Under Armour liked the work Karl-Heinz "Charlie" Maurath had done for one of its competitors when the brand tapped him to lead its international growth.
That was nearly two years ago, when Maurath left Adidas, where he'd held senior executive roles in Thailand, Sweden and finally Latin America, the fastest-growing market for the brand.
As president of Under Armour International, Maurath now heads up the Baltimore-based sports apparel and footwear maker's business in Europe, Asia and the Americas, and helps plan which countries to take on next.
International sales, which account for about 6 percent to 7 percent of the apparel designer's revenue, are seen as a key part of Under Armour's expansion strategy. The company wants to double its share of sales outside North America over the next two years.
This month, Under Armour launched sales in Brazil, with plans to sell its merchandise in more than 70 locations or e-commerce hubs. In January, the company announced a sponsorship of South American soccer club Colo-Colo, part of Chile's Primera Division, to design and make uniforms and training apparel for the club's teams and products for its fans. In October, the brand opened a blend of retail store and promotional venue called Under Armour Experience in Shanghai, China.
Maurath recently agreed to answer a few questions.
Under Armour has spread its brand to Europe, Japan, China and now Latin America. What are some of the biggest challenges of introducing an unfamiliar brand to a new market? How does Under Armour expect to compete with the more entrenched brands in new international markets?
Rather than focusing on challenges, we see our international expansion as a great opportunity to introduce Under Armour to more athletes and build on our momentum in North America. When athletes in Latin America, Asia and Europe experience our brand firsthand, we feel the immediate impact it has on our global footprint.
Because Under Armour has one of the most successful brand stories in recent memory, many athletes are already familiar with our brand before we launch in their country. In every market, Under Armour stands for performance, innovation and premium product offerings. This is what differentiates our brand and allows us to maintain our authenticity and connect with new audiences.
When you joined the company in 2012 you said you saw unlimited potential for international growth. Why is that, and would you still characterize it as unlimited?
Absolutely. More than two-thirds of the global sports industry market comes from outside North America. When you look at the size and rate of growth of Under Armour in North America, and consider that we operate in an industry that grows globally faster than any other industry, the potential for us to grow internationally is tremendous.
The strength of our business in the U.S. allows us to make the right level of investment into international expansion. We have a great team in place, great partners and the deep understanding of how to navigate growth opportunities.
What are some of the considerations in determining which countries to move into, which product categories to offer and which retail channels to use? How are consumers different and how are they the same from market to market?
We focus in on the biggest markets in key regions. From there we concentrate on fast-growing emerging markets that deliver even faster top- and bottom-line growths.
With insights on a specific market's retail environment, we find a balance between wholesale development through strategic account planning and the rollout of Under Armour controlled retail space, which includes shop-in-shop, franchise and specialty stores. The overall retail strategy is always supported by an e-commerce platform.
We have a strong understanding of the athlete and their needs in all markets where we do business. By identifying consumer commonalities and differences we can determine the footwear and apparel offerings that work best in a market. Athletes in Chile may have similar needs to athletes in Japan, so you'll see a level of consistency in the product range. But when you dive in and identify small differences, it allows you to offer an extended range of products that are tailored to a specific country.
When you're not in the Baltimore headquarters, where do you spend most of your time working these days? Where have you traveled most recently and what are some of your biggest priorities for the coming year?
I spend a lot of time on the road. Recently I've visited a number of different countries in Latin America. Earlier this month I was in Brazil for our official brand launch. Launching in Brazil is a big moment and we introduced Under Armour by hosting events in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo with our CEO and founder, Kevin Plank; Ironman World Champion Chris "Macca" McCormick; and mixed martial arts champion Georges St-Pierre.
My biggest priority is continuing to build our international organization based in Baltimore, as well as our existing presence in Latin America, Europe, Greater China, and Japan. Secondly, I'm working with a great team to push forward our expansion into new markets.
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