How Converse Sells a Pair of Chucks Every 43 Seconds
Timeless and successful — irrespective of trends
Converse trainers are the most iconic shoe worn around the world as far as modern history goes. Worn by women and men alike, by grandparents, parents, and grandchildren together, they have probably traversed the streets of every country in the world. And it looks the same for almost a century. No other shoe model has remained the same for so long, which is remarkable in the century of great change, and it has not been so successful.
This is the story of some shoes, but also of the American dream. It is the story of an entrepreneur who came up with the right idea at the right time, the story of a man with flair who knew how to sell, the story of a sport, and, finally, the story of some canvas sneakers that went from the sports field to the red carpet.
Marquis Mills Converse
The American Marquis Mills Converse was 47 years old when he decided to leave the footwear company where he was manager to open his own business. It happened in 1908 in Malden, Massachusetts. The region from which it came, New England, had become, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the heart of the American Industrial Revolution and had an old tradition in the textile industry.
There were many shoe factories in every major city in the area. However, Converse ventured into the world of entrepreneurship on its own and looked for a niche to grow in. He named his new company the Converse Rubber Shoe Company and began producing winter shoes with rubber soles for men, women, and children.
New Sports Require New Shoes
As every impressive entrepreneur and marketer knows, it’s about seeing the gap in a certain niche or the potential to create a new niche in an existing market by developing a product to be more suitable for the specific new customer that had unique requirements. That is exactly what Marquis did with the Converse brand.
After the first years of success, the company expanded to a new field that looked very promising: sports shoes. Shoes for tennis or football already existed, but in basketball, a still new sport (played only for two decades, since the 1890s), players struggled with shoes unsuitable for the field and specific movements. Looking back, we realize that Mills Converse made a very brave decision: He bet on a new sport, not knowing if it would become as popular as baseball or football so that he’d have enough demand to support his business.
Converse launched the first basketball shoes in 1917. The first models, very similar to each other, were called “Surefoot” and “Big Nine.” The shoes were made of brown cloth, covered the ankle to ensure stability, and were tied tightly with laces. The black sole was made of rubber and had a diamond-shaped pattern to ensure grip on the ground. This is how they were advertised: The star model was presented as “Non-Skid,” meaning a shoe that does not slip. This was the element that ensured the success of the new basketball shoes. The players wearing Non-Skid now seemed to think the job was done and acted more defensively, just waiting for the ref to blow the final whistle. In addition, the shoes were very light, made almost entirely of canvas, with only a piece of rubber on the front for the protection of the toes, and the sole also made of rubber.
Chuck Taylor Giving Life to the Brand
The first years of production brought several improvements to the Non-Skid model. A new type of sole, with increased grip in the area of the pin and heel, and protection for the inside of the ankle, in the form of a round patch of leather, on which was the company logo.
In 1920, the company began production of a new model: Converse All Star. The name turned out to be almost prophetic. All Star ended up being worn by all the stars in the world. Sports stars, famous musicians and actors, politicians and crowned heads, but also simple people — for everyone, the same simple canvas shoes.
And the golden age of Converse began with a young basketball player with a special talent for the art of sales. Charles Hollis — known as Chuck — Taylor discovered basketball in high school and, in 1917, began wearing Converse shoes on the field. After several years of professional basketball, when it came time to look for work, Taylor thought of combining his passion for basketball and sales and presented himself at the Converse headquarters. He had some ideas for improving basketball shoes, but also for promoting them, so he went straight to the source, where he got the job on the spot.
With the entry of the United States into the Second World War, in 1941, the company turned its production to supporting war efforts. Model Chuck Taylor All Star became part of the Armed Forces training uniform, while sales of footwear to the general public were restricted. In addition, because in those years production was affected by the rationing of materials, the models produced were not as durable and wore much faster on the basketball court.
Taking the Brand to the Next Level
But after 1945 things returned to normal, and the company continued its upward path, taking advantage of the post-war renaissance of Americans’ passion for sports. Although baseball was still the most popular sport on the continent, basketball had begun to gain more and more ground, especially after the advent of the national basketball league. The National Basketball Association was founded in 1949, and the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star became his unofficial shoe.
The success of the Converse company was so great that, at one point, it came to monopolize the sports footwear market. Whoever did sports — any sport, not just basketball — definitely had a pair of All Stars in the closet. Then Converse left the arena and entered the daily life of people around the world. People started wearing Converse — they were just so comfortable — as street shoes, especially when models in all colors appeared.
The success was lasting, but it also hit a few obstacles. Towards the end of the 1960s, Converse lost its monopoly in the field of sports shoes in favor of more innovative companies. The moment of decline coincided with the disappearance of Chuck Taylor, who died in 1968. Then, in the 1970s, the sports footwear industry was dominated by Adidas and Puma, and in the following decade, by Reebok and Nike. These companies have invested a lot of money in aggressive marketing, but also in technological innovations in front of which the flat, simple sole of the Converse suddenly seemed outdated.
Converse consoled itself with success on the street. Everyone wore All Star — the adults who had grown up playing basketball in the first models of Converse, the baby boomer generation, but especially their children. In the 1980s and beyond, the company’s sales were largely due to young people around the world. The image of Converse was associated with the subcultures of young rebels — skateboarders, punks, rockers. Kurt Cobain singing on stage wearing a shabby pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars — no better commercial was needed.
However, poor management led to the bankruptcy of Converse in the third millennium. Its savior turned out to be her past rival: Nike Inc. bought the company in 2001 and put it back on its feet. The classic model has remained the star of the company, generating profits of hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Suffice to say that every 43 seconds someone in the world buys a pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars.