Sports apparel maker to redefine 'athlete'

Updated: 2011-06-30 11:14

By Tang Zhihao (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - Under Armour Inc, a US maker of sports clothes and accessories, is beginning to test the waters in the Chinese market while planning to give Chinese consumers a broader definition of what constitutes an athlete.

In April, Under Armour opened a store bearing its brand name in the Xuhui district of Shanghai.

"The store will help us begin the conversation with China," said Kevin Plank, Under Armour chief executive officer. "With the success in the US, we believe our opportunity is global. We believe there will be more business opportunities here."

Plank said Under Armour will have a different definition of athletes than other sportswear brands in China. He said athletes aren't people who simply show up to play. They instead embody an attitude, that of people who want to stay fit.

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Sportswear companies go head to head

Under Armour is fairly new to the Chinese market, a fact that has prompted industry observers to wonder whether it is coming too late. Others worry the company will be too small to compete against the sporting-goods giants Nike Inc and Adidas AG, which have been in the Chinese market for more than 10 years.

Local brands such as Li Ning Co Ltd and Peak Sport Products Co Ltd have meanwhile gained a strong presence in the market for sportswear.

According to figures from Euromonitor, Nike enjoyed the largest share of the market for apparel in China in 2010, followed by Belle International and Li Ning in apparel sector.

To take advantage of more opportunities in China, international companies have been moving fast to expand in the country.

China Business News has reported that Nike and Adidas had opened 89 stores in China by the end of 2010.

Plank, for his part, denied that Under Armour has lost its chance to compete in Chinese market. He said the brand always helps customers perform better, which is an important advantage.

Plank said authenticity is the chief reason for Under Armour's success in the world.

He said the company will need time to understand the Chinese market. He said he wants to form partnerships with other businesses in China but only after the company proves it can do well on its own.

Plank said not being in partnerships lets Under Armour exercise complete control over its operation in China.

He declined to release a plan showing how many stores Under Armour will have in China in the future.

"We must ensure we can create profitability before we open other stores," he said.

Under Armour will place a priority on expanding into large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.

Even so, it will not cease seeking opportunities in slightly smaller cities, where the competition is not so strong.


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