When Nike acquired skateboard equipment marketer Hurley International for $95 million in 2002, it was another inroad to the coveted youth market. Nike had initially drawn a snub from 9-to-21-year-old skateboarders for its skateboard shoes. Nike, being Nike, went back and redesigned the shoe, adding thicker tongues and a different insole from famed sneaker designer Marcus Tayui.
It also recruited an insider to bring it all together and provide insight on trends: Kevin Imamura, editor of TransWorld Stance, a skateboarding pop culture magazine published by Time Inc.'s TransWorld Media. As skateboard communications manager, Mr. Imamura helped the shoe and apparel giant connect with competitive skateboarders to develop two new performance shoes. Last summer, he oversaw Nike's "Prime Cuts Tour," a two-week touring demo.
The result? Nike has experienced double-digit growth in the last year, helped in part by its skateboard line. Overall, skateboarding shoes account for only 1.7% of the total athletic shoe market, according to Footwear News. But by cracking the Gen Y market and, especially, the subculture of skateboarders who judge others by the design and flair of their sneakers, Nike is able to start building brand affinity in yet another area of sports aside from its successful basketball shoe line and its burgeoning soccer shoes and apparel line. Moreover, it's cleverly appealed to the "sneakerhead," or the collectors of special shoes who never actually wear the product as much as put it on a shelf and admire it.