The American (Retail) Dream

This is the story of Kevin Plank: who went from a dusty basement in Washington D.C. to Broadway in 18 years. It’s the tale of the then 23-year-old who started a business in his grandmother’s row house and finished up with a “Brand House” in New York City. It’s the fable of Under Armour, the sports and lifestyle brand that set out to rid the world of sweat-soaked t-shirts and replace them with moisture-wicking microfiber.

Last week I visited the brand new Under Armour Brand House (the fifth in the U.S.), smack bang in prime position on Broadway, and in many ways it is the American Dream brought to life in bricks, mortar, pixels, and plants.

Pixels and plants? Well, the first thing to hit you as you walk in the door is a massive, high-definition Jumbotron screen serving up large, luscious images of Under Armour products and athletes. It’s Under Armour in XXXXXXXXXXXL and it’s visually stunning. Then the second impact point is a living wall with 2,500 plants symbolizing a living, changing, growing brand.

1 Outside Store
2 Entrance
3 Jumbotron at Entry 1
3 Jumbotron at Entry 2
9 Lower level under stairs
10 lower level under stairs different view
11 kids area lower level
12 Row house lounge area lower level

Beyond the impressive entry, Under Armour gets down to the serious business of selling product (as equally American as the rags to riches creation-myth itself). If the old adage of “stock sells stock” is true, the store has a ton of it. (And a capacious back-of-house too: the Brand House also services on-line sales.) The sales goal is four items per customer; in other words a complete outfit – top, bottom, accessory and footwear.

There’s some slightly less expected product as well, such as TRX fitness systems and downloadable apps.

Besides the product, there is plenty to reinforce brand values and retain shopper interest. Each of the change-rooms is themed as a different Under Armour Brand House location (New York, Baltimore, London and so on), cleverly lined with mirrors to reflect each cityscape and make the rooms feel huge. Under Armour water is complimentary, because they like to provide “amenities for athletes.”

Outside of the change-rooms is a chalkboard hero wall, designed to be filled over time with signatures and quotes from visiting Under Armour athletes.

And then, on the lower level, tucked away under the stairs is the “re-creation” of the row house basement where the Under Armour story began. Except it’s been cleaned up and Disney-fied. It’s now a nice little nook for VIP’s and heavy-spenders to indulge in personal shopping, while they sit back, enjoy a drink and the TV, and wait for apparel and shoes to be brought to them.

This store is not necessarily going to change the course of retail. Nike has been executing flagship stores and storytelling brilliantly for a very long time. I’ve seen massive screens at Burberry in Regent Street London, and green living walls at Anthropologie on the same strip. But I did like the way that the Under Armour Brand House aimed to methodically tell its story and develop its own language – the store associates are called “team-mates” and customers “athletes,” for example. I was also charmed by the row house under the stairs that is there for shoppers to discover. And the store must have done its job…because I wanted to buy the product.

P.S. The “American Dream,” including Under Armour, is told in a memorable Y&R ad for Dell.