It’s no secret that Nike SB has suffered one of sneakerheads most tragic falls from grace. Once considered the cream of the crop, Nike SB’s eventual subjugation by corporate pressure and subsequent product release pretty much killed the brand in the eyes of fans. Consequently, many of the local shops that carried SB product have been burden by Nikes financial demands leaving them only the option to close their doors, creating a new void in another local skate community, forever.
The initial backlash began when plans to widen distribution first emerged online, rather than coming from the brand itself. The retailers that had been told, the strategy sounded all too familiar. The following has been taken from The Tipping Point (pp. 213 215).
It can hardly be a surprise that the Airwalk rumor spread so quickly in 1995 and 1996. The Airwalk epidemic did not last. At the same time, the company began to lose that cutting-edge sensibility that it had traded on for so long. When Airwalk started, the product was directional and inventive. The shoes were very forward, said Chad Farmer . We maintained the trendsetter focus on the market. But the product began to slip. The company began to listen more and more to the sales staff and the product started to get that homogenized, mainstream look. But the number one complaint is, what happened to the cool product? Lambesiss strategy was based on translating Innovator shoes for the Majority. But suddenly Airwalk wasnt an Innovator shoe anymore. We made another, critical mistake, Lee Smith, the former preside of Airwalk says. We had a segmentation strategy, where the small independent core skate shops the three hundred boutiques around the country who really created us had a certain product line that was exclusive to them. They didnt want us to be in the mall. So what we did was, we segmented our product. We said to core shops, you dont have to compete with the malls. It worked out very well. The boutiques were given the technical shoes: different designs, better materials, more padding, different cushioning systems, different rubber compounds, more expensive uppers. We had a special signature model the Tony Hawk for skateboarding, which was a lot beefier and more durable. It would retail for about eighty dollars. The shoes Airwalk distributed to Kinneys or Champs or Foot Locker, meanwhile, were less elaborate and would retail for about $60. The Innovators always got to wear a different, more exclusive shoe than everyone else. The mainstream customer had the satisfaction of wearing the same brand as the cool kids.
“But then, at the height of its success, Airwalk switched strategies. The company stopped giving the specialty shops their own shoes. Thats when the trendsetters started to get a disregard for the brand, says Farmer. They started to go to their boutiques where they got their cool stuff, and they realized that everyone else could get the very same shoes at JC Penny.
My category manager once asked me what happened, Smith says, Cool brands treat people well, and we didnt. I had personally promised some of those little shops that we would give them special product, then we changed our minds. That was the beginning. In that world, it all works on word of mouth. When we became bigger, thats when we should have paid more attention to the details and kept a good buzz going, so when people said you guys are sell-outs, you guys went mainstream, you suck, we could have said, you know what, we dont. We had this little jewel of a brand, and little by little we sold that off into the mainstream, and once we had sold it all he paused so what? You buy a pair of our shoes. Why would you ever buy another?
In the end, birdo was right.