After some stumbles, Under Armours footwear business appears to be securing a solid foothold for growth, particularly with the recent success of its  Spine collection in sporting goods stores as well as its own stores.

Last week at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Consumer & Retail Conference, Brad Dickerson, UAs CFO, said one of the problems UA faced in entering the run category is that designers initially pushed for lightweight models in line with market trends but that came at the expense of the structure of the shoe. That was particularly a challenge for UA because rather than the marathoner, UA is targeting the athlete looking to wear the shoes to train to get ready to play on the field and may need more support in the gym.

For Under Armour, the biggest opportunity in footwear continues to be enticing its apparel customers to try its running or basketball shoes. The brand already has 30 percent market share in baseball and football cleats.

Dickerson said Spine, which was released last fall, is still lightweight at less than 10-ounces, but it also offers structure and support. The collection has performed pretty well for us, he added. In particular, the brand has seen seen some positive reaction to Spine in sporting goods stores and its own direct-to-consumer channels.

For the longer term, UA has to improve its performance at other distribution points in running, particularly with Foot Locker and Finish Line, to supplement the success in traditional channels. Added Dickerson, It’s about brand awareness right now for us on the footwear side, getting our core consumers into our footwear. That should help generate brand awareness longer term for other channels, too.

Fourth quarter footwear revenues increased 43 percent to $45 million, representing approximately 9 percent of net revenues. For the current year, footwear growth is expected to be slightly above its overall projected growth range of 20 percent to 21 percent.

Other highlights of the presentation:
•    In 2013, Charged Cotton and Storm will approach $200 million each, up from a combined $65 million when both were launched in 2011. For 2013, major innovation stories include ColdGear Infrared and HeatGear Sonic in apparel, as well as its Armour39 performance monitoring system.
•    Womens has grown from 20 percent of its apparel business to close to 30 percent currently. The improvement has been helped by having only women designing womens product, better balancing design and fit and patterns along with performance, and extending distribution to department stores and malls where women shop. Hiring the former creative director of Theory to run the womens side and opening up a New York City office to help recruit talent is expected to further drive gains.
•    UA currently has 101 outlet stores. It expects to be in about 110 and 111 outlet centers by the close of 2013 and ultimately sees room to be in 125 to 130 cents. It still expects to more than double its outlet business in the next six or seven years by expanding locations closer to 8,000 to 9,000 square foot on average versus 5,200 currently.
•    UA has four specialty mall doors currently, including a mountain door in Colorado and a new concept just opened in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. Another store will be added this year along with a handful of stores being tested over the next 24 months. Besides serving as a showcase for the brand, the specialty stores help fill a distribution gap for the brand, particularly in reaching customers in major cities.
•    Internally, Japan, which is operated through a licensee, saw sales climb 30 percent last year. to $200 million on a wholesale basis. The focus in Europe will be the largest markets, Germany, France and the UK, with new management there working on the correct balance between distributors versus direct for each market. International amounted to 6 percent of sales last year.