Under Armour founder Kevin Plank is a person that you may not be familiar with unless you are tuned in to the highly competitive athletic apparel industry. The outgoing, proud Fork Union Military Academy Football player loves his home state and the product he began creating and investing in back in 1996. At just 24 years old Plank began a journey that not many could have envisioned leading to this moment. In less than twenty years of operation, Under Armour is now a global brand with deals in college, professional, and Olympic athletics that rival industry mainstays like Nike and Adidas.
An observation during a 1995 football practice at the University of Maryland became the spark that would light Under Armour. Plank’s observation that compression shorts remained dry during practice became the inspiration for the perspiration wicking apparel that would keep athletes dry, cool and comfortable during the most intense moments. After a scouring of Manhattan’s garment district, Under Armour’s first prototype was created.
The Early Stages Of Success And Struggle
In 1996, Plank launched Under Armour out of his grandmother’s basement in Maryland. Backed by Plank’s personal savings from a small clothing venture and $40,000 worth of credit card debt in Plank’s name, Under Armour was running. In the first year, Under Armour generated sales of $17,000 from its first big sale to Georgia Tech University.
Within a year, Plank would be broke and his company’s future uncertain. He had to act fast. With the prototypes in place he relied on his connections as the captain of the University of Maryland’s football team to get feedback from the demographic he ideally targeted: top flight athletes. As his friends were becoming NFL stars in their own careers, Plank had the ideal subjects to get feedback on what would become ground breaking apparel for the sporting world.
As the harsh reality of business stared down Under Armour, Plank needed to make a sale in a big way. With a reputable Division I university like Georgia Tech on board, the dominos just needed to fall. That key domino would come in the form of 12 NFL teams looking to get involved with the now thriving startup. The second year saw a $100,000 profit from these deals.
That is when the Under Armour train officially left its station. Soon after, more professional clubs were buying Under Armour. Then came the retail chains. Even the Oliver Stone directed Any Given Sunday was getting involved with Plank asking Under Armour to create uniforms for the film in 1998. By millennium’s end, Under Armour was rapidly securing its position as a factor in the athletic apparel industry.
The Future Looks Bright
With a new millennium ushered in, Under Armour continued in its goal of bringing in a new era in sporting. The early 2000s saw national ad campaigns and the brand being carried in over 2,500 retail stores. In six short years, the once basement venture had situated itself as a go to source for top quality apparel. The company has continued to expand where it once seemed never able to go, showing Plank and his team’s ability to adapt to their buyers’ demands.
In 2005, Plank publicly deemed cotton to be the enemy. What was once the enemy of sweat wicking became the catalyst for the about face Plank described Under Armour underwent in 2011. Targeted research revealed that cotton was still the dominate choice for many buyers, including Under Armour’s loyal fan base. Instead of further targeting the “enemy” fiber, Under Armour created its own cotton brand that would wick sweat just like the original shirts the brand created, except in cotton. That ability to adapt then became Under Armour’s successful “Charged Cotton” line.
2013 saw true growth for the brand as they acquired Map My Fitness for $150 million. Furthering the success story is Under Armour’s 35% stock increase in 2013, with an expected revenue of $2.25 billion for the year. Under Armour now employs nearly 6,000 employees, while Plank donates 10% of his own stock profits to his Cupid Foundation. Plank also recently purchased the farm that hosts the famed Preakness horse race in Maryland so that fears of the famed race moving would finally be silenced.
Under Armour also recently began working with the NFL on its Head Health Initiative. As 2013 closed, the days of Under Armour’s doom in that Maryland basement seem light years away. Plank appears to be forming a genuine image as a people’s billionaire while his brand continues to climb to the top of its industry. A quote from Plank perfectly encapsulates how Under Armour did it:
“You need to put your hands around the throat of your business, and you need to run it. There’s no other way.”
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