361° was founded in 2003 and has quickly grown to become one of the biggest sports brands in China.
It was one of the main sponsors for the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, equipping more than 100,000 volunteers and officials in head-totoe 361° gear. Following the initial success in China the brand decided to internationalize its business. The goal was to deliver products that compete with the best in the market. The focus is on footwear for runners that not only keeps up with all the big brands but offers innovative alternatives. The secret of their shoes lies in the blend of stability and cushioning. The innovative material QU!KFOAM was invented solely for this purpose. It is made out of EVA and rubber and is covered by a thin polyurethane skin for long-term shock attenuation.
Jurian Elstgeest, Managing Director 361° Intl Ltd, is a veteran in the international footwear and sporting goods business. With extensive buying and private label experience at Perry Sport in Holland, footwear merchandising at Nike EHQ, footwear creation and business management at ASICS Europe, he was asked to set up the EMEA arm of 361° International.
Jurian was tasked with setting up the European head office in Haarlem, in the Netherlands, in 2016. They started delivering their first products the following year into a very competitive marketplace.
Jurian said: “My experience has been that the last thing that the world is expecting is another running shoe brand to step into the game. It’s a very competitive market, it’s a market that requires big investments if you want to get in, it requires a lot of experience and knowledge, not just individuals but teams of people, to create product that works – it’s not easy.
“But our experience is that there was a need in the marketplace with run specialty retailers to make sure they are differentiating themselves from some of the big brands. It’s not been easy but, so far, it’s been successful.”
361° wanted to develop shoes for all types of runners, to be inclusive, and to also serve the needs of specialty run stores.
Jurian added: “That’s how we started, we have basically five shoes that, from a functional standpoint serve 95 per cent of runners. We have another set of shoes that serve the other five per cent. What we try to do is make sure our retail partners are able to serve their customers’ needs. But that’s only the first step, for a new brand like us we need to earn the confidence of the retailer and then, the second step, is to get the runner to like our product.
“We are happy to see that people who try our shoes love them, keep running in them and return to the store and say I am very happy with these shoes. That’s why we now have roughly 450 run specialty stores across Europe that sell our shoes.”
For 2020, 361° are looking to continue to build confidence in their brand across Europe and deliver excellent products to the running community.
Jurian said: “For the retailers it’s all about their credibility to deliver a great running shoe for their customers. We have to make sure that our product is consistently good. The other part is providing an excellent service to the retailer.
“But, what’s critical is when we come out with new product it has to solve a certain problem or deliver a certain experience for the runner. So in spring 2020 we will be bringing out two neutral running shoes. The new Spire 4 addresses ultimate comfort. It’s a super comfy running shoe for easier runs, longer runs. The other shoe is the Meraki third edition. It has the perfect balance between responsiveness and cushioning but also makes you feel fast. The Meraki is actually our biggest selling shoe in Europe.”
The running market is constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of customers and there have been some major changes over the years.
Jurian said: “There have been many trends but I think what is interesting about today is that it has resulted in more diversity of product. There are more and more runners who don’t just go around the block, people run different types of races, different types of surfaces. I think running has become much more part of a lifestyle than just something that you do. I think that’s great for health in general but it’s also great for us as a business.”
And the ethos of running as a lifestyle and inclusive to all levels of runners can be seen in 361°’s ambassadors. The 361° #BeyondExpectations Ambassador Program is an embodiment of their commitment to enable everyday runners and athletes to define their own standard of success, break down barriers, achieve more than they thought possible and they come from all walks of life.
Jurian said: “Our mantra ‘One Degree Beyond’ is about the athlete. We are looking for ambassadors who have gone through the phase of doing things they thought they were unable to do. It’s important to us that they inspire others. Running should not be an elite, exclusive, thing – we believe that running should be inclusive. Something that is a way for people to lead a more healthy lifestyle.”