Under Armour Hits the Sweet Spot
Invention/Ideation Identifying a “Problem” and a “Solution” to that Problem
Kevin Plank was football player and captain of the special teams for the University of Maryland Terrapins, an NCAA’s Division I school.
The problem was at practice and during games his t-shirt under his equipment was soaked with sweat (“the problem”). Kevin’s “solution” to the “problem” was to utilize “self wicking high tech fabric” in a t-shirt to wick the sweat away so that he didn’t have to change out his t-shirts. Plank developed a t-shirt that could wick sweat to the surface of the fabric instead of absorbing it, keeping the athlete dry to help regulate temperature. In 1996 he started the company with his own money, credit and a Small Business Loan.
Controlling Cash Flow – Critical to Getting the Business Up and Running,
Don’t Spend Money Unless it is Absolutely Necessary
Plank had created a prototype and set up his business in his grandmother’s basement to keep his overhead cost low. Many successful businesses began with humble beginnings. His initial sales were to Universities and NFL teams. He marketed his t-shirts himself and felt that if he delivered a product that people wanted he would expand his customer base. He developed five product lines that targeted different audiences, from every day wear to clothing for extreme athletes. It is critical to understand that he did not actually move to a facility until sales and marketing efforts forced him to move to a larger facility. In other words, Plank kept his overhead low and therefore manageable until he could afford to expand. You will often see people that buy or lease a facility, expensive equipment and then have overhead that they can’t afford to maintain and when they hit a financial bump they go under. This type of spending is often ego driven and not a recipe for success. It would be interesting to know how many businesses start out with a great product that fails because the inventor spend unnecessary money in the initial startup phase. It is also critical that entrepreneurs develop a cash flow plan, tracking monies coming in and monies going out of the business and the timing of that cash flow. There are great articles on the net and posted by the Small Business Development Center of the US government. I recommend that you develop your own cash flow chart using Excel or some other software.
The Tipping Point – Very Few Companies are “An Overnight Success” Plank’s Ten Year Trek
There is often the misconception that companies become successful almost overnight. Plank has grown Under Armour at a steady pace into the company it is today. In the late 1990 Under Armour became the official supplier of performance apparel to the National Football League Europe, various NFL teams, Major league lacrosse, Major league Soccer, National Hockey League, USA Baseball and the US Ski Team.
Performance apparel is today a multi-billion dollar industry. The markets are ever expanding including everyday wear and even encompass business suits to make the everyday clothing more comfortable. Market Share Under Armour now has over 500 employees and owns approximately 75% of the market share. As a privately held company, Under Armour will most likely gross over $200 million this year, and many speculate that it will be acquired by one of their larger competitors, Nike or Adidas, for example.
Designing What the Customer Wants – Hitting the Sweet Spot
Under Armour apparel has been a company that has hit the “Sweet Spot” in their design efforts. Below is a chart that I think sums up a great product in a simplistic visual chart.
If a product falls into the lower right quadrant then the function/performance are poor as well as the aesthetics/brand. If a product is in the lower right quadrant then the aesthetics are high and the function/performance are low then the product will start to gain market share but will quickly drop off because it doesn’t meet the customer’s expectations. This is often seen with cars that are launched that look good but perform poorly. Products that function well but are not aesthetically pleasing don’t grab large market share. Under Armour has designed the products that the consumer wants, a product with superior performance and aesthetic appeal. Under Armour has made their mark on the Performance Apparel industry over the last ten years and they have not only increased the standards for their direct competitors but they are constantly raising the bar for its customers. Today Under Armour is testing the water to enter the athletic-footwear market. However, they are doing so in a focused and intelligent manner. As Plank states “What makes Under Armour special is the fact that we don’t make a bunch of crap for the mass market.”