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Small Brands Can Capitalize With a DTC Strategy | Ewing Athletics

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Ewing Athletics originated in the 90s after Patrick Ewing left adidas and established his own company. The big man had one of the dopest basketball releases from the three stripes at a time when adidas was Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop was adidas. Leaving the three stripes was not a risk like it would be considered today. The money was not the same as it was with athletes becoming multimillionaires from sneaker contracts. Ewing launching his own footwear brand was revolutionary however. While Jordan had a shoe with Nike, it wasn’t until the late 90’s that Jordan Brand was actually created as an individual property under Nike. Ewing was a trendsetter and in a world where sneakers are now a culture that exists outside of athletics a person would think that a revival of Patrick Ewing’s line would inspire nostalgia and support.

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How Has Ewing Athletics Revival Worked?

The revival of the brand came from a group named GPF Footwear as a license. The company launched in 2012 and slowly gained momentum. The relaunch reached a peak of 200,000 pair sold in 2015. With growth at a high the brand produced more shoes and shifted into wholesale relationships with footwear stores from Citi Trends to City Gear and DTLR. These relationships arrived at an interesting time as 2015 was when it became evident that Nike was shifting gears and diving into DTC. The strategy by Nike came with an increase in production to get shoes to wholesale accounts as well as to stock Nike stores. The abundance of shoes available from the monster brand affected the entire footwear market. Nike’s overproduction is the primary factor involved in how performance footwear has really taken a backseat… in particular basketball.

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Basketball’s Bubble Was Already Popping

As more shoes became available from Nike (shoes that ended up filling their own 900+ stores) and Ewing Athletics began making more shoes, the trend shifted to lightweight trainers. Nostalgia for retros increased, but not for basketball shoes. The store accounts aligned with Ewing in 2016 began to discount the product. Ewing was one of the few sneaker companies using premium leather and the classic design elements that created the sneaker culture. The shoes were incredible and the price was right, but with the store accounts shifting to catch up with the rise of adidas and classic shoes, Ewing Athletics found itself looking like a brand that was not as important and vital. When stores begin to discount and attempt to RTV (return to vendor) orders, Ewing a smaller brand without retail outlets, had a difficult time controlling inventory.

How Can Nike’s Strategy Be Incorporated Into Ewing

There is a giant misconception about the current market that adidas appears to be dominating. All of the research states that Nike isn’t selling shoes. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Stock Market analysts are downgrading Nike because of “inventory”. What they are failing to realize is that Nike’s inventory is Nike’s inventory… get it? Nike has almost 1000 stores to fill with product. When Nike releases products via their NDC, SNKRS platforms very often those items sell out. You know where the shoes don’t sell out? At retail locations… FootLocker, Finish Line and Dicks’ Sporting Goods are not only in competition with each other, but they are competing with Nike who is reaching their customers at a higher rate than any other online platform outside of Amazon.

Two Problems In the Sneaker Market Being Overlooked 

In the above article I researched online traffic for Nike vs its wholesale accounts and Nike.com is visited 77 Million times in 6 months. The closest retail outlet is Foot Locker at 29.86 Million, but that is a combination of all of Foot Locker’s brands (Champs, Kids, Footaction). Nike overproduced footwear for two reasons: to wipe out the resell market and to stock their own outlets while diminishing their reliance on Futures (wholesale). It’s a strategy that a brand like Ewing has to consider.

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What Has to Be Done by Ewing?

Ewing Athletics has to regain control of its destiny. While growing and reaching more people via retail outlets seems to be the classic approach that was once the road to success. The market no longer works that way. Companies have the ability to reach their customer by using a unique approach to customer service.

  • Engagement via Social Media – Dropping an ad or leaving a picture works temporarily. Responding to as many questions as possible with a calm, witty approach makes a brand more relatable. There is one thing a brand like Nike can’t do. They can’t answer people. They are too big. Ewing is small enough that the brand can respond to as many people as possible. Even if it’s one hour out of the day.
  • Unique and Well Crafted Collabs – Every brand is dropping a collab. Collabs get the ear of sneaker blogs and a variety of outlets will feature information on a unique collab. The brands recent Mikey Likes collab is a perfect example of a collab that worked and will win over potential buyers. For Jordan Brand or adidas a collab doesn’t mean a lot, but for brand like Ewing a 500 pair run on a dope ass sneaker is gold. Shifting to DTC would allow for the brand to push 500 pair each month potentially.
  • Aligning with small websites with decent traffic – As I create these analysis on the site, I’m tracking and keeping data on the amount of exit links going to Ewing. When I’m done with this case study, I can check to see if the brand had a bump in sales. A small website network like AHN is willing to advertise at a fraction of the cost of large platforms. What’s better? Paying a big site 10,000 for 1 week where that site will primarily focus on the hottest shoes dropping generating click-throughs on everything except the ad? or Paying a small section of websites a total of 2000 and being featured across several platforms with complimentary articles and information? Aligning with accounts that can provide the heavy lifting is golden.
  • Redevelop the website and continue creating content – A website that does a full breakdown with video and unboxing on every sneaker could really generate interest. This should be done via the brands own YouTube. YT search is now just as important as any search engine. Video drives engagement and is slowly becoming the best medium for marketing. Here is a breakdown of content for every release: blog post on the upcoming release, Sneak peak pictures of the release, Actual pictures of the release featuring a detailed description of the construction of the shoe, video of the unboxing and on foot with a variety of looks featuring other brands who will then share the video. When you’re small cross collaboration is a positive not a negative. That’s 4 items of content for every release. The YouTube content creates a chance for monetization via Google Adsense.
  • Commit to DTC via the website and third party (Amazon/eBay) – A few years ago New Balance, ASICS, Coach and a host of brands removed the ability for people without accounts to sell their footwear. The process is called brand gating. This is important because it allowed the brand to control their image on Amazon where the site is notorious for diminishing the value of a brand with low pricing. Opening an account allows the brand to “Gate” their products. This means no one else can sell that product without the brands permission. With a redeveloped website, collabs and gated products the brand begins to generate more momentum.

Nike has given the blueprint. All brands need to follow it.