Baltimore-based sportswear brand Under Armour has opened its first ‘brand house’ flagship retail space in Canada amid a direct-to-consumer retail expansion that will see locations open in major markets over the next several years.
Last week, Under Armour opened a 3,100 square foot retail space at CF Toronto Eaton Centre. Located on Level One of North America’s busiest shopping centre, the Under Armour store features a range of apparel for men and women as well as footwear and accessories. Included are footwear styles featuring HOVR footwear cushioning technology as well as UA RUSH and UA Recover apparel for both men and women. Product is geared towards running, training and basketball.
Josh Denton, VP Global Retail, Under Armour, said, “We know Toronto has a huge sports fanbase and the fitness community is booming with boutique gyms opening up across the city. Being located in downtown Toronto will make the store accessible to people from all over the city.”
Under Armour’s own branding features prominently, as the US brand gears up for a Canadian expansion that will include a network of full-priced ‘brand house’ stores.
“The CF Toronto Eaton Centre brand house represents our new concept which is smaller in size than our traditional brand house. We are representing an edited assortment of our bestselling seasonal items balanced with our heritage core products for the best edit of products that make athletes better. Similar smaller footprint stores have opened recently in San Diego and Los Angeles,” said Mr. Denton.
While the CF Toronto Eaton Centre flagship is the first of its kind for Canada, Under Armour has operated a network of outlet stores in Canada for several years. The brand refers to these as ‘Under Armour Factory House’ stores with suburban locations in major markets typically located in outlet centres, hybrid outlet centres, and in big-box retail centres. Those markets include greater Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, and Southern Ontario, which has numerous locations with a focus on the Greater Toronto area. According to its website, Under Armour also operates stores in the United States, Mexico, the UK, and China.
Under Armour also wholesales in various multi-brand retailers throughout Canada. Sport Chek, The Running Room, and Golf Town are among larger chains carrying the Under Armour brand, while numerous other multi-brand chains and independent retailers also carry Under Armour merchandise.
It’s unclear if Under Armour’s direct-to-consumer retail strategy will result in the brand reducing distribution in multi-brand retailers. Corporately-owned brand stores are becoming more common for brands such as Under Armour, as such retail locations give brands the opportunity to showcase a wide range of product in specific retail environments housing product specialists. Margins also tend to be higher in mono-brand stores, and other sports brands are also expanding distribution through their own direct-to-consumer retail channels.
In some cases, the direct-to-consumer trend has been met with controversy. Last month it was reported that sportswear behemoth Nike had communicated to multi-brand retailers in the UK that is was planning on pulling distribution of Nike products as the brand expands its international network of direct-to-consumer mono-brand stores. As a result, some predict the demise of some multi-brand retailers relying on Nike for a substantial percentage of retail sales. As consumers increasingly turn to brand websites to buy product as well as to gain knowledge, many brands are pulling back on wholesale distribution in an effort to sell directly to customers both online as well as in stores. In Canada as well, Nike is expanding its network of mono-brand stores in a partnership with Fox Group, which will include a large Niketown flagship that will open at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre next year.
It’s not yet clear if Under Armour’s strategy will be to pull back on its wholesale accounts as it sells its goods directly to consumers, though competitors such as Adidas are already doing so. Some multi-brand retailers, which have helped create brand awareness for brands in various markets, could eventually perish if profitable brands pull-out. And the phenomena isn’t just happening with sports retailers — luxury brands have been opening stores in Canada at a rapid pace over the past five years, and fashion brand Canada Goose has been pulling back on its wholesale distribution as it continues to open its own direct-to-consumer storefronts in major markets in Canada as well as globally.
Last week, Under Armour’s founder and CEO, Kevin Plank, stepped down from his role after the announcement that the company’s chief operating office Patrik Frisk would replace him. Mr. Plank will become executive chairman and brand chief as part of the shift. Mr. Plank made headlines recently when he spoke out against US President Donald Trump, including defending Baltimore after Trump criticized the city over the summer. Mr. Plank founded Under Armour in 1996 and moved its headquarters to the city in 1998.
Under Armour’s expansion comes at a time when the brand has struggled to maintain market share amid growth of rivals Nike and Adidas, while at the same time smaller brands such as Puma and Fila have gained market share.
We’ll continue to follow Under Armour’s expansion into the Canadian market with its ‘brand house’ stores. In the United States, Under Armour has been opening large-format ‘brand house’ retail locations which include a 53,000 square foot location in Manhattan, a 30,000 square foot flagship in Chicago, a 19,000 square foot store in Boston, and a 20,000 square foot flagship in Beijing, among others. Given the relatively small size of the CF Toronto Eaton Centre Under Armour location in comparison, larger Canadian stores could also be on the way as part of the brand expansion.