Under Armour poised for greater growth with new products

The Under Armour brand is poised for continued growth with a soon-to-be-released football cleat that's expected to drive footwear sales, as well as plans to keep expanding into international markets, executives told stockholders Tuesday.

Consumers who choose Under Armour over other sports apparel brands do so because the products help solve problems for athletes, said Kevin Plank, the company's chairman, president and CEO, during the company's annual stockholders' meeting at its South Baltimore headquarters.

"Under Armour is not the cheapest product in the store, but we are the best," Plank told a packed crowd of shareholders gathered in the Cheer building, a converted warehouse on the company's Locust Point campus. "We identify the issues and needs of athletes and fix those issues."

Surrounded by displays of football cleats, running shoes, pants and shirts, Plank introduced offerings that are expected to drive sales in women's and men's apparel and footwear.

The Highlights cleats have been selling out online and will be sold in stores beginning this month.

"We see this as a huge opportunity for our brand," and as a way to make inroads into the $26.4 billion U.S. footwear market, Plank said of the new shoes. When the football cleat was first offered online, it sold out in two hours, mainly to first-time Under Armour buyers in 43 states, he said

The company also is focusing on direct-to-consumer categories — online sales and outlet and specialty stores, which are expected to represent nearly a third of Under Armour's distribution channels by 2013 — and in international markets, with new store openings planned this year in China, Plank said.

The company said last month it expected revenue this year of $1.78 billion to $1.8 billion, a 21 percent to 22 percent increase over last year.

Under Armour reported a first-quarter profit of $14.6 million, or 28 cents per share, compared with $12 million, or 23 cents per share, in the same period a year ago.

Stockholders on Tuesday watched videos about new products such as the company's "coldblack" shirts, and were treated to a surprise appearance by Baltimore Ravens draft pick Bernard Pierce, a running back from Temple University.

The new shirts for men and women, which have been available in stores for only a couple of weeks, are designed to reflect heat and keep athletes cool in the sun.

"This is going to be a great new technology, and it's hitting retailers now," Plank said.

The special fabric in the shirts caught the eye of one of the younger stockholders in attendance, 12-year-old Spencer Peltz of North Baltimore, who said he has attended Under Armour meetings — always with a question for Plank — for the past few years. This year he asked about the company's goals for the coldblack shirts.

The home-schooled sixth-grader said he followed the company because of its Ravens and Orioles pitchmen and because he likes its products.

"They help you play better," said Peltz, who takes part in baseball and soccer.

Under Armour's women's apparel business, a fast-growing category that accounts for nearly 30 percent of its clothing sales, is expected to benefit from another new product, the "Armour Bra," which the company said it designed with the help of doctors and athletes.

Asked by a stockholder about the challenges of entering new international markets amid the continuing economic slump, Plank said he discourages "loser talk" about conditions that can't be controlled.

"There are so many opportunities for our brand in our stage of growth and where we are," he said.

But he acknowledged that expanding international sales, which now account for about 10 percent of the company's business, brings "tremendous challenges."

"It just takes time," Plank said.

The company's forays into more than 60 countries, including China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, have proved "our brand translates, and we prove that every day," Plank said.

The company opened its first store in China more than a year ago and plans to open two more this year.