RBR Interview: Rob DeMartini, President & CEO, New Balance, by Larry Eder

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New Balance has been around since 1905. I remember seeing my first pair of NB running shoes at Crystal Springs, a well respected cross country course in Belmont, California, in the Fall of 1975. I purchased my first pair in 1977, as the running boom was about to burst open at the seams. I think that those were the 305s. Real runners were using them: Kevin Ryan, Bobby Hodge, Vin Fleming, Randy Thomas, all were members of the New Balance Track Club, at the time.

New Balance has gone from being an old jogger's brand to a performance brand, and the largest, privately held running footwear brand in North America. Like most brands, it has gone through its challenges over the past few years, and still resides in the top five in the performance footwear food chain. New Balance also shaped generations of women's feeling on the sport and cause related running, with the early adoption of the Susan J. Komen Foundation's Race for the Cure series.

Rob DeMartini is the President and CEO of New Balance. Brought in by Jim Davis, the Chairman of New Balance, who purchased the brand in 1974, DeMartini is a former executive with the Tyson Foods Brand. We asked Rob to give us his thoughts on where New Balance is going right now, its future and its challenges. His answers provide some good food for thought!

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Rob DeMartini, New Balance President & CEO, photo courtesy of NB communications.

Rob DeMartini, New Balance President & CEO

RBR, #1: What is the most surprising thing you have learned in your tenure at New Balance?

Rob DeMartini: One of the most surprising things I've discovered during my time at New Balance and in the footwear industry in general is the high level of passion and commitment people have for their work on both sides of the table - the brand and the retailer. Associates' longevity in the industry and their overall enthusiasm and zeal for their work is impressive and motivating.

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Rob DeMartini, the formal shot, courtesy of NB communications.

RBR, #2: I was fascinated by the new research center, how will the NB research center impact NB running shoes for the consumer?

Rob DeMartini: First and foremost, the NB Sports Research Lab will help us invigorate New Balance innovation. This in-house lab will bring designers and developers closer to the athlete and research which will accelerate our product and technology innovation as well as cater to the science of running and other performance sports.

The NB Sports Research Lab will also enable us to have much faster cycle times in development with the factory, design, development, and the Lab all in one location in Lawrence, MA. Having our new Lab housed in the same building as our research, design and development center as well as one of our manufacturing facilities allows for resource, time, and cost efficiencies. We are able to literally take shoes off the manufacturing line, bring them to the Lab and run them through a battery of tests to provide quick and accurate results.

RBR, #3: How is your new product being received in the marketplace?

Rob DeMartini: Our Q1 2010 tech running product has been extremely well received. According to many of our retailers, this is some of the best product they have ever seen from New Balance so we believe we will be well positioned to gain market share in this category next year.

New Balance Video on Made in USA, courtesy of New Balance

RBR, #4: What is the biggest challenge for New Balance?

One of the biggest challenges for the New Balance brand is accelerating our global growth. We are working to grow the New Balance brand equity and establish ourselves as a strong and innovative player in international markets. We recently hired Alan Hed as Executive Vice President, International. Alan has extensive first-hand experience living in and building business in existing and developing markets. He is evaluating our international business and developing an aggressive plan to win globally, which will focus heavily on key Asia Pacific countries such as China and Japan.

Our apparel business is another huge area of opportunity for us and we are elevating our commitment to growth in this area. Our acquisition of Vital Apparel brought greater apparel resources and talent to NB. Under our new apparel leadership we have improved the fit of our performance running apparel, introduced innovative technologies, and broadened our distribution. I expect continued apparel success in the back half of 2009 and beyond.

RBR, #5: How have NB stores been affected by the economic downturn?

Rob DeMartini: This year we've been working closely with the New Balance stores to create marketing programs specific to them to help them maintain and grow their business. Their unique points of difference include their in-store fit specialists and their focus on fit and widths so that runners and athletes can find the right product that fits them the best.

RBR, #6: You have been quite visible this year, I have seen you at the Running Event in November, and the NB Media Event in April, and you did a very classy release on Jim Tompkins leaving New Balance? How should a CEO, in your mind, deal with uncertain economic times?

I think in both certain and uncertain economic times a CEO should always practice open and honest communication with associates. New Balance has always been an active participant in industry and community events and we look to our executive team to lead the way for other associates to engage and learn.

RBR, #7: Where do you think New Balance can go?

New Balance is very focused on reaching our aggressive sales goals. I believe that given the strong and dedicated team of associates we have in place we can achieve anything. This month we are launching a documentary at newbalance.com/usa that showcases the passion, craftsmanship and community of our domestic manufacturing. This is a great example of the commitment of our associates to delivering the best products possible and they will ensure we reach our goals.


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Special spike made for Maggie Vessey, NB athlete who competed in 800 meters at World Champs, courtesy of NB.

Special thanks to Kristen Sullivan, New Balance communications.

For more on new balance, please click on http://www.newbalance.com

For more on the sport, please click on http://www.runningnetwork.com

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