Under Armour Will Be 'Biggest, Baddest Brand On The Planet,' Kevin Plank Says
Under Armour’s dynamic CEO, Kevin Plank, wowed a room full of retailers and store owners on Monday as he talked about his desire to build the “biggest, baddest brand on the planet,” plans for an entirely new mixed-use HQ and neighborhood in its home city of Baltimore and the future of its stores and company, including its explosive growth in China.
Plank also thanked the International Council of Shopping Center’s attendees in Manhattan's Jacob Javits Center men’s room who, like men he meets all over the world, were all quick to show him their Under Armour undies.
The company had announced that morning it will be the new outfitters of Major League Baseball beginning in 2020.
“Every team will wear the Under Armour mark on their right chest,” he said, describing it as an “only in America” story and all about the nation's pastime.
Indeed, Plank was a teenage athlete when he decided there had to be something better than his red flannel shirt to wear under his football uniform, which, naturally, became drenched in sweat.
After graduating from college, he designed a garment that would compress and wick away moisture. With a $16k investment in 1996, he made $17k that first year while working out of his grandmother’s townhouse in Georgetown. In 2017, the now-public Under Armour will do more than $5B in business through 550 stores; 162 of them opened in 2016 and 1,000 more are expected by 2018.
The company opened its first China store in 2012. It's up to 234 now and expects 350 to 400 in China by 2017. While the Chinese stores did $80M in sales this year, Kevin expects that to grow to $180M by 2018.
“The idea of our store is to drive that energy and passion,” Kevin said. “Our job is to define what energy and passion is going forward.”
In New York, Under Armour has signed a 53k SF lease for the former F.A.O. Schwarz store in the base of 767 Fifth Ave. He praised building owner Boston Properties and its CEO, Owen Thomas, for joining with him in “the vision to build the best retail store in the world.”
The location, next to Cartier, by Apple, and across from Bergdorf Goodman, was also chosen to bring back “the feeling” of not only the former toy store, but of the holiday season in New York City.
“We want it to feel like that every single day of the year,” Plank said.
The company is looking at new ways to create the old “wall of shoes” with innovative spinning displays. It's also rolling out interactive displays—now in its Orlando store—that will delight children and adults alike. The company’s sponsoring athletes, including Tom Brady, Bryce Harper and Stephen Curry (above), will become 3D cartoons and talk and jump around while customers look at the products through their phones.
“Storytelling is so important to our brand,” Kevin said. More than 190 million people use one of the four Under Armour apps that are part of their connected shoes and connected fitness platforms, he said. “We now have products that can make you make better decisions in your life.”
With more than 5,000 “teammates,” and plans to grow to more than 10,000 and develop an entirely new waterfront campus in Baltimore, Kevin said he is “accepting résumés.” Under the Sagamore Development arm of Plank Industries, the company bought 40 parcels coverings 260 acres along the south Baltimore waterfront.
To be created over the next 20 years in phases, it will eventually have 13M SF, including 1.5M SF of retail, the company’s planned 3.9M SF HQ, 1.5M SF of other offices, 7,500 residential units, 500k SF of maker space, light industrial and a hotel. A 7,000-seat stadium for local teams and a school are also expected.
Already, plans are underway for the first 50 acres, including 2.9M SF of offices that will include the company’s logo that will be seen by the 42 million vehicles passing by each year on I-95, which runs from Maine to Florida, “making an opinion about our city.”
It was designed by the Pittsburgh office of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, which also designed the Apple cube by Under Armour’s upcoming store. Stressing the importance of brands interacting and helping their cities to train employees and create jobs, Kevin described it as lighting a match and then pouring gasoline on it.
“I like to blow people’s minds,” he repeated several times. “The goal is to develop the most dynamic campus in the world that will be an extension of the brand.”
A $660M TIF—transportation infrastructure aid package—from the city will help offset the costs of road, sewers and other infrastructure, but Plank said the company has already provided $135M in benefits back to Baltimore.
Already, a 140k SF former warehouse on the former Port Covington area has been divided into an Innovation Lighthouse and an incubator for a $20M job training center for locals that “gives entrepreneurs a place to bring their ideas to life.”
It now takes up to 300 people to create one shoe, Kevin said, which is why the Lighthouse is focused on streamlining production and coming up with better materials and products, which are created around the world. “We feel we are the people to do something about that,” he added.
He is also creating a distillery, Sagamore Spirits, which will turn out the area’s historical Rye whiskey; a new “transformational, iconic” hotel with partner Montage Hotels; and has expanded water transportation with new boats based on the old “dead rise” designs of the Chesapeake Bay crabbing industry.
Kevin is not just focused on Baltimore, but sits on the advisory board of the Northeast Maglev train, similar to the current one in Japan, that would run from Washington to New York in one hour, driving growth, opportunity and commerce at every station stop.
Calling it, “a quantum leap forward in the future of travel” Plank insisted, “once we take that leap, we will never move back.”