In the hyper-competitive world of athletic footwear and apparel, New Balance feels it has a unique story to tell.
For one thing, the Boston-based brand has been around for 105 years, much longer than relative newcomers like Nike and Adidas. For another, New Balance wants to emphasize that it still makes about 25 percent of its products in the U.S., unlike some of its competitors.
But history and culture take you only so far when you’re selling running and training shoes and performance wear for an active, outdoors market. In a sector that measures performance by constantly advanced changes in design, materials and technology, New Balance needs to be seen as forward-thinking
and on top of its game.
So the New Balance Experience prototype store that opened this summer in New York’s Flatiron District tries to look both backward and forward, telling both stories in ways that honor its heritage yet feel modern and high-tech.
The company’s history is interesting, going back to Boston in 1906 when William Riley started the New Balance Arch Support Co., based on the principle that chickens have perfect balance because of the grip of their claws. In fact, the New Balance logo is inspired by the chicken claw.
So a highlight of the store is a ceiling mural the company calls its “brand DNA ribbon” that extends 60 feet from front to back, taking the consumer through a chronological journey using vintage and modern images. Even the 100-year-old building itself, on Fifth Avenue and 20th Street, contributes to the historic feel of the presentation with its exposed brick and repurposed wood.
To convey the idea of a genuine American company using old-fashioned, domestic manufacturing processes, there’s a live video feed to the New Balance factory in Lawrence, Mass., where shoppers can actually watch shoes being made and ask the workers questions.
The live feed is part of a dynamic video system that takes the New Balance story from the heritage of a century ago to the high-tech world of today. Four different rear-projection video systems in the store display promotional images about New Balance products onto various surfaces through a video mapping process developed by Klip Collective (Philadelphia). One of those projections is through the store’s 20th Street window onto the sidewalk and street outside.
“The projection out onto 20th Street is a showstopper,” says Kirsten Marchand, senior store planning manager. “We’ve had some traffic issues, cars pausing a little too long at the green light to watch the show. But it certainly makes people want to come in and see what’s going on.”
The store also has a 50-foot running track with the same Mondo surface material used for Olympics-level tracks, “for shoppers to have a genuine experience as they try the product,” says Stephanie Smith, vp, retail. An iPad takes a picture of the customer crossing the finish line, which is then sent to his Facebook page.
Smith says the store is a way to go beyond selling shoes and apparel, “to shout out the authentic New Balance story at the top of our lungs.”
The performance shoe market is a demanding one, made up of consumers who know what they want and are loyal to their brands. It’s also a young market, which is why New Balance feels the Flatiron location works well. “It’s a young, fresh, upbeat and, most of all, active community looking for the next best thing,” Marchand says. “We think they appreciate that this is a branded environment from a company that has developed a new way of building and designing performance, not just simply another cool shoe store.”
To view the store's dynamic video system, click here.
Retailer: New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., Boston -- Bob Neville, creative services director; Mark Keegan, creative marketing manager; Kirsten Marchand, senior store planning manager
Architect: Perkins + Will, Charlotte, N.C.
Outside Design Consultant: HLB Lighting, New York (lighting design)
Audio/Visual: Klip Collective, Philadelphia; Muzak/touch LLC, Fort Mill, S.C.; EarthCam, Hackensack, N.J.
Fixtures: Cormark Inc., Des Plaines, Ill.; Alu, New York
Mannequins/Forms: Lifestyle & Trimco, New York: Ronis Bros., Lynbrook, N.Y.
Signage/Graphics: ICL Imaging, Framingham, Mass.; Knock Inc., Minneapolis
Preservation Consultant: Mary Kay Judy, New York
Exterior Sign & Awning: North American Signs, South Bend, Ind.
Furniture: Cormark, Des Plaines, Ill.; IDL Worldwide, East Butler, Pa.
Lighting: Baynes Electric, Brockton, Mass.
Art: Nikole Nelson, New York
Wallcoverings and Materials: Benjamin Moore Paint, Montvale, N.J.
Construction Management: Core Resources Inc., Cincinnati
General Contractor: Metropolitan Building Services, New York