RBR Interview: Rich Bourne, President & COO, ASICS America, by Larry Eder



Rich Bourne, President & COO, ASICS America, photo courtesy of ASICS communications.

In the very highly competitive world of performance running footwear, no brand has its pulse on running like ASICS America. A sixty-year old brand, ASICS America, the U.S. subsidiary of ASICS, is numero uno in the battle of performance running footwear. ASICS America has proved that a great team, great product, strong customer service, a strong sales team and last, but not least, really listening to the consumer never goes out of style. To do well in running, one must focus on it. Stray from the real prize and you will loose your way and your resonance with the consumer.

ASICS has approximately 34 percent of the performance running business, that key, top of the running business. This means that ASICS is doing approximately $400 million of the $1.4 billion performance running footwear business in 2008. (The U.S. running footwear business was $7.5 billion, but we are focused on the $85 and higher business).

This is the most competitive business atmosphere in running footwear in the last thirty years. With Brooks, Saucony, Mizuno, Nike, New Balance, adidas and others trying to grab market share, ASICS America continues to grow in the performance category, and also in resonating with new women runners.

Human capital is key in this business. One of the long time players at ASICS America is Rich Bourne. Rich is the President & COO of ASICS America, and has held that position (he was also President under ASICS Tiger) for nineteen years. His longevity, in this business, amazes me. There are not many of his competitors who have had a President or COO who have held their position for that same time period.

Updated November 3, 2009--Here is interview that appeared on October 29, 2009. We have updated with photo and a quick observation. The 2009 ING NYCM was one of the best in decades. An American male winner, five Americans in top ten on the male side. ASICS is a sponsor and a reported three million of apparel and footwear sales for ASICS at the three day ING NYCM Expo! Running is continuing to be one of the few bright spots in our economy. Rich Bourne was here with his team for the marathon, after having dealt with the flu as well as the exhausting week in the Big Apple!


an example of ASICS advertising.....

Such consistency in leadership has allowed his team to truly develop the business at a very high level. Rich Bourne would be the first person to tell you how strong his team is, from marketing, to sports marketing, to product development.

We tried to get a picture of Rich Bourne, but all of the ASICS team is in New York City, for the ING New York City, for which ASICS America is footwear and apparel sponsor. ASICS has done a tremendous job in their sponsorship of ING NYCM. Their clothing, their outdoor advertising, their local ads, both print and television, add to the excitement of the weekend.

We reached out to Rich Bourne through Heather Spears, ASICS manager of public relations, who gave our questions to Rich on one of his many trips. Rich was gracious in his answers, self deprecating, but also very straightforward. One of the things that clearly comes across is the pride that Rich has in ASICS America and his team...As this is ING New York City Marathon weekend in 48 hours, we thought interviewing ASICS President & COO would be a perfect match for marathon weekend! We hope that you enjoy the interview!

RBR, 1: How did you get started in the running business?

Rich Bourne: 19 years ago, I took the position of President of ASICS Tiger Corp, now ASICS America Corporation. My introduction into the running business came from a relationship I had with the previous past President of ASICS. Basically, the right spot at the right time!

RBR, 2: I have noticed you working at the various ASICS booths at events around the US, what do you gain from that?

Rich Bourne: I like to spend time at these events because it gives me a direct touch with the consumers and I'm able to hear their opinions on our business and products.

RBR, 3: ASICS America is the number one player in performance running, and has been, for most of the past decade, why is that?

Rich Bourne: I believe it is because of our Japanese headquarters and heritage. Our global headquarters has led a very successful business over the last 60 years and I believe it's because of their patience and the quality of the product they generate. ASICS Research and Development (Kobe, Japan) has been top notch; always bringing the best product to the market and having the patience to wait till it was the best it could be.

RBR, 4: ASICS has a group of specialty retailers called Gold Accounts, how has that part of the business weathered the most recent two years?

Rich Bourne: We consider our 'Gold Accounts' the foundation of our business. We must be successful on this side of the business if we hope to be successful in the mass markets. We consider our 'Gold Accounts' the benchmark of the running business - they are looked upon as the experts in this category of business and consumers look to them for advice on running gear.

RBR, 5: ASICS focuses on a few well run events: ING NYC Marathon, Big Sur, Flying Pig-why? What is the importance of ING New York City to ASICS America?

Rich Bourne: The ING NYC Marathon is our Super Bowl. It is a premiere event that has international appeal and participation. This event is not only important to ASICS America, but also to the other ASICS subsidiaries around the world as this marathon tends to be 40% international attendance. This event brings us the international buzz and is considered the number one event among the World Marathon Majors.

RBR, 6: Your brand recently celebrated its sixtieth anniversary. I was fortunate to hear your Global president speak in Berlin on the occasion. How hard is it for a brand, such as ASICS America, to focus on the needs in this market, which must be different from the needs of the German or Italian runner?

Rich Bourne: My focus is primarily the Americas (US, Canada, Latin America, Mexico and South America).

RBR, 7: ASICS has developed a very nice business in the fashion markets with the retro product. ASICS has also developed a huge following among high school athletes, in both cross country and track, and you have a loyal and strong following in core running--where will you go from here?

Rich Bourne: ASICS continues to look for areas of product expansion. We are moving into the sports of field hockey and golf in 2009 and are always looking to broaden the customer base through additional product offerings.

RBR, 8: ASICS America has a new website and Your ASICS Running Partner, a new web program where messages are sent to subscribing runners, shows your interest in the web and digital platforms, what will we see from ASICS on the web?

Rich Bourne: ASICS understands the importance of the web and will continue to build our awareness within the web. We continue to expand our communications to our audience and this medium helps us reach a large, broad audience. www.yourrunningpartner.com was launched in 2009 and will expand in 2010 with some additional offerings. This website has been a good tool for us to reach the running community.

RBR, 9: ASICS America has a small cadre of athletes, Deena Kastor, Ryan Hall, Sara Hall, LoLo Jones. At the US champs, you had 13 athletes in ASICS make the World Champs team, second only to Nike. How do you make decisions on your sports marketing ventures?

Rich Bourne: We look for athletes who fit the ASICS brand slogan of "Sound Mind, Sound Body". When looking to add athletes to our elite roster, we seek those who are the best in their event, but are also good ambassadors for the brand off the track. We also want athletes to be good role models to the youth and are able to relate with our loyal consumers.

RBR, 10: ASICS America is firing on all cylinders: specialty running, fashion, women's running, prep running, core running. How does ASICS plan to reach out to new runners, and to encourage people to try our sport?

Rich Bourne: ASICS will continue to broaden our audience through increased advertising and marketing efforts. A global campaign was launched in 2009 with the tagline, "Sound Mind, Sound Body" and this message will continue into 2010. Television will continue to be a medium in which we use to help broaden the ASICS audience and claim new enthusiasts for the brand. Running, wrestling and volleyball events will also continue to be an important medium as well to reach new and loyal consumers.

Special thanks to Heather Spears, ASICS public relations.

Special thanks to Rich Bourne, who took the time to answer our queries in the busiest time of the year for ASICS.

For more on ASICS America, please click on http://www.ASICSAmerica.com

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