As a captain of the 1995 Maryland Terrapins football team, Kevin Plank was constantly swapping his sweat-soaked T-shirt for a dry one. That was the problem that inspired Under Armour: sports apparel that doesn't retain moisture. For 2003, Plank sees sales of $100 million. Under Armour is an official supplier to Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, 30 NFL teams, and all but 9 of the 117 Division 1A college-football programs. His secret? "As an athlete who had developed a product for athletes, I had an in."
Founder and president, Under Armour Performance Apparel
FROM KEVIN'S ORIGINAL ENTRY:
Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
The sports apparel industry was dominated by the big shoe companies. But there was a void in apparel and I decided to fill it. As a captain of the Maryland Terrapins in 1995, I was constantly swapping my heavy, sweat-soaked cotton t-shirt for a dry one—often several times throughout a game. It made me slow and uncomfortable. My teammates had the same problem. This is when I began to develop the concept of a superior undershirt that wouldn't retain moisture. From that superior t-shirt a new segment was created in the apparel industry—performance apparel. Translation: apparel that does something for you. I was acutely aware of the challenges of producing a small but revolutionary innovation in an industry powered by huge, internationally known corporations. I had a young company funded by maxed credit cards and we were working out of my grandmother's basement, so there was a concern that buyers wouldn't take us seriously.
What was your moment of truth?
After countless trips to New York to test fabrics, and submitting test samples to athletes for feedback, I had a finished product on my hands. It kept you cool, dry and light. But now I had to create the demand. Equipment managers were used to paying a third of the cost of Under Armour for cotton T-shirts that athletes wore under their pads. For equipment managers to buy it, athletes needed to understand the advantage that Under Armour could provide their game. As an athlete who developed a product for athletes, I had an in. My first prototypes were passed along to former teammates from Fork Union Military Academy—a renowned feeder school for Division-I players—and University of Maryland. Word spread from player to player, and locker room to locker room, and within a matter of months Georgia Tech's equipment manager purchased Under Armour, making them the first Division I-A football team to wear the gear. Then the NFL's Atlanta Falcons heard about the gear and signed on. We were on our way. (The exact date? 3/5/1996)
What were the results?
Dominating the industry that we created—performance apparel. Under Armour is now the official supplier of performance apparel to Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Soccer (MLS), the U.S. Ski Team and USA Baseball. 30 NFL teams and all but nine of the 117 Division I-A college football programs wear our gear. With an annual growth rate of 2.5 times on average, gross sales for the company will reach $55 million in 2002 and are projected to exceed $100 million in 2003.
What's your parting tip?
Create what the industry is missing. It is worth the hardships.