Image source: @VisualChina
Text | New Eyes, Author|Tao Xinyi, Editor|Sang Mingqiang
Lift the board shoes, and you can’t get around Vans and Converse.
According to the latest financial report, Nike’s footwear and Converse revenue growth rate has reached a new high in recent years. Among them, Vans’ global sales increased by 110% year-on-year, and the Americas increased by 146% year-on-year; Europe, the Middle East and Africa grew 148% year-on-year and Asia-Pacific grew 392% year-on-year.
Chart: Converse revenue (Source: Company announcement, CSC Securities)
In a sense, behind the rapid growth of Vans and Converse is the rise of trendy shoe niche culture: street teenagers who catch up with fashion will choose Converse; Skateboarders who are obsessed with extreme sports will pay for Vans. Interestingly, Converse and Vans, who were also labeled as “tide cards”, also faced bankruptcy. Based on this, this article will focus on these two brands and explore how board shoe manufacturers find the secret of secondary growth.
How did Converse fall?
Let’s start with an unpopular knowledge, the footwear brand that first conquered the NBA is not Nike, but Converse.
Founded in 1908, Converse was not a sports brand at first, and the Converse factory produced a variety of shoe styles, including work shoes, water shoes, sneakers, and even car tires. The reason why Converse cut into professional sneakers was the first Converse ALL STAR canvas sneakers to become popular, and this shoe is still Converse’s main product today.
As for the popularity of Converse ALL STAR, it was mainly due to the love of American professional basketball superstar Chuck Taylor, who was hired as a salesman of ALL STAR in 1921, and according to the requirements and experience of basketball for sports shoes, he personally improved the original design of ALL STAR, using a lighter rubber sole, making it more suitable for basketball competition.
Those who pay attention will find that the ALL STAR logo still retains Chuck Taylor’s signature today.
In the pre-developed era of the Internet, the strategy of superstar endorsement has been extremely effective. In 1936, the Converse ALL STAR canvas shoes officially became the designated shoes for the U.S. Olympic basketball team; In 1948, Converse was selected as the sneaker of the Los Angeles Olympics. After tasting the sweetness, Converse has maintained the commercial action of signing star endorsements, which has made it almost monopolize NBA court shoes.
For decades afterward, Converse firmly dominated the basketball shoe market until 1982, when the Air Force 1 basketball shoe appeared.
Chuck Taylor’s business magic makes Converse overbelieve in the power of celebrity endorsements and ignore the change of product power. When cutting-edge brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Reebok developed cushioning technology and new advertising methods, Converse still used the simple thickened insole and traditional marketing model of 50 years ago, which made Converse products at that time almost no technology compared with the Air Force 1 equipped with air cushion technology.
Converse’s blind confidence is also understandable. In the 80s of the 20th century, Converse successively signed the league’s most popular stars “Magic” Johnson, “Dr. J” Irving and “Big Bird” Bird, so even if Nike launched epoch-making products, Converse’s canvas shoes were still in demand, and were listed on NASDAQ in 1982 (in the second year of listing, Converse’s sales rose 21% year-on-year to $209 million).
The myth created by Converse was finally shattered the moment Nike signed Jordan.
According to media reports, when Nike signed NBA stars with Reebok at a high price and took the opportunity to launch personal signature sneakers, the three spokespersons of Converse at that time also approached Converse executives and asked to design their own exclusive sneakers, but Converse refused one by one. And, before officially signing Nike, the fledgling Jordan also approached Converse, but was also rejected.
Later, Jordan won his first trifecta and stepped onto the altar, Nike also occupied the sports market with the Air Force and Air Jordan series, and the rise of Nike amplified the defects of Converse’s product power.
Unfortunately, during the critical period of decision-making, Converse made another fatal mistake and adopted a follow-up strategy. Specifically, in the early 90s, Converse launched the React oil pad that benchmarked Nike air cushion technology, but unfortunately the technology was not perfect, and the oil pad was easy to break, which became a dead end for the product. In the late 90s, Converse once again introduced helium cushion technology, continuing Nike’s design ideas, and the results were equally unsatisfactory.
Missing Jordan made the endorsement strategy that Converse believed in no longer work.
Johnson, once a pillar, announced his retirement due to AIDS, Bird also entered the late stage of his career, most of the new endorsers were problem figures, and Converse’s new sneakers in 1990 became extremely unsellable. In order to save the situation, Converse chose to sign Bulls star Rodman, but unfortunately its negative press continued, the sales of exclusive design concept shoes were also dismal, and the brand value became thinner and thinner.
In the years that followed, Converse tried to close the production line and change its positioning, but the results were still difficult to reverse.
In 2000, Converse declared bankruptcy, production and sales were completely withdrawn, and its production base was transferred from Lamberton, North Carolina, to Asia. In 2003, Nike, which has become the world’s largest sports product production giant, announced the acquisition of Converse for a high price of $305 million and will pay off part of its debts, and since then, Converse has become a sub-brand of Nike.
Why did Vans fall too?
Even though the history is not as old as Converse, Vans’ path is very similar to Converse’s.
Vans, which started with non-professional casual shoes, designed the first professional skateboard shoes in 1966, which became popular in Southern California through word of mouth. In 1976, Vans cooperated with the famous American skateboarder Tony Trujillo and designed and developed more professional skateboard sneakers, based on the same spokesperson effect, many skateboarders became Vans’ loyal customers.
Compared with Vans, Converse began to expand from the segment of professional basketball shoes. In the early 80s, when the basketball sneaker market fell into the red sea competition, Converse began to get involved in other sports shoes, successively launched tennis shoes and running shoes, but unfortunately, under the squeeze of Nike and other basketball upstarts, Converse had to avoid its edge and bypass the competition.
In fact, there is no shortage of players like Vans in the US market, from casual shoes to professional skateboard shoes, and gradually expanding to pan-professional sports categories through the brand appeal of the skateboard field. As a result, Vans turned his attention to ball sports products with a larger market range, and even proposed to be a “second Nike” slogan. But that was disappointed, and in 1984, Vans declared bankruptcy, and in 1988, Vans was acquired by a San Francisco bank.
This change almost made Vans disappear from the market.
According to Stephen Mills, vice president of Vans’ global design department, “Vans’ bankruptcy was partly due to the mispositioning of the transformation sports goods market, Vans’ founders Van Doren brothers tried to break through the low-end image of the then niche and rebellious “skateboard shoes” and imitate the hottest sports brands such as Converse and Nike at that time, but Vans had no advantages and professionalism in the field of sports goods, resulting in the failure of transformation.” ”
On the other hand, on the verge of bankruptcy, founder Paul Van Doren still believes that continuous store opening can drive sales growth, resulting in consecutive losses under aggressive expansion. The fact is that skateboarding between 1988 and 1995 has reached a low point, and it is not surprising that Vans and Converse ended up the same under the general trend.
New Year for board shoe dealers
Surprisingly, both Vans and Converse were reborn after bankruptcy.
First of all, Vans, its market strategy can be glimpsed from the Chinese market, that is, starting from extreme sports shoes such as skateboards and gradually spreading to lifestyle categories. In the two categories of skateboarding and lifestyle, Vans mainly takes the skateboard shoe field as the core of the brand, and its consumer group also plays the role of “key contact” in the explosion of the trend, and the lifestyle category is the core of sales data and profit contribution.
Since skateboarding is the value basis of the Vans brand, it is new and unfamiliar in the Chinese consumer market, and the popularity rate of skateboarding as an extreme sport is not high, so Vans also takes the skateboard category as the core for brand establishment and even channel construction, starting from the construction of skateboarding professional channels.
As the “key contact” of lifestyle categories, skateboarders attract more consumers who try to lead the trend by describing the qualities of this special consumer group, such as independence, self, and difference. After consolidating the professional skateboard channel, it will further tilt towards the retail channels of fashion stores, large shopping malls, and supermarket stores.
This also explains why the key point of retail is to constantly cut and segment the market.
The popularity of Converse shoes has set off imitation of domestic brands such as Vancl and Double Star. Even at some point, the Converse canvas shoe became a symbol of the fashion lifestyle. Interestingly, among the competitors competing with Converse, Vancl at the bottom adopts a low-price strategy to penetrate the third- and fourth-tier sinking markets that are difficult for Converse to reach through the e-commerce model, while Vans occupies the first-line high-end users by increasing product pricing.
For market latecomers such as Vancl, they lack the advantages of market first-mover in brand and channel penetration, in contrast, latecomers have room to cut in terms of brand, which is both an opportunity and a challenge for Vans.
You know, what really sets Vans apart from other brands is mainly the professionalism it has always insisted on. When a certain product and a brand have been seen everywhere, it means that the fashion and trend it dominates has been recognized by the consumer market, and it also means that the death of the fashion and trend it represents, Vans can seize this part of the group.
Whether it is Vans or Converse, many fans loyal to them mostly have a vague “anti-commercial brand” psychological tendency, for many consumers who pursue “different”, they are full of rebellion, although they claim to have natural immunity to “brands”, but behavior is a paradox, and will also become fans of certain “brands” in actual purchases.
The spiritual core of this group of people allows Vans and Converse to face the popular proposition no longer simply to create fashion, but to continue to redefine individuality: in other words, how to balance the Vans brand in the niche market and the mass market. （
This article was first published in the titanium media APP