For all I know, the folks in the footwear department at Under Armour have a picture of me on their dartboard.
For years, I've dissed their shoes. At least for me, they just didn't feel good. I know many in the marketplace felt the same way.
I feared that the $1 billion brand was going to fall on its face and I thought they were crazy to announce their entrance into the ultracompetitive running shoe space in January 2009 when they clearly hadn't found their "soles."
But Under Armour didn't grow in the face of Nike because its executives were ready to lose. And after a much needed year off to regroup, I'm here to tell you that Under Armour is now armed with the shoe and the idea that will at least give them a chance to grab some serious marketshare.
So what's the big idea?
Build a shoe like they build a piece of apparel with the proprietary materials that have made them a force in the sporting goods business. That's what they've done with the UA Charge RC, a running shoe that will appear in limited quantities on the company's Web site starting October 1 and in stores in December.
I'm not going to go into how light it is (everything is light these days) or the proprietary foam. Who knows what really works these days? All I can say is, it's unique and it screams Under Armour, unlike other shoes that they have made which could have been made in Asia by any company.
"We want to own a look and we want to own a feel," said Dave Dombrow, UA's creative director of footwear. "We want you to be able to pull the logo off this shoe and tell it's still made by us. It's like if you take the logos off a BMW, no matter what the age or the era it's from, you'll know it's a BMW. You can tell this is our shoe."
I ran in them for 15 miles over four days and they're among the best running shoes I've worn. I've always been pitched about these breathable mesh products. This shoe has that too in the MPZ (modular protection zones) in the tongue and toe. But I think the best part of the shoe's flexibility is the fact that the shoe comes in pieces instead of in a single mold.
Yes, you read that right. The shoe has no glue in the upper, fused together with stitches like a shirt they would make and what you'll notice right away is that the only thing that holds that part of the shoe together are the laces. My feet didn't feel suffocated from the shape of the shoe.
"We basically took what we learned from growing in the apparel business and started putting it to work in our shoes," Dombrow said. "What is in this shoe is proprietary to us."
Dombrow told me that the reason the company is going to succeed in the shoe space is because "we're doing it from our unique point of view instead of copying what other companies are doing."
Although there will be plenty of talk about Tom Brady and Cam Newton endorsing the brand in their new commercials, getting the product right is the first step. And Under Armour made the right decisions here in building this shoe. Now it's up to the consumers to buy something that looks different from anything they've ever seen before.
At $120, it's in the price range of early adopters. As the running category has grown, there's a greater amount of people who are willing to try something new, a group that didn't exist a decade ago. That older group were the hard core runners who were impossibly brand loyal.
Said Dombrow: "We admit our shoe is slightly polarizing," said Dombrow. "But we also think it's a hell of a deal that blows anything on the market out of the water."
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