How Nike Started, Grew & Became Successful

Nike Inc. is an American multinational corporation that is involved in the design, production, and sales of sportswear, including footwear, apparel, and accessories. 

Nike is also a major manufacturer of sports kits and is ranked as the number one sportswear brand in the world, followed by Adidas in second place.

Nike, formerly known as Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) was founded by Philip Hampson “Buck” Knight, a business magnate and former track athlete at the University of Oregon, and his former coach, Bill Bowerman, on January 25, 1964.

         How It All Began 

Phil Knight started out as a middle-distance runner under the tutelage of Bill Bowerman, a track and field coach. 

Bill wanted to improve Phil’s performance, so he began working on improving Phil’s shoes in his free time. At first, he tried various combinations, but they were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Phil went on to study at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he wrote an assignment proposing the manufacture of shoes in Japan that could compete with well-known German brands, but this recommendation fell on deaf ears.

He would later say, “Let everyone else call your idea crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop…”

In 1962, after graduation, Phil went on a trip to Kobe, Japan, where he discovered the Tiger-brand running shoes, assembled by Onitsuka Co. 

Inspired by the shoes’ quality and low cost, Phil called a meeting with Mr. Onitsuka and succeeded in securing the Tiger distribution rights for the western United States.

On his return to the US, Phil tried to sell his first batch of stock to his previous coach, Bill, who became interested in the business. Phil proposed that they become equal partners and offered to provide product design ideas. 

The partnership was agreed on by a handshake on January 25, 1964, resulting in the birth of Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), the company that would eventually become Nike.

    The Early Years

In the first year that BRS opened for business, Phil and Bill sold 1300 pairs of Japanese running shoes, earning them $8,000. 

Even though the business started slowly, by 1965, the emerging business reached sales of $20,000 and acquired its first full-time employee, Jeff Johnson.

By 1966, BRS no longer needed to sell stock from the back of a green Plymouth Valiant automobile at track meets across the Pacific Northwest, so it launched its first retail store at 3107 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, California, right beside a beauty salon.

As sales rapidly increased in 1967, BRS expanded its retail and distribution operations to Wellesley, Massachusetts.

In 1969, Jeff Johnson suggested that the company should be called “Nike” pronounced as “naiki”, after the Greek winged goddess of victory.

RBS officially became Nike, Inc. on May 30, 1971.

In 1971, Nike ended its relationship with Onitsuka as it prepared to launch its own line of footwear; a lighter-weight training shoe with an outsole that had waffle-type nubs for traction. It was designed by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student for $35 and was named Swoosh. 

Swoosh saw its debut in the 1972 US Track & Field Trials and was registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office on January 22, 1974.

Steve Prefontaine, an athlete who, during his college career between 1969 and 1972, set seven American records from the 2000m to the 10,000m, became the first brand ambassador for RBS.

In 1976, Nike hired its first advertising agency, John Brown and Partners, and in 1977, the agency created the very first brand ad called “There is no finish line”.

In 1979, the Nike Air technology was launched, and it further strengthened Nike’s status as a successful competitor among the existing competition. 

It was during this period that Nike experienced enormous growth and achieved a 50% market share in the United States athlete’s shoe market and by December 1980; it went Public.

How Nike Grew

The Nike brand continued to grow popular, especially among fitness experts, and by 1982, it had become the number one supplier of athletic shoes in America.

In September 1983, Nike gave Carolyn Davidson an undisclosed amount of stock in recognition of her contribution to the design of the company’s brand, Swoosh. On an Oprah show in April 2011, Phil claimed that when the company went public, he gave her a few hundred shares.

In 1985, Nike designed signature shoes for Michael Jordan while he was still an NBA rookie and his rising popularity shot Nike sales up to the point of breaking new records.

Not long after this, Nike moved on to designing clothes and other cross-training accessories and it signed on many international teams like the US men’s and women’s soccer teams and the Brazil football team. 10 years later, in 1996, Nike signed Tiger Woods, a rookie golfer for $5 million each year.

The slogan, “Just Do It” was coined by Dan Wieden, co-founder of Weiden+Kennedy agency in a 1988 Nike ad campaign. Weiden was inspired by an American criminal who gained international recognition for demanding his own execution. Gary Gilmore’s last words before he was executed were “Let’s do it”.

The slogan was picked by Advertising Age as one of the top five ad slogans of the twentieth century. Weiden+Kennedy remains Nike’s primary advertisement agency and has produced many television and print advertisements together. 

In 1988, Nike acquired Cole Haan, an upscale footwear company, and sold it in 2013.

In 1990, the company moved into its eight-building headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. That same year in November, a Nike retail store called Nike town was opened in downtown Portland. 

Bauer Hockey was acquired in 1994 and sold in 2008. 

In 2002, Nike acquired a surf apparel-producing company, Hurley International.

In 2003, $309 million was paid to acquire Converse. 

Starter was acquired in 2004 and sold in 2007. 

Umbro, manufacturers of England national football kits, was acquired in 2008 and sold in 2012. 

Presently, Nike owns Hurley International and Converse Inc.

Phil resigned as CEO of the company in November 2004, several months after his son Matthew’s burial. He retained the post of chairman until 2016, when he resigned from all duties. 

Mark Parker is the current president and CEO of Nike Inc., with Andrew Campion as the CFO.

Nike produces sportswear and equipment for various sports including field and track events such as soccer, American football, basketball, cricket, hockey, tennis, cheerleading, cycling, skateboarding, auto-racing, wrestling, volleyball, baseball, aquatic activities, and other athletic and recreational activities.

Nike Inc. Now 

Recently, the company teamed up with Apple Inc. to produce the Nike+ product that monitors a runner’s performance through a radio connected to the iPod. The product was criticized by researchers who were able to identify users’ RFID devices from 18m away using concealable intelligence motes in a wireless sensor network.

In 2015, a new self-lacing shoe called the Nike Mag was introduced. It was a replica of the shoes used in the movie Back to the Future II and was produced in a limited edition. It was only available by auction and the profits were sent to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.   

Nike is currently home to athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Wayne Rooney, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Gareth Bale, Neymar Jr, Thierry Henry, and Kylian Mbappe among others, and has been the official kit sponsor of the Indian Cricket team since 2005.

Nike is planning to build a 3.2 million expansion on its headquarters in Washington County, Oregon. The design will target LEED Platinum certification and will be highlighted by natural daylight and a gray water treatment center.

Nike Inc. currently has over 73,100 employees worldwide and has an estimated total revenue of about $36.4 billion.

In 2018, Nike’s earnings totaled $1.933 billion, a 6% increase over the previous year, and has a brand value of $15.9 billion. 

Thank you. 

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