Nike's First 50,000 Shoe Sales - A Lesson In Understanding Your Customer
Phil Knight's first shipment of shoes arrived from Japan in January 1964. In April, Knight left his accounting job to focus solely on selling shoes.
"My sales strategy was simple, and I thought rather brilliant. After being rejected by a couple of sporting goods stores, I drove all over the Pacific Northwest, to various track meets. Between races I’d chat up the coaches, the runners, the fans, and show them my wares. The response was always the same. I couldn’t write orders fast enough." - Phil Knight
Employee Number One
Jeff Johnson came on board halfway through 1965, Knight's first full time employee. In his first 10 months he sold 3,250 pairs of shoes, an extraordinary feat according to Knight.
Their selling strategies were similar. They'd show up at track meets and chat up the athletics coaches, but Johnson took this one step further.
We Don't Want A $2 Million Name
Ford had just paid a top-flight consulting firm $2m to come up with a name of its new Maverick, I announced to everyone. “We haven’t got $2m — but we got 50 smart people, and we can’t do any worse than… Maverick.” – Phil Knight
In 1964 Phil Knight founded Blue Ribbon Sports and the company began acting as the U.S. distributor for Japanese running shoe brand Onitsuka Tiger (now Asics).
Knight wanted to move onto manufacturing and distributing his own shoes, under his brand. The first shipment Knight's own brand shoes were going out the following day, it was time to come up with a name (and logo).
"Well, I don't love it. But maybe it will grow on me."
Carolyn Davidson was brought in to create the logo, she was a design student at Portland State University. Davidson came up with now-classic Nike Swoosh.
For the name, Knight initially wanted to go for, "Dimension Six" perhaps because of his love for The 5th Dimension, a pop band.
Legend has it that on the morning the shoes were going out, Johnson awoke with the name, "Nike". He was excited to let Knight know but was in the East so waited 3 hours before phoning HQ.
Johnson was met with astonishment.
He emphasised it was two syllables and was far better than, "Dimension Six" or "Peregrine".
Knight accepted it, but wasn't thrilled.
"I don't like any of them, but I guess that's the best of the bunch."
For every sale Johnson made, he'd take down notes on the buyer, including favorite distance, preferred shoe and shoe size. He'd use the notes to build relationships with customers. He's send birthday cards, encouragement before big races and training tips.
Clients would send back letters detailing their results, injuries and sometimes just general life problems. Johnson was sending hundreds of letters every month with very high response rates, he created a customer mailing list. He would receive a lot of messages every month detailing complaints about shoes or the brand, it became a great was to get customers honest feedback.
One customer was upset that his shoes didn't have the padding required for running long distance. Immediately, Johnson hire a cobbler to replace the soles with thicker rubber before returning the shoes to the customer. A few weeks later he received a letter from the customer describing how he had just obtained a personal best at the Boston Marathon
"Shoe dogs were people who devoted themselves wholly to the making, selling, buying, or designing of shoes. […] It was an all-consuming mania, a recognisable psychological disorder, to care so much about insoles and outsoles, linings and welts, rivets and vamps. But I understood."
Nike was growing rapidly on the West coast, it was now time to conquer the East. Johnson had to single handedly establish the brand on the Atlantic coast. It would mean he would have to create his notes network from scratch.
What did Johnson do?
You see, Johnson worked through his notes until he found an athlete from the East he'd spoken to via letter. He decided the best course of action was to turn up at the boys house, unannounced. Luckily for him, the family was home and also very friendly. They invited him in for dinner and bonded with the family. The next morning, Johnson went for a run with the boy and gave him a list of names, coaches, potential customers and running clubs. Overnight, Johnson had built the beginnings of an East coast network.
Customers becoming your most vocal marketers. When a customer loves your brand, they will sell it for you. Johnson was passionate about what he was selling and had a great ability to turn customers into Nike's most vocal supporters . In the early days of Nike, not many people wore running shoes. Nowadays people wear them everyday.
Create a vision that your customers and employees can get behind.