Underneath it All

As a novelist I hope I know a compelling story when I see one. It’s trickier when it comes to a tale about a business. Or is it? We start with a feel-good story involving an unlikely hero with a big idea and a will to win. Our hero then beats the odds (and a much bigger competitor) to survive and thrive, giving us the happy ending we were rooting for. The Under Armour story is a lot like that. It has a little of everything—as well as valuable lessons we can learn.
 
There Is Nothing New Under The Sun . . . Or Is There?
The type of shirts Under Armour made famous (by wicking away moisture from the body and helping to regulate temperature) are now everywhere, but the idea first came to UA founder Kevin Plank when he was a fullback at the University of Maryland in 1996. He was tired of changing the sweat soaked shirts he wore under his football uniform and wondered if there was a better way to make an undergarment. That’s when he noticed the compression shorts he wore at practice stayed cool and dry . . . and the rest is history.

How many times do we complain about something that doesn’t work well and say, “There has got to be a better way.” What we really want is a solution to our problem. People will pay for a solution. If enough people have the same problem and would be willing to pay for a solution, we could be the person with the next big idea (and big bucks). When we pay attention to our problems with an eye towards solving them, listen to others and what they are complaining about, and can think up a better way to do something we will be ahead of others who just take things the way they are or wait for others to make their lives easier and better.

 
Don’t Let a Lack of Money Stop You From Making Money
There are so many excuses people use to explain why they can’t do something and the most common one is a lack of money. “If only I had more money I would . . . ” and we can finish that sentence with all kinds of unfulfilled goals and dreams. Kevin Plank started Under Armour by tapping into his own savings, maxing out his credit cards, and applying for a Small Business Loan. The company now has annual revenue of almost $3 billion, but the first year’s sales were only $17,000 which left Plank deeply in debt and broke, but not broken.

Sometimes a lack of money (or a need to make it) can push us past what we think is possible or what we would be willing to do if we were wealthy. Kevin Plank loaded the trunk of his car with apparel and spent the year driving up and down the East Coast hawking his new line of shirts not getting his first team sale until months later. Now that Plank is a billionaire he says he still feels like he did when he started, like an underdog with something to prove. The company he started in his grandmother’s basement has grown into a six building complex in Baltimore (that was once a Proctor and Gamble factory) but he aptly named the company cafeteria, “Hungry and Humble”. 

 
It’s Easy To Sell Something You Believe is The Best
The above subhead says it all, but to expand on that thought don’t you agree it’s not selling if you truly believe what you offer is something someone else really wants and needs? Now you are simply informing them about something that will solve one or more of their problems. In the case of Under Armour, the concept was to create products to help athletes perform better by regulating their temperature with moisture wicking shirts and shorts. At first the founder simply told people what the benefits of his products were–and people were willing to pay for the warm weather short sleeve shirts.

Then he listened closely to what they told him they also needed (long sleeve shirts and cold weather gear.) The tipping point came when the first people who tried these products loved them so much they started telling others about them and the shirts started selling themselves. Plank insists the secret to his success is to be famous for doing one thing so well you are known as the best. That’s good advice for many of us, be the best at something which we can later leverage into other opportunities.

 
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Underneath it All

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