Like most retail companies, Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour frequently trumpet their latest and greatest models.
But don’t confuse a sneaker’s ability to attract attention with its ability to rake in money. In many cases the shoes that are padding these company’s bottom lines are much more humble.
Sneaker sales in the US hit $17.2 billion in 2015, according to industry analyst NPD Group. Part of the secret to that success may be shoes you would never expect to be so popular.
Take, for example, the Nike Air Monarch IV. The $65 sneaker is one of the brand’s best-selling shoe by pairs sold, but you won’t find the shoe at Nike’s trendy 5th Avenue boutique store. It’s more likely you’ll find the cross-trainer on the more humble shelves of Kohl’s, DSW, and JCPenney. It’s a favourite of notables like Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll because of its comfort.
The Air Monarch is frequently referred to as one of the most popular in Nike’s portfolio, and was even the top seller of 2013, according to Complex.
“Nike sells millions of pairs [of the Nike Air Monarch],” Matt Powell of NPD Group recently told the Baltimore Sun.
The Air Monarch is by all accounts a boring shoe, meant neither to inspire nor offend. This makes it stand out in terms of the other shoes on the usual lists of bestsellers, including this ranking of the best-selling sneakers of August 2014, where it appears at number seven. But the shoe’s mundane design could be precisely what attracts both older customers seeking something comfortable and acceptable, as well as some younger consumers looking to subvert trend-obsessed fashion attitudes. It’s a crossover hit, which Racked called “the holy grail.”
Adidas’ Stan Smiths, similarly, have been flying off the shelves for years now. The shoe is distinctive enough that designers, models, and moguls want to be seen with them on their feet, but they’re not so outlandish and colourful that the average person would be wary of buying and wearing them.
And indeed they do buy them, as the shoe has sold an estimated 40 million pairs since 1973.
Then take NBA MVP Steph Curry’s partnership with Under Armour. The “Chef” Curry Two Low was torn apart on Twitter after its debut because of its “boring” appearance.
But the shoes ended up performing very well, selling out in two days even though the shoes are not on limited offer like many of the collaborations that have star power behind them.
Yes, it’s true that more athletic and fashion-oriented sneakers still sell extremely well. Jordan and Nike dominated the best-selling shoes in 2014, and at least seven of the top 10 could be considered to fall in the more fashion-forward bucket. But it’s important to remember the unsung sales heroes that often go neglected — these companies could not reach the sales numbers they tout without them.
After all, “boring” is what many shoppers actually want.
“Quite frankly, we want to make stuff people will wear,” Ryan Kuehl, Under Armour’s vice president for sports marketing and sponsorships, told Business Insider earlier this year. He explained that Under Armour has found that consumers will generally choose blue, black, grey, or white clothing over another colour like green or purple if they have a choice.
The flashier shoes are designed to create a halo effect, enshrining the brands in a holy glow that makes it feel trendy and cool, even if you are buying a sneaker from the discount section of Sears. The halo shoes are the ones that make the headlines and sell out in an hour, but it’s the consistent and reliable success of dad-approved shoes like the Air Monarch, Stan Smith, and Chef Curry Two Low that are helping to make these brands real money.
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