Global sports brand New Balance has recently inaugurated its first Milan flagship store as part of the brand’s expansion in Europe and Italy, as exclusively explained by Fran Allen, vice president New Balance EMEA. He also underlined the importance to grow the “style seeker” consumer segment, a key aspect for the Italian market, and to increase their offer of new technologies applied to footwear.
The new 700-sq.m. Milan store that opened in the trendy shopping area near the Unicredit skyscraper, in the Gae Aulenti square, is versatile and roomy and occupies two floors connected by a self-imposing central staircase. It hosts New Balance men’s lines for running, training, football and lifestyle and an area presenting exclusive Made in the US and Made in the UK limited edition models on its street-level floor, and models for women and kids on the first floor.
Technology plays an important part of the store’s image and services available as its walls are covered with huge digital screens, and 3D feet scanners that when matched with the New Balance Stride ID app, can help customers find out which models better fit and support their needs, body type and gait.
New Balance opened its first Italian monobrand store in 2011 in Bolzen and now counts a total of 10 throughout the country. In 2016, they also opened other global flagship stores in Gangnam (South Korea), London and Tokyo, soon to be followed by San Francisco.
Here, Fran Allen answered some questions about the recent Milan flagship opening and other plans for the brand’s worldwide expansion.
You have just opened your first flagship store in Milan. What are your future plans for this market?
Italy is a key market for us in Europe. We already have a significant monobrand retail presence in this country, both with our own stores and some that are operated with partners. We are currently expanding the portfolio of stores that will include both full price retail and outlet locations in the best outlet centers. We currently have ten New Balance stores across Italy.
We have a multichannel approach in Italy underpinned by strong wholesale partnerships with both performance and lifestyle retailers. Running stands at the core of our brand and we invest heavily into driving our running business with the Roma Marathon being our marquee event.
Are you targeting any specific or different consumer segment in Italy or are you aiming at similar customers as in the rest of Europe?
We focus on three consumer groups, the metropolitan athlete where running in a big part of their fitness activities, the game changer athlete who in Europe lives and breathes football and mostly plays team sports and of course the style seeker where in Italy we hold a premium position.
What are the main markets for NB in Europe right now and which ones are showing the greatest growth potential?
All markets across Europe have momentum and as a region we have had six consecutive years of growth. UK, Italy, Spain, Germany and France lead the way for growth.
Will you continue offering special limited edition sneaker collections in the future as you are doing now?
Limited edition sneakers collection remain an essential ingredient in creating energy, newness and interest in our handcrafted Made in the UK and Made in the USA product which continues to have huge appeal across our region.
Almost about a year ago New Balance stated they wanted to become the n.3 main brand in the sports market -after Nike and Adidas– and wanted to open at least 50 stores in Europe. Did NB reach its goals?
Our ambition is to be a top three athletic brand and as key part of our brand growth we want to expand our retail network. Over the past twelve months we have directly opened Berlin, Paris, London, Milan and Amsterdam in our region. At the end of 2020 we will have 100 owned and operated stores and another 150 partner stores across Europe which we will continue to strengthen.
How important is Europe as part of the brand's worldwide expansion?
Europe remains a key region driving our brand positioning and brand health, because of its importance in sport and sport-inspired fashion. As a privately held business we do not reveal Europe specific figures. Globally, New Balance confirmed 2015 sales at USD3.72 billion.
Are you planning collaborations or capsule collections with athletes, designers or personalities?
We continue to work with athletes in developing our running product and we continue to have collaborations with brands and key influential retailers with our handcrafted lifestyle product that is made in England or the USA. A good example of this is Grenson where we produced the New Balance 576 Grenson shoe in our UK factory.
Are there any new technologies applied to shoes NB is betting on?
This year we were the first brand to launch a commercial 3D printed outsole running sole, the Vazee Generate. This was launched on Boston Marathon day. There are also many more technological innovations that New Balance is developing for both performance footwear and apparel including the integration of digital wearable technology.
Piazza Gae Aulenti, 1