In 1906, William J. Riley, British emigrant, founded the New Balance Arch Support Company, manufacturing arch supports and other accessories designed to improve shoe fit in the Boston area. His first product, a flexible arch support, was designed with three support points to provide greater balance and comfort in the shoe. It is believed that Riley came up with the name “New Balance” by observing chickens in his yard and demonstrated the way his arch supports worked by keeping a chicken foot on his office desk. He explained to customers that the chicken’s three-clawed foot resulted in perfect balance. In 1927, Riley hired Arthur Hall to be a salesman. In 1934, Hall became a business partner and found his niche by marketing to people whose jobs required them to spend a lot of time standing. In 1956, Hall sold the business to his daughter Eleanor and her husband Paul Kidd.
Eleanor and Paul Kidd continued to sell mainly arch supports until 1960, when they designed and manufactured the “Trickster”, the world’s first running shoe made with a ripple sole. It was also the first running shoe to come in varying widths. The “Trackster” was given a big boost through the YMCA programs in which it became the unofficial shoe. College track teams such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tufts University and Boston University adopted the New Balance Trackster for their cross-country teams, soon to be followed by other colleges and private high schools around the country.
Marketing was mostly word-of-mouth or local sports fairs. Sales languished until 1972, when current Chairman Jim Davis bought the company the day of the Boston Marathon. At the time, the company consisted of six people making 30 pairs of shoes daily and selling products mostly through mail-order with a few U.S. retailers. Jim committed himself to uphold the company’s traditional commitment to individual preferences, customer service and quality products. His future wife Anne, who joined the company in 1978, focused on building a distinct culture for New Balance employees and customers. Their timing was perfect, as the Boston area became a center for the running boom that struck the U.S. in the 1970s. Their product line expanded and sales grew rapidly. The company prospered, and the Davises looked to expand New Balance into a global company. The company is now run by Rob DeMartini. DeMartini’s background includes Procter & Gamble and Gillette Shave Company. Today, 30 percent of the New Balance shoes sold in the European market are manufactured at the New Balance facility in Flimby, England.
In February 2015, the company announced its entry into the global soccer (association football) market. New Balance had started its soccer business through its subsidiary Warrior Sports in 2012, punctuated by a $40 million-a-year sponsorship deal with Liverpool, but made the move to rebrand based on the global reach of the parent brand.
History of New Balance Footwear
Made in USA (and UK) stance
New Balance is one of several shoe companies that makes some of their products in the United States. Green America states in the New Balance Responsible Shopper company information page that around one quarter of NB’s shoes are made in the United States. New Balance owns five factories in the United States: two in Massachusetts (Boston and Lawrence), and three in Maine (Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Norway)
In 1994, New Balance manufactured 70 percent of its shoes in the United States. In 2006, New Balance stated on its customer help site that “approximately 25% of the New Balance shoes sold in North America are Made in the USA and we will continue domestic manufacturing.” According to Fortune in 2006, “About 70 percent of its shoes are now made in China and the other 5 percent in Vietnam.”
The New Balance production facility in the United Kingdom has been, since 1982, at Flimby, Cumbria, in North West England, where 28,000 pairs of shoes are produced each week.
In the Spring of 2016, New Balance worked with Massachusetts and Maine legislators to craft a bill that would force the Department of Defense to purchase their athletic shoes for new recruits and military members in the US. The bill would amend the 1941 Berry Amendment and require the military to purchase 150,000 pairs of shoes each year that would be made in the United States. New Balance’s running shoes currently have some overseas components, but if the company received the military contract, then 100% of the shoes would then be made in the United States.
Recent New Balance Footwear
New Balance Numeric
in 2013, New Balance launched a skateboarding shoe brand dubbed “New Balance Numeric” that is distributed by Black Box Distribution, a company founded by professional skateboarder Jamie Thomas. Following the announcement of the partnership in December 2012, Thomas stated in an interview with the TransWorld Business publication, “I am most hyped about the positive energy this partnership creates for the future of our distribution as well as how this partnership enables us to further support skate retailers with a new brand they can trust and depend on.”
The Numeric brand is overseen by Brand Manager Sebastian Palmer, who was formerly with skate shoe brand eS, while Mike West, of Westlife Distribution and snowboarding brand 686, is Creative Director. West explained at the launch event, “I myself was a sponsored skateboarder back in the late eighties, so, for me, skateboarding is always at my heart, it’s something that I bleed in. Same with running, before skateboarding, so it kind of just all came to what we are today, which is New Balance Numeric skateboarding.” Palmer explained further at the same event:
New Balance is about doing things right. They are about doing things they wanna do, and following those through. We saw the chance to do something really authentic in a youthful culture that they [New Balance] hadn’t really had a presence in before. More than that, they saw an authentic culture that they wanted to be a part of.
A class action lawsuit against New Balance filed in 2011 alleges that the company’s toning footwear touts unproven benefits. In support of its claim of false advertising, it cites a University of Wisconsin–La Crosse research study on Toning Shoes that has been funded and published by the American Council on Exercise.
Researchers reported that there were no “statistically significant increases in either exercise response or muscle activation” as a result of wearing the Toning Shoes. There was no statistically significant difference between participants wearing special “Toning shoes” and controls wearing normal sneakers. The researchers concluded that there is “simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone.” However, it was noted that “These shoes may be encouraging a fair number of people who probably wouldn’t put on a normal pair of walking shoes and go out and walk.”