Boosting Detroit: 5 Questions With Nike DTC President Christiana Shi

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Nike Detroit store opens 26 May 2016

Nike has always had a strong corporate-responsibility streak. And as it has evolved into a lifestyle brand from a purely athletic marque, the company has been extending its do-goodism into broader avenues as well.

So it’s fit and right that the Oregon-based brand should locate its seventh “Community Store” in downtrodden but recovering downtown Detroit. Nike opened its Detroit flagship on Thursday to consumers, a critical part of a civic push to help the revitalization effort in the core of the Motor City and to spread the benefits of employment, work training, sports mentoring and philanthropic involvement to the very edges of the city.

And, of course, for Nike it brings its brand experience and products directly to consumers and fans, including Michigan State University men’s basketball coach (and Hall of Famer) Tom Izzo, who attended today’s grand opening and admitted to being as much of a sneakerhead as the fans who lined up for the 10am store opening.

Nike Detroit is now open for business in a 20,000-square-foot space in the historic F.W. Woolworth Co. building on Woodward Avenue, the main commercial thoroughfare of the old city, which has been springing back to life over the last decade thanks in large part to investments by billionaires including Dan Gilbert, of Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Mortgage fame; Michael Ilitch, founder of Little Caesar’s pizza; and the Ford family.

While sports palaces, theaters, restaurants and other retail brands may have pre-dated Nike’s opening in Detroit, the iconic sports-apparel giant wants to provide yet another catalyst to the commercial comeback and civic pride in central Detroit—an effort that has begun reverberating outward into the city—through its Community Store platform.

Nike opened its first Community Store in Portland, in its home state, in the Eighties. Over the last decade, Nike also has opened such outlets in economically prostrate urban centers of East Los Angeles, South Chicago, New Orleans, the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and the Ivy City area of Washington, D.C.

“It serves a particular role in our [retail] portfolio and in our communities,” Christiana Shi, president of Nike Global Direct-to-Consumer, told brandchannel. “Typically we’ll be one of the earliest movers in an area where retail is accelerating; we are part of that.”

brandchannel spoke with Shi about the Nike Detroit Community Store — which is within a Ruthian home-run shot of Comerica Park, Ford Field and the new Red Wings stadium rising on Woodward — and the brand’s larger retail strategy to spur local growth.

Nike Detroit store opens exterior

bc: Why are you opening a Community Store in Detroit—and why now?

Nike president Direct to Consumer Christiana ShiChristiana Shi: We come at it form a couple of angles. We’ve had a [factory outlet] in the general area for a while, 35 miles away  in Auburn Hills [Mich.], but it’s not really serving the community of Detroit.

So Detroit has been on our list of key marketplaces, and we go city by city and see, from an integrated-marketplace point of view, where do we want the Nike brand to show up for consumers? And when we see a white space or a gap where we’re not serving consumers the way we want to, we start looking for real estate.

In Detroit, this particular space in quite an iconic space and really aligns with what we like to do as a brand. So it’s a case of having Detroit on our radar and looking for the right factors. In the Woolworth building, we are repurposing the space, and as we do we respect the heritage of the space and inject new energy into it and align it with the brand.

bc: Why launch this in the Detroit city center?

Shi: As we looked at the timing and availability and economics of putting a store in, we are looking at and anticipating future growth and traffic and what we think the demographics are going to be. We’d rather come a little early or right on time than a little late. And we felt the time was right in Detroit.

We’re actually one of the first big retailers in the specific area we’re anchoring. We also look at the proximity to sports facilities and to schools and our core consumers. Particularly with our Community Stores, we’re trying to ignite sport and employment and the Nike brand all at once. Both schools and sports venues are within close proximity, and that’s part of a formula that we know works.

bc: And why go with a Community Store format as opposed to a regular Nike retail store or your regular factory outlet?

Shi: It’s actually a type of factory store that we’ve developed. We develop sports and provide employment opportunities in given communities and also serve consumers by giving them access to Nike products and services. We don’t locate these stores in outlet malls, which are hard to get to with cars. Or in traditional power-retailing centers. We put them right in communities, and we are pretty selective about where they go. We work with local organizations and those that support athletics.

Our employment strategy is to hire 80 percent, and in some cases 100 percent, of our “athletes” [workers] from within a five-mile radius of the store. So it will be a very local store where they’ll be serving consumers in that community. It makes it much more convenient or likely that a teen in that community can get to work, and we can provide on-the-job training and development in jobs, from serving consumers in the store to shipping and receiving. We pay whatever the local competitive range is for wages.

bc: It also seems to be an opportunity for local marketing, with apparel and other goods that celebrate local sports teams?

Shi: Yes, in these stores we really dial up the local approach to store design and the environment, and in the actual assortment of merchandise. Before it opens we know the local high schools and colors and the local universities and colleges, of course, and we reflect that and the most important pro sports teams as well.

bc: What have you learned from the Community Stores effort that the Nike brand can bring to struggling communities?

Shi: We set off a lot of community action. There’s a lot of local hiring and relevance We have connections with local schools, because our employees will volunteer thousands of hours to local sports programs. We also have a community giving fund for each store.

We used to do more giving at a nationally directed level but now we have a fund that each store can access and can put together grant proposals that can be used for very local purposes, such as resurfacing a basketball court or connecting with a local group to get a run club going. And we help mainly within a radius around the store that our employees will help execute.

We’ve learned about the power of the levers that we pull when we open one of these stores.


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