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Company wants to bring out the athlete in everyone

Updated: 2013-11-22 07:51
By Xu Junqian in Shanghai ( China Daily)

Company wants to bring out the athlete in everyone

American sports apparel company Under Armour Inc wants to turn the 1.3 billion Chinese into athletes, although sports participation is low in the country, and similar attempts by leading sportswear makers have seen little success in recent decades, forcing some to go fashion-forward instead.

In fact, the first thing Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of the company, introduced in Shanghai was not a performance product but the Under Armour Experience Store, a small space that features a whopping 270-degree screen that "will tell the Under Armour story" and offers a few well-selected products - six, to be exact.

"Wherever we go around the globe, we will lead first with our story and bring the people into the best Under Armour experience possible before we ask them to try our performance apparel and footwear," said Plank during an interview with China Daily prior to the opening of this "first of its kind" retail space in Shanghai on Oct 18.

Founded in 1996 in the basement of Plank's grandmother's house, a startup story that has been selling as well among investors and consumers as the company's skintight, sweat-wicking synthetic T-shirts, the Baltimore-based company has been threatening giant players like Adidas AG and Nike Inc as its annual sales reached $1.8 billion in 2012, up 25 percent from the previous year.

At the company's Investor's Day in June, Plank detailed a three-year plan aimed at doubling company revenue to $4 billion by 2016.

"We want to be a global brand, which means half of our profit must come from outside the local market," Plank said.

Under Armour now has five stores in China, with another three expected to open by the end of the year. In terms of long-term expansion, Plank said he will decide the number when "the market demands it".

Success in China, however, doesn't come easy.

As the double-digit growth of Chinese economy comes to a pause, if not an end, and the passion for sports, or even wearing sports apparel, continues to wane following the 2008 Olympic Games, retail sales in China, once the growth engine for sportswear companies, also lost its momentum over the past five years.

Nike reported an 8 percent rise in international sales to $6.97 billion during the fiscal first quarter, while in China, the second-largest market, after the United States, for the world's best-selling sports brand, sales fell 3 percent to $574 million.

Meanwhile, the growth rate of German rival Adidas, fell to 6 percent in the first half of 2013, from 19 percent the same period last year.

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