SEW: Why did you take the job of running the Americas market?
NO: My 40 years of experience within the ASICS family has helped prepare me to head up the American division. It will definitely be a great challenge for me as Im not only perfecting my English, but Im also learning the American market. The American market has been marked by corporate (in Japan) as lead for global growth.
SEW: What have you learned about the U.S. retail market since you've arrived?
NO: I think the American market has been polarized. There are the large-scale retailers and smaller specialty shops with a broad range of consumers. The Japanese market differs in that there are more intermediary stores in between. I have learned quickly that it would be ideal to offer suitable products to all the different outlets and consumers within this market.
SEW: Generally, what do you think are ASICS' strengths in the American market and where do you still see growth?
NO: I think ASICS was able to establish our position in the running market by using the method of “selections and focusing.” ASICS was able to focus on the performance running category and has grown because of that focus. I'd like to create additional pillars of business focuses for ASICS: the first one being the Footwear category, I would like to reach a broader audience. The second pillar will be a focus to grow the apparel business.
Within the footwear category, we would like to make sportstyle and kids a focus after performance running to broaden the business. Apparel has been a weakness. Team sports apparel has been successful, but we need to grow the performance running apparel to grow the apparel business.
SEW: How is ASICS' U.S. business run differently from the Japanese business?
NO: There are several aspects in the way in which the America business is run that differ from Japan. Traditions and cultures are a big difference that Im still learning to adjust to. Another difference that has been very successful for the U.S. business is the use of independent sales reps. This system has allowed ASICS to reach local activities and retailers to grow the business at a faster rate.
SEW: ASICS America's sales have doubled from 2004 to 2007. What's been the key to ASICS' success over that time?
NO: This is an outcome also led by the concept of “selections and focusing.” ASICS America set out several years back to focus its efforts (sales, marketing, research and development) on performance running shoes. By focusing our efforts on this category, ASICS began to dominate the category and that has proven to have been a very beneficial move.
SEW: It hasn't only been the last few years. What are the keys to ASICS' longevity?
NO: Our success over time is really due to Mr. Onitsuka, our founder, who recently passed away. His spirit and dedication to making the best technical running shoes in the market has continuously given ASICS its reputation and leadership position as a dominant technical brand.
SEW: Can you talk about the overall running boom? Has it shown any signs of slowing?
NO: I don't think the increasing interest in running, in any way, is transient. The growth is a reflection of social forces such as the health trend or environmental concerns.
SEW: Who would you say is ASICS target customer is in the U.S. market? What type of customers is the brand attracting?
NO: Our demographic is 18 to 49 years old. We hope to hit a broad audience and produce great, technical products for all ages and for a broad range of activities; from running to walking, training, volleyball and wrestling. We are operating based on our corporate policy, “Valuable products and services for everybody”.
SEW: How is the running footwear business for ASICS in the U.S. faring? Why is ASICS finding so much success specifically in running?
NO: I believe this is another effect of “selections and focusing” method. We focused our efforts on performance running. The research and development teams came together to make incredible, technical product, while marketing and sales came together to sell this line and brand into the market. With all those efforts, we achieved exactly what we set out to do. I also believe we have made technical advancements in performance running shoes that our competition hasnt.
SEW: What's your strategy to continue to grow the overall running business going forward?
NO: My focus will continue to be the performance running category. However, to grow this business, we need to reach broader touch the non-performance runners. A secondary focus on our Sportstyle collection, which is a sport fusion collection, will hopefully aid in reaching that broader audience. A third tier will be the kids shoe collection a collection of running, casual and team shoes.
SEW: What are your specific plans to grow in the running specialty channel?
NO: Our company grew with the growth of running specialty stores. We will continue offering our products and services to running specialty stores. Thus, we will keep focusing on performance running as our key market. We hope to capture the market trend through this channel.
SEW: What specific strategies do you have for the important women's running market?
NO: I would like to keep focusing on items more suitable for women. Gender-based lasts in shoes and other technologies that help women become more efficient in running or help to reduce injuries. The ASICS Sports Institute in Kobe is working on gender-based research and product that will hit the market in 2010.