Life in a Thousand

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2003-11-01 Print this article Print

New Balance had nearly faded into irrelevance six years ago. Then, accurately forecasting demand for its shoes became a sport for the entire company and its retailing partners. Now it's making up ground quickly, in its footrace with Nike.

Styles"> Life in a Thousand Styles

Today, every one of New Balance's 160 sales reps in North America uses the system Holland willed into existence to forecast the business for all their accounts a full 18 months into the future. The forecasts cover nearly 1,000 styles of shoes and, in some cases, colors within a style. They estimate apparel sales as well. In all, they're predicting the performance of more than 100,000 different pieces of merchandise, with monthly updates.

New Balance has concentrated on improving its planning. But that doesn't mean that demand for its shoes automatically increases. First, New Balance establishes how its shoes will distinguish themselves from rivals—and then it must figure out how many of those shoes its retailers want.

New Balance shoes, for instance, are not about style. "You have to understand that there are two distinct camps when it comes to selling athletic shoes," says Wells Fargo Securities analyst John Shanley. "Nike and Reebok are fascinated with capturing [the] fashion-oriented market. New Balance sticks to reliability and performance in their running shoes. It's that simple."

The company's strategy means it puts more shoes in its product lineup that serve the average, aging athlete. In technical terms: it supplies shoes in many more widths, so that Baby Boomers with flattening feet are more comfortable as they jog or drive to the hoop.

The result is a loyal following among runners. At the Chicago Marathon last month, about 500 runners lined up at New Balance's mobile marketing van to try on the company's 991 running shoe. The van carried every available size and width of the men's and women's 991; all told, 140 pairs of shoes.

Greg Thompson, a 43-year-old from South Bend, Ind., has run in 14 marathons. "New Balance is all I ever wear," he says. "Everything else hurts my feet. If I don't wear these shoes, that"—he points to a bunion on the inside of his left foot near the big toe—"would rip out [the material]."

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.

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