In 1995, Kevin Plank, a 22-year-old University of Maryland athlete, was tired of always needing to change out of his sweat-soaked t-shirts. He noticed his compression shorts always stayed dry. This sparked an idea.
Living in his grandmother’s basement, Plank developed his first prototype of a T-shirt utilizing microfibers that wicked moisture, keeping athletes cool and dry. He named his business Under Armour.
Now he had to grow his business and his brand. He hit all the colleges and sports arenas on the east coast with his apparel in the trunk of his car. He procured his first team sale at the end of 1996; it was for $17,000. This enabled him to move out of his grandmother’s basement.
It wasn’t until 1999 when Plank risked the company’s entire budget to advertise in ESPN Magazine, that his revolutionary idea truly paid off. The ad enticed NFL teams and athletes to buy Under Armor products in bulk, resulting in over $1 million in sales.
The company has continued to grow, branching into new markets, and becoming THE sportswear provider to some of the biggest teams in the world.
Plank’s road to success was not without challenges.
- Competing brands including Nike, Adidas, and Reebok developed their own moisture-wicking apparel.
- The company was the major commercial sponsor for the reality show Duck Dynasty and was strongly criticized for supporting the show’s patriarch, Phil Robertson
- US speedskaters wore the Under Armour Mach 39 suits in the 2014 Winter Olympics. The skaters lost while wearing the new “speedsuits”. The negative publicity was unwarranted, when they reverted to the previous model, they continued to lose.
There are lessons to be learned for your business from his story.
No one goes from zero to hero without breaking a sweat or feeling all hope is lost. The majority of small businesses fail when owners face a major hurdle – lack of budget, dissatisfied customers, or even a pandemic. Some fall so hard they don’t get up.