bat will sell more products, but it shows cricketers that New Balance is seriously involved in cricket,” says Tucker. Likewise, when Heidi Klum appears in New Balance Classic adverts — especially when dressed in her signature HKNB range — young trendsetters take note. This inspires young fashionistas to run in cool New Balance shoes.

While the region has the freedom to develop products for all relevant sporting codes, New Balance will not compete with Warrior to produce soccer and rugby product. High profile club signings like Liverpool and Seville FC created a replica market in the European leagues, while players like Belgian and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany or Argentine’s Jonas Guttierez, show off their colourful Skreamer boots on-field. In South Africa, Warrior also made in-roads in rugby, with EP Kings’ Jacques Engelbrecht and four 7’s Springboks wearing the Skreamer boot.

Warrior, bought by New Balance in 2004, has an edgier image and strap lines like We Come not to Play or Play with Fire set a different tone to New Balance’s inspirational Make Excellent Happen or Light just got Lighter campaigns. Despite being a global brand, at heart New Balance is a family-owned brand promoting solid family values.

The New Balance Foundation, established by owners Jim and Anne Davis in 1981, bears low-profile testimony to this philosophy. It supports a wide range of worthwhile initiatives, especially programmes aimed at preventing childhood obesity.

The company also promote an environmental-friendly policy, aiming for more sustainable product design, choice of materials and manufacturing processes, and the elimination of all dangerous substances and minimising waste. They also aim to be more sustainable in all their facilities and operations.

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