By a conservative estimate, I've probably ran around 6,000 miles in Asics shoes since I started training for my first half marathon, back in 2007. So I should probably declare an interest here. But I was fascinated by this article on how Asics is looking to broaden its base and become more than "just" one of the preeminent running shoe manufacturers in the world.
The Drum interviewed Asics' head of global marketing Paul Miles, and I was particularly struck by their plans to build 700 direct-to-consumer stores by the end of 2020. This is something that more and more brands are doing, both online and off-line - whether it's apparel manufacturers like Nike and Burberry, or technology companies like Apple and Microsoft, or phone companies like Vodafone and EE.
The "brands to retailers" move is not "just" marketing. It affects the strategy of brands at the very highest level. For example, the £112m acquisition of Thornton's, the UK Confectionery chain, by Ferrero was in no small part because of Thornton's retail footprint and expertise, which the Italian chocolate maker lacked in-house.
A footprint of 700 stores would make Asics a retailer of a similar scale (in terms of number of sites) to leading UK chain Next. This is is a big bet that Asics is making. For such an ambitious plan to be successful a number of communications channels are going to have to work not just very hard but also in lock-step with one another. In-store, experiential, social, digital and traditional media relations, amongst other channels, are going to have to work seamlessly with one another to support a successful global retail expansion. At 6,000 miles I only covered about a quarter of the Earth by distance, and whilst it was made a little easier by my Asics, it was tough. The challenge that this brand is taking on is a whole new level.
At the heart of its London push is a UK flagship store on Regent Street, which for the first time ever unites its four brands under one roof. The multi-million pound investment follows on from a 10% increase of sales in Asics own full-price stores in the first quarter of the year. On unifying the brands for the first time, Miles says the decision was taken in order to show consumers that Asics can fit into different moments of their lives, whether they are running in the morning or clubbing in the evening. The brand plans to open 700 further direct-to-consumer stores by the end of 2020, and the marker thinks the direct-to-consumer experience appeals to shoppers because it leaves a lasting impression of the brand.