New Balance Numeric’s GM Reflects on 10 Years in Skate
New Balance Numeric’s Long Beach, California office is a long way from its parent’s corporate headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts.
The seven-person Numeric office, headed by General Manager Sebastian Palmer, is a scrappy team that’s got a lot to celebrate. The skateboarding division of a company rooted in running celebrates 10 years this year as one of its parent’s largest divisions after running and baseball.
On Sept. 15 Numeric released its first signature product with team rider and Baker Skateboards co-founder Andrew Reynolds. The shoe launched at specialty skate shops and was available in core doors through the weekend before sales opened up online Sept. 18. Most sizes sold out the same day the shoe became available on New Balance’s site.
The $99.99 style is notable as the skate shoe brand looks ahead to growth under New Balance’s broader ambitions over the next few years.
The signature shoes with team riders like Reynolds, Jamie Foy, and Tiago Lemos, have been critical to Numeric’s trajectory and will continue to be looking ahead.
“The signature product is really driving our success,” Palmer said. “There started to be a lack of confidence in signature models (within the broader industry), but I think we’ve demonstrated that the right names with the right models, works.”
For Numeric, its directives aren’t anything flashy beyond what it’s been doing for the past decade: get the technical details right, focus on the core, and stay close to the pulse of skateboarding.
New Balance President and CEO Joe Preston told Fortune magazine earlier this year the company has the potential to about double total sales over the next few years to $10 billion.
New Balance’s sales in 2022 totaled $5.3 billion, up over 20% from the prior year.
The target would still make New Balance a fraction of the size of Nike, which had revenue of $46.7 billion in its fiscal year ended May 31, or Adidas with 2022 net sales of 22.5 billion euros ($23.95 billion). However, growing to the size of a rival isn’t the point, according to Palmer.
“Vans and Nike have got a very strong hold on the skate footwear market obviously and we’re vying it out with Adidas for the third position,” Palmer said. “We’re happy with the positioning (in stores). We’re not trying to be the biggest. We’re just trying to be the best we can be. I know it sounds corny, but it’s what we live by.”
Getting Product Right
That philosophy has guided Numeric since the start.
Ten years ago, New Balance entered skate with a licensing model, tapping Black Box Distribution and Westlife Distribution as partners.
It was a way to align with known names in the industry, but the company was able to quickly move beyond that structure to bring the work in-house.
“The first iteration (of Numeric) was an unusual situation because it was a licensing situation,” Palmer said. “New Balance was in a very different place when they were licensing different categories like skateboarding, golf, and other areas. Their intention was to partner with authentic people from the skateboard industry, hence working with (Westlife CEO) Mike West and (Black Box founder) Jamie (Thomas). But for such a large company, they realized it wasn’t the right dynamic, so after the initial launch, the relationship ended pretty quickly, and we took a step back.”
Palmer, who joined as a brand manager in 2012 and was named GM in 2019, then helped with Numeric’s relaunch in 2015. From there, the team worked to get the fit of the shoes right, be consistent with product, and gain consumer confidence.
“I would say it took until 2019 for us to really get some fundamental things right,” Palmer said. “The one consistency that I’m proud of is our athlete roster and our marketing output, particularly with films, still stands the test of time. That was consistent throughout the 10 years.”
More recently, the company re-tooled its sales model in Europe, moving away from working with a distributor to take the business in-house in the key European markets of France, Germany, and the Benelux region.
Behind all of the moves across the business is the talent behind the Numeric team.
“We’re not in Massachusetts. We’re based in the heart of the skateboard industry,” Palmer said. “Everybody that works in our office has a history of working in and around skateboarding. We have three former professional skateboarders, really talented designers, and a sponsored skate crew. So that’s what we’ve based this around – the right employees that understand and have the same consistent take on skateboarding.”
The question of where Numeric is going, Palmer said, is to maintain and continue building off that foundation.
While staying close to skate is important as a skateboarding division, there’s still cross-pollination to be had with so many other sports and footwear technologies in the New Balance fold.
The NB Numeric 440 Trail shoe, which is currently out, is a good example.
The high top is fully skateable but can also be used outside of skateboarding, giving consumers more bang for their buck.
“We wanted something that was more winterized,” Palmer said. “We know a lot of our consumers can’t afford multiple shoes. Therefore, they can still skate in this. But, in a Northern or wetter climate, it gives them something to wear. We’re having fun with it and we (in the office) all hike and do other activities.”
The recently released Andrew Reynolds signature shoe is another example, offering the skateboarder’s colorway on the New Balance 480, which is a basketball shoe.
A future shoe will take an indoor soccer style and modify it for skateboarding, and more cross-category work will continue in the coming years.
Added to all of this are plans to ramp up work on the apparel front, which is a small part of the business now, but something executives hope will be a stronger part of Numeric sales in the future with more co-developed clothing, accessories, and bags.
“There’s definitely a chance to do more cross-category product stories,” Palmer said, “but our basis always has to be related to skateboarding.”
Kari Hamanaka can be reached at email@example.com.