by James Manning
My initial thought to Stephon Marbury’s fifteen dollar show was, “no way.” I could not envision people lining up to purchase shoes at that price point because $15 screamed, CHEAP. And there are very things in the world that people consider cheap that has any prestige. At that price point, the shoe at best is a utilitarian object; a throwaway piece of clothing on par with a bag of socks. If this is the plan then he’s good but based on his interviews, Marbury is striving for something else. In comparing the shoes the Jordan’s, he wants his show coveted like high-end shoes but sold at Fleet Market prices. That’s a hell of a balancing act and I figured he would fail miserably.
When it comes to basketball shoes, there are two major consumer groups: sneaker heads and ballers. Marbury knows this so while he talked about making shoes affordable for regular kids in the neighborhood, he needs sneaker heads and ballers to validate the product to have any credibility. Thus, the comparison with Jordan’s and other high-end name brands. Again, I first thought this was a terrible idea and that if he really wanted to play in this arena he needs to price the shoes to where a comparison was plausible. I no longer believe that and I’ve come around to better understanding his marketing and business strategy.
Every NBA superstar has a shoe contract and their shoes range anywhere from $70 for the Nike KD 8 to $250 for the Nike Kobe X Elite. As good as Stephon Marbury was, he does have the name cachet as either KD or Kobe. He didn’t even have it when he was playing. So, what point would it have made to try and compete in the product segment? But then why to try and create a $50 shoe – that’s not exciting. There are thousands of shoes at that price point. There is nothing fresh or innovative in doing that. The only thing that makes sense is to carve out a completely new market. Low-cost shoe marketed as high end. That’s bold. That’s exciting. That’s the type of thing that gets you on Good Morning America and a write-up in the New York Times. Even if it’s not true – by all accounts, the shoe is not the same quality a pair of Jordan’s – it gives people a reason to talk about the shoe. It creates a buzz where sneakerheads and ballers won’t laugh you off the court if they see you sporting them. And the fact that the shoe sold out, the strategy is working.
In the long run, I don’t know how successful the shoe can be. At some point, he’ll have to up the quality of the shoe. He has already had to do a complete redesign to make the shoes visually more appealing. He’ll also have to make them easier to get. I searched for several hours online and the only place I could buy a pair was on Ebay. And those guys are marking up the shoes 200% which defeats the purpose of the strategy. He doesn’t have a website that could, at least, point to stores that sold the shoe. From a business and supply chain perspective, he has work to do. But the marketing is on point and I believe he may have created a space where people in other industries could do the same thing.
But Marbury’s biggest advantage is his position as a superstar in China. Having celebrity status with a shoe priced for the average consumer is beyond genius. It is possible that his shoe could become ubiquitous in the largest consumer market in the world. As suspect as I was about the Starbury shoe line, I find myself in full support of his effort. It may or may not work out but it is a worthy goal and he should be commended for it.
Images via HoopsChinaby