Asics’ flagship store on Toronto’s Queen Street West is slick and cool and looks a little like one might envision an Apple store in Tokyo. “Not your grandfather’s sneakers,” a tag line might read. There’s a gleaming wall of hip retro shoes and fashionable gear, as modelled by the international EDM superstar Steve Aoki, that puts to shame the more conservative fair offered at Lululemon, which isn’t very far away down the block. What’s happening with the 69-year-old Japanese running shoe company? Is one the most iconic running shoe brands in the world suddenly, um, cool?
“We will always be a performance brand,” says Richard Sullivan, president of ASICS Canada, in an interview ahead of his store opening, one of only four flagship Asics’ stores in the world (the others are in New York, Tokyo and London). “That said, of course we want to reach new consumers and, without for one minute exchanging anything in terms of quality, we want to have some fun in telling our brand story to consumers.”
So far, consumers have been more than engaged and Asics has the sporting, and running, world buzzing. The Nimbus 20 was launched earlier this year with new FlyteFoam technology and later this summer will see the launch of Kayano 25, the 25th edition of the flagship Asics’ shoe. Clearly the brand of Boston winner’s like Bill Rodgers and Amby Burfoot isn’t leaving competitive marathon running. (Indeed, Asics is the title sponsor of June’s Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon and next month’s Banque Scotia 21K in Montreal). However, by joining forces with Aoki and Penny Oleksiak, the youngest ever Canadian Olympic medallist—albeit, a swimmer—the brand is looking to cast a wider net, a younger net, and a net that might value “cool.”
I Move Me is the name of their new campaign and Asics wants to be on the feet of athletes everywhere, from the gym to the dance floor to a 5K start line.
“Steve Aoki, I thought he was a perfect fit. He’s a Japanese-American, a true fitness fanatic, and we can use him to demonstrate the freedom of I Move Me to get people active, whether it’s movement in running or training or tennis or court sports,” Sullivan says. “The point is we have a strategic plan leading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, of which we’re a gold sponsor, and I Move Me and the new flagship location are all part of our plan to tell our story in a better way.”
Running companies are adapting with the times. And the Asics shop on Queen Street West has a high-tech gait analysis system to pair runners with shoes. With the launch of their new store and their partnerships with Penny and Steve Aoki, Asics appears to be adapting in high style.