Yesterday, before a packed crowd in the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., Kevin Plank, founder and chief executive of Under Armour, made a not-so-stunning admission:
"You're right. I don't like my competition. At all."
"That was obvious about 40 minutes ago," replied Scott Wapner, anchor of CNBC's Fast Money Halftime Report, who interviewed Plank on stage.
During the wide-ranging conversation, part of Inc. and CNBC's Iconic 2015 Tour, Plank shared the story of Under Armour, from its earliest days, when he bagged up all of his old football gear made by a certain "N-word brand"--he won't say Nike's name out loud--to now, with his company ringing up billions in revenue and actually competing with Nike and Adidas in the eyes of many consumers and Wall Street investors--not just in his own head. (The Baltimore-based Under Armour is approaching $4 billion in annual revenue this year, while Nike will ring up around $30 billion.)
"They don't play fair. They never do. But you know what? We're about to be number one," Plank said.
Plank told the audience how: He plans to expand his company's offerings in footwear, soccer, and women's apparel. Under Armour is also making a concerted effort to beef up its technology and data abilities. So far the company has spent $715 million acquiring internet and fitness-data companies, including MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness, which gives them information on everything from what active consumers eat to how far they run, or ride bikes, or hike--enabling them to understand how customers use their products, and also identify new trends.
"We believe we can give consumers the best information to make their lives better," Plank said. "We now have data, how many steps they took, how much they slept, what their weight is, and that's an incredibly powerful tool." So, for instance, the company could recognize an uptick in hiking activity, and increase its marketing spending on that hobby.
To gather new ideas from outside the company, Under Armour also hosts an annual event called FutureShow, at which entrepreneurs and startups pitch the company on ideas for new kinds of fitness technology. During the presentation, the company winnows the pitches down to a handful of viable technologies that they then license, acquire, or otherwise bring to market.
All these moves, Plank says, will help give his company an edge on his entrenched and massive competitors.
"In my industry, a shirt and a shoe are still made the exact same way they were 80 years ago," he said. "We should be leading on behalf of that industry. I can't imagine trying to operate a company banking on the fact that my logo is cooler than somebody else's logo."
It's easy to imagine that goes double for a certain swoosh.