Exclusive丨How New Balance to Run Faster in China After Fourth Year of Growth?

3月 12, 2024

New Balance recently unveiled its latest performance: a 23% increase in sales to $6.5 billion in 2023, setting a new historical record with double-digit growth across all global markets. The brand’s President and CEO, Joe Preston, described New Balance as being in its golden era.

Though New Balance did not disclose specific data for the China market, Arthur Ang, the Vice President of New Balance China, told Luxe.CO that China is New Balance’s second-largest single market globally, having achieved growth over the past four years, with the last year being the best performance in the China market in history. New Balance entered the China market in 2003 and established a wholly-owned subsidiary in China in 2018.

Vice President of New Balance China, Arthur Ang

Luxe.CO recently met with Arthur Ang at the NB GREY store in Deji Plaza, Nanjing, which opened in December last year. This store is the first NB GREY concept store in Jiangsu, currently featuring the “Transition of Grey” theme renewal event.

The competitive sports apparel market sees New Balance’s popularity continuing to rise among young people. How does a century-old sports brand adapt and thrive? Arthur Ang shared the strategic focuses of this century-old brand in the Chinese market, starting with the NB GREY concept.

The NB GREY store in Nanjing Deji Plaza

A Glimpse Into New Balance’s High-End Strategy Through NB GREY

In the NB GREY store at Nanjing Deji Plaza, a serene grey space is embellished with floral arrangements, bringing a breath of spring vitality; the store showcases futuristic WRPD Runner sneakers, the high-end Grey Jacket collection, and the NB Hyper Sports collection created in collaboration with independent designer Liang Dong.

Arthur Ang described, “We present the world’s finest New Balance products at NB GREY.”

Arthur Ang, a Singaporean who has been living in Shanghai, is one of the original team members who established New Balance’s structure in China in 2008. In this concept store in Nanjing, he shared with us the high-end strategy behind the NB GREY store concept.

New Balance’s first NB GREY opened in September 2020 in Beijing’s Sanlitun. Recalling the opening day, Arthur Ang shared a story he will never forget:

“On September 10, I remember standing at the store entrance for about 20 minutes. I saw someone coming in New Balance 574 sneakers. NB GREY was still very new at the time, and he didn’t know there was a new store here. He looked up and realized it was a New Balance store. His face lit up instantly, as did his eyes, and then he smiled.”

“That was a proud smile. From this store, he saw our image as more high-end and fashionable, and he felt proud to own New Balance.”

New Balance’s first NB GREY store in Beijing is located in Sanlitun

In China, New Balance has already established a variety of store formats, such as Run Hub and Running Store, which are focused on professional running, and 1906 and UCC, which cater to the sporty leisure lifestyle.

In response to the growing demand for high-end sports lifestyles among Chinese consumers, New Balance has innovatively introduced NB GREY in mainland China, a store format that targets the high-end consumer market. The emergence of NB GREY signifies New Balance’s market strategy evolving towards high-end positioning.

Arthur Ang explained, “Luxury brands have now entered the sportswear field. In the Chinese market, sports footwear brands must offer new and better experiences and products.”

“Every consumer is multi-dimensional; sometimes they want to shop at high-end stores, and sometimes they prefer outlet stores. It’s not about financial status, but a difference in mindset.”

Grey is one of New Balance’s classic signature colors. Whenever New Balance creates or iterates on a new product, grey versions are always prioritized for release

Currently, New Balance has opened more than 20 NB GREY stores in China, including in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Chengdu, etc. Arthur Ang said: “We don’t need every store to be comprehensive, but each one should convey a clear message and experience.”

He added that New Balance is very “careful” in selecting locations for NB GREY stores, such as the one-year discussion to finalize the location in Nanjing. Located on the first floor of Deji Plaza, the NB GREY store enjoys a natural advantage in commercial atmosphere and pedestrian flow.

The brand plans to open up to 60 NB GREY stores in China. Arthur Ang believes that “the quality of the stores is more important than the scale.

NB GREY stores also make interesting local attempts. Each store periodically rotates limited-time themes, often highlighting city-specific elements, such as the plum blossom element in the Nanjing NB GREY, closely integrating with Nanjing’s local cultural characteristics.

Regarding the meticulous investment in stores, Arthur Ang said: “To do well in branding, you must establish interaction with people. Brand stories and experiences need to be conveyed in stores and on-site.

The NB GREY store by New Balance in Nanjing

How Does New Balance Continuously Create Hit Products?

The shoe wall in the Nanjing NB GREY store displays highly praised WRPD Runner and the highly popular 1906R on social media.

From the 992 worn by Apple’s founder Steve Jobs, the 990v4 by music giant Ryuichi Sakamoto, to the 574 that once dominated Chinese streets and today are still hot 327 and 2002R, New Balance has created countless classics. It has also been dubbed the “presidential jogging shoe” for being favored by U.S. Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Creating a hit product is difficult, let alone continuously creating hits. How does New Balance do it?

– Creating Variations from a Strong Brand Archive

New Balance is one of the earliest brands to research running shoes. Since the brand’s first running shoe was born in 1938, New Balance has accumulated an impressive brand archive, from the 3 series, 5 series, to the 1000 series, with shoe enthusiasts familiar with New Balance’s model numbers.

This rich historical archive provides New Balance with a continuous source of inspiration. Although many of New Balance’s best-selling models today are inspired by styles from the 80s and 90s, it would be one-sided to say that New Balance’s “red popularity” is solely due to riding the wave of retro fashion.

Chris Davis, New Balance’s Chief Marketing Officer, once said he hopes New Balance can be “a brand with heritage, not a ‘traditional brand’.”

Supermodel You Tianyi is invited to showcase the latest color scheme of the WRPD Runner as the main visual for New Balance’s invitation

The recently introduced WRPD Runner at the end of 2023 is an example of “breaking tradition on top of tradition,” hailed by fashion media as “the brand’s boldest sneaker to date.” It uses lightweight FuelCell midsole technology with a wave-pattern outsole, showing the brand’s understanding of future aesthetic beauty and achieving a new integration and balance between sports functionality and fashion attributes.

The two new colorways launched in China recently use different shades of grey as the main color, with “Style Grey” showing rich layers under a cool tone and “Tranquil Grey” exuding a restrained and elegant temperament.

Charlotte Lee, the creator of WRPD Runner from New Balance’s UK office and a senior footwear designer, introduced that while other styles lean towards New Balance’s retro style, WRPD Runner is more futuristic.

This deliberate change, although Charlotte Lee draws inspiration from New Balance’s archive, she intentionally distinguishes WRPD Runner from classic models. “We want this shoe to feel like New Balance, but not so directly,” Charlotte Lee added, “Fast,” “organic,” “futuristic,” these abstract concepts shaped this shoe.

– Collaborating Across Boundaries, Making Products for Real Wearers

The central position of the Nanjing NB GREY store displays the newly launched NB Hyper Sports collection, co-created with Chinese designer Liang Dong. This collection incorporates the designer’s expertise in “deconstruction” and “splicing” into the functional design of runner apparel, striving to express New Balance’s unique running aesthetics. Arthur Ang expressed hope for future collaborations with more Chinese designers.

NB Hyper Sports Collection

NB GREY will be the launch platform for collaborations with many well-known brands and designers.

Since 2017, New Balance has frequently released new collaborations, causing significant attention in the trend circle. Collaborators include Miu Miu, Casablanca, functional apparel brand Stone Island under the Moncler Group, and New York trend brand Aimé Leon Dore.

Teddy Santis, the creative director of New Balance Made in USA and the leader of the New Balance MADE line, explained his thoughts on collaboration: “We don’t want to make very scarce products. We make products for those who really want to wear them… A brand with heritage like New Balance deserves to take risks with new products to win opportunities.”

Industry insiders comment that New Balance’s collaborations are less commercialized, not trying to hype the brand’s heat in the secondary market through the scarcity of collaborative products but focusing more on the design of the products themselves.

The New Balance X Miu Miu collaboration draws inspiration from the iconic New Balance 530 running shoe.

What Is the Key to Heritage and Innovation for a Century-Old Brand?

Founded in 1906 in Boston, the marathon city of the USA, New Balance’s founder William J.Riley was inspired by the structure of a chicken’s foot to develop arch supports, creating a new balance sensation, hence the name “New Balance.” In 1938, New Balance’s first pair of running shoes emerged, appearing in various professional marathon events.

New Balance’s focus on wearer needs has been a constant throughout its history, setting numerous “firsts” and “bests,” such as the Trackster in 1960, the world’s first running shoe to offer different widths, and the M320 in 1976, chosen as the best running shoe of the year by Runner’s World magazine…

A century of heritage has built New Balance’s rich brand assets. As Arthur Ang mentioned in the interview, “Since 1906, New Balance has created a profound and lasting impact in both sports and craftsmanship.”

In today’s fiercely competitive sports market, New Balance still adheres to its brand DNA, paying attention to current consumer needs, exploring opportunities from them, and continuously innovating, which is perhaps the key to maintaining its vitality.

As Arthur Ang said, “Consumers have changed, becoming more opinionated and well-informed, pursuing better things.” The change in consumers urges the brand to seek new changes constantly. Behind this, Arthur Ang is repeatedly pondering what kind of innovation is genuinely meaningful to consumers?

From the NB GREY store, we can directly feel New Balance’s innovation and changes. The store not only sells products from the MADE line and collaborations with many well-known brands and designers but also increasingly includes clothing collection designed by the New Balance Shanghai Design Studio, including the high-end Grey Jacket collection displayed in the Nanjing store. The Grey Jacket combines performance and fashion style, providing Chinese consumers with more exquisite and diverse choices.

It’s worth mentioning that New Balance established the Shanghai Design Studio in 2019, which develops clothing products for Chinese consumers.

The high-end jacket collection “Grey Jacket” displayed at the NB GREY store in Nanjing.

When asked about the key to resonating with consumers in China, Arthur Ang said, “We have real stories. In China, we can innovate the way we tell stories, understand and respect Chinese consumers.”

“Communicating with consumers ultimately requires ‘honesty,’ which means the message you convey cannot deviate from the brand’s DNA. Only by clearly stating the brand’s story can you qualify to cultivate and build a ‘relationship’ with consumers, making them understand and fall in love with you, and making the brand a part of their lives.”

Perhaps this attitude is also the foundation of New Balance’s current “high-end” strategy.

| Image Credit: New Balance, official Weibo accounts of New Balance and Miu Miu

丨Reporter:Jin Daixi

| Editor: Zhu Ruoyu