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Nike, One of the World's Biggest Brands, Wants to Be Exclusive

The sportswear giant is seriously changing its retail focus

Photo: Johannes Eisele / Getty Images

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In the face of the retail apocalypse, Nike is seriously rethinking its approach to retail. During Wednesday’s investor day, the sportswear giant announced that it would shift its focus from 30,000 to just 40 wholesale partners.

Brand president Trevor Edwards didn’t name the 40 stores, but he did mention Nordstrom and Foot Locker among those giving customers a unique experience, which is what Nike will look for in a retail space moving forward. He added flatly that “undifferentiated, mediocre retail won’t survive.”

It would be inaccurate to say Nike will now be in limited distribution — over the summer, the company finally caved to pressure and inked a deal to sell directly onto Amazon, and it will still sell to most of its accounts — but it will offer exclusive product to the 40 retailers it will focus on over the next five years. In an effort to boost its website sales, Nike's president of direct-to-consumer business Heidi O'Neill said the company is pushing shoppers to become “members” of Nike hopes to triple its membership, currently 100 million, over the next five years by making a third of Nike product “distinct to and exclusive to members.”

Nike’s pivot suggests it wants to push from mass market to exclusive in the coming years. It’s been able to leverage its cool by teaming up with celebrities, musicians, and streetwear brands and has benefited from growing sneaker culture, but its influence and reputation have ebbed as a result of competing with Adidas, which has Kanye, Pharrell Williams, and those immortal Stan Smith shoes in its corner. Can a brand with arguably the most recognizable logo make itself rare?