Brand Sagamore: Baltimore Walks The Plank

The Wall Street Journal: “Rising high above the new Sagamore Spirit distillery in South Baltimore is a white water tower with three maroon diamonds on each side, a nod to the jockey silks of the thoroughbred farm that provides the spring water for the company’s rye whiskey. The distillery, which opened a few weeks ago, is the latest endeavor of the growing business empire of Kevin A. Plank, founder and chief executive of the sportswear company Under Armour. His new enterprises — collectively they are called Plank Industries but nearly all have Sagamore in their names — are reshaping Baltimore’s waterfront and restoring luster to Maryland traditions and landmarks.”

“In March, Mr. Plank’s Sagamore Pendry hotel opened not far away in the Recreation Pier building in the Fells Point neighborhood after a roughly $60 million renovation. Outside the hotel, a fleet of new water taxis owned by Mr. Plank and modeled after Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats will soon ferry riders to Port Covington, the industrial South Baltimore waterfront area that is undergoing a $5.5 billion overhaul led by his real estate firm, Sagamore Development.”

“Inside the production center of Sagamore Spirit’s three-building complex in Port Covington, another three-diamond-stamped beacon greets passers-by: a 40-foot copper column still with a mirror finish that is believed to be the first of its kind. Asked why the finish was essential, Brian Treacy, president of Sagamore Spirit, channeled Mr. Plank, a childhood friend. ‘Because it’s all about brand,’ he replied.”

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Nike Zoom Vaporfly: An Unfair Footwear Advantage?

The New York Times: A new Nike shoe design, Zoom Vaporfly, has “produced fast times and impressive results in international races. But they have also spurred yet another debate about the advance of technology and the gray area where innovation meets extremely vague rules about what is considered unfair performance enhancement for the feet. Where to draw the line of permissible assistance?”

“The shoes weigh about 6.5 ounces and feature a thick but lightweight midsole that is said to return 13 percent more energy than more conventional foam midsoles. Some runners have said the shoes reduce fatigue in their legs. Embedded in the length of the midsole is a thin, stiff carbon-fiber plate that is scooped like a spoon. Imagined another way, it is somewhat curved like a blade. The plate is designed to reduce the amount of oxygen needed to run at a fast pace. It stores and releases energy with each stride and is meant to act as a kind of slingshot, or catapult, to propel runners forward.”

“Nike says that the carbon-fiber plate saves 4 percent of the energy needed to run at a given speed when compared with another of its popular racing shoes … In truth, some experts said, debate about Nike’s latest shoes may only help increase sales to joggers and four-hour marathoners. A less expensive model than the Olympic shoe, with similar technology, goes on sale in June for $150.” Bret Schoolmeester of Nike comments: “To me, it’s kind of a compliment when you are delivering a big enough benefit that people are starting to ask, is this unfair? We don’t believe it is, but that’s pretty flattering.”

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Nike Luxury: It Means Better Service

Business Insider: “For anyone who has recently bought Nike shoes or apparel, or walked into one of its latest stores, this won’t be news: Nike has slid upscale recently … The brand’s promotional efforts skew towards its newest and greatest inventions, as well as its more expensive offerings.”

“More recently, Nike has signaled a different approach to welcoming customers into its stores. Its new store in New York’s Soho neighborhood offers customers the opportunity to make one-on-one appointments with Nike staff … Customers can bring in all kinds of concerns for the staff to help with … The store also has areas where customers can test out its shoes and equipment in an ‘immersive experience.’ It represents a shift in how the company sees brick-and-mortar retail, and is being called a guide for future stores from the brand.”

“Nike clearly believes that an elevated price point also means elevated service, and it’s headed full speed in that direction. As Nike places a larger emphasis on its direct-to-consumer division, it’s also taking greater care of how it is perceived by customers, as well as how it interacts with those customers.”

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Costco Golf Balls: The New ‘Two-Buck Chuck’

The Wall Street Journal: Costco, the warehouse retail giant, first began selling golf balls last fall, under its Kirkland Signature brand that is affixed to a wide range of products and carries discount prices. Available for $29.99 for two dozen, the balls instantly ranked among the cheapest on the market … But what made the balls a hot item among fanatical golfers is the revelation that, by some accounts, they perform like rivals that sell for more than twice as much.”

“That idea sent shock waves through a billion-dollar industry, left Costco out of stock for weeks at a time and caused secondary-market prices for the ball to soar. Its popularity is threatening one of the sport’s long-held consumer beliefs: when it comes to the quality of golf balls, you generally get what you pay for.”

“The balls were made at a factory in South Korea by a company called Nassau Golf, which also manufactures balls for TaylorMade, one of the major equipment manufacturers … the company had an excess supply that it sold to Costco through a third-party trader … According to a Nassau executive based in Europe … both Nassau and TaylorMade, its biggest client, are unhappy with the rise of the $1.25 golf ball and that the company won’t sell excess supply in such large quantities again.”

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Adidas Speedfactory: Robotic Innovation

The Economist: “Behind closed doors in the Bavarian town of Ansbach a new factory is taking shape. That it will use robots and novel production techniques such as additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing) is not surprising for Germany … What is unique about this factory is that it will not be making cars, aircraft or electronics but trainers (athletic shoes) … an $80bn-a-year industry that has been offshored largely to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. By bringing production home, this factory is out to reinvent an industry.”

“The Speedfactory, as the Ansbach plant is called, belongs to Adidas … The machines carrying out this work will be highly automated and use processes such as computerised knitting, robotic cutting and additive manufacturing … Driven by software, the robots, knitting machines and 3D printers take their instructions directly from the computer-design program, so they can switch from making one thing to another quickly, without having to stop production for what can amount to several days in order to retool conventional machines and instruct manual workers.”

“Sneakerheads are likely to approve … Leaving behind manual production methods will allow Adidas to come up with novel shapes and finishes. One new material the firm has already experimented with is Biosteel, a synthetic silk made by AMSilk, a German biotech company. Production will also become more customised, perhaps even with bespoke trainers fashioned from a computer scan of how a person walks or runs.”

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Adidas Biofabric: A Shoe That Melts in Your Sink

Wired: “The Adidas Futurecraft Biofabric, a biodegradable running shoe, debuted at last week’s Biofabricate conference in New York … the Futurecraft Biofabric looks a lot like a modern athletic shoe. The open-knit upper has a golden sheen, and it connects to Adidas’s trademark Boost sole … the shoe is 15 percent lighter than one made from traditional polymers, and credits its weight-savings … a synthetic spider silk it calls Biosteel.”

“AMSilk creates that Biosteel textile by fermenting genetically modified bacteria.That process creates a powder substrate, which AMSilk then spins into its Biosteel yarn. All of this happens in a lab, and … uses a fraction of the electricity and fossil fuels that plastics take to produce … AMSilk also created an enzyme solution that lets shoe owners dissolve their kicks at home, in the sink, after about two years of high-impact wear … the solution comes in little packets … and can safely disintegrate a pair of Futurecraft Biofabric shoes in a matter of hours.”

“Biodegradability both defines the shoe’s appeal and presents its biggest obstacle … High performance sportswear has certainly trended slimmer and lighter … But a shoe that’s designed to disintegrate?” James Carnes of Adidas thinks it’s on trend: “Most people don’t think about buying a product that’s intended to break down. Luxury absolutely used to mean heavy and stiff and solid, and slowly it’s changed into buying other things. Like if you buy a down jacket, it’s expected to be insulated and lightweight.”

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REI-mania: Flagship Store Was Beatles Arena

The Washington Post: “The vaulted, concrete-domed Uline Arena in Northeast Washington” is now the “East Coast’s largest REI store, a popular outdoor specialty chain that hopes to become a destination in the nation’s capital … Ice distributor Miguel Uline opened the eponymous arena in 1941 as a hockey rink and repurposed it into housing for service members during World War II. After the war, it was restored as a hockey and basketball arena … it was 1964 when the arena … made its biggest headline: The Beatles performed their first U.S. concert there shortly after their famed ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ appearance.”

‘Throughout the 1990s, the arena served as a trash-transfer station until Douglas Development purchased the property in 2004 … The 51,000-square-foot REI store now joins a changing NoMa landscape filled with luxury condos, office buildings and retail shops.” Norman Jemal of Douglas Development comments: “This is transformative. We looked at it as a game-changer for the community. You’re talking about a lot of history here. A lot of Washington, D.C., here. It touched a lot of people.”

“As an ode to the arena’s history, columns throughout the store are covered with concert posters of the Beatles, go-go bands and artists who performed there. One wall contains rows of seats from the original basketball arena … The store has event rooms, a courtyard and a La Colombe Coffee cafe. The National Park Service also has a kiosk inside, where an employee from the federal agency will be on hand to recommend outdoor travel destinations to customers.”

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Bullpen Cubs & The Sweet Smell of Success

The Wall Street Journal: “The Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series on the strength of many important traits, among them extraordinary depth, exquisite defense and superb starting pitching. They may also have the best-smelling bullpen in baseball … Most ballplayers use something to reduce the body odor produced by sweat-inducing activity. It’s called deodorant. Far fewer go so far as to add perfume to their pregame routine.”

To Cubs reliever Pedro Strop “the smell of victory begins with the scent of L’Homme by Yves Saint Laurent.” He comments: “I always say, ‘You smell good, you perform good'” … Last year’s World Series champion, the Kansas City Royals, featured two players, catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar, who wore Victoria’s Secret perfume during games. They believed it helped them play better. David Ortiz, who just finished his legendary career with the Boston Red Sox, wore cologne during the team’s 2013 title run.”

“Cubs manager Joe Maddon is no stranger to the power of smell. In early 2014, while managing the Tampa Bay Rays, Maddon had a problem: His team stunk. To help pull the Rays out of last place, he brought several bottles of old cologne to the ballpark one day and put them on a table for players to try. The team responded with a much-needed victory … But the scent of the Cubs’ bullpen is of the pitchers’ own making” based on “a firm belief that a refined smell leads to an elegant performance.”

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Outside Baseball: Mets Announcers Go Rogue

The Wall Street Journal: “The Mets broadcast trio—Gary Cohen on play-by-play with Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling as the analysts—is widely acknowledged as one of the best in baseball … But what makes fans so obsessed with them begins with a revolutionary idea that has nothing to do with their sharp baseball commentary. They’re at their best when, during baseball games, they’re not talking about baseball.”

“During their 11 years on air together, the trio has mastered the art of the tangent. Take this short list of some notable midgame conversation topics from a Wall Street Journal sampling of games this season: a primer on impressionist and pointillist art; a history of French exploration beyond the Mississippi; the frustration of the 7-10 split in bowling; Mirkwood forest from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”; getting pickpocketed at Mardi Gras; the Marmaduke and Beetle Bailey comics; and at what age it’s appropriate to take up the javelin.”

Keith Hernandez explains: “We’re going to have sh***y games. And if I’m bored, I know the people out there are bored.” Here’s a sample:

What’s more “Cohen, Darling and Hernandez stand out as one of the handful of crews that avoids biased language or openly rooting for their team.”

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Quote of the Day: Dick Johnson

“The facts are that most of the basketball shoes that we sell never see a basketball court. Most of the running shoes that we sell never see the roads or the trail or the track. They just look really good, and they’re part of the sneaker culture that we really support.” – Dick Johnson, CEO of Foot Locker, reporting that second-quarter sales at existing Foot Locker stores rose 4.7%, via The Wall Street Journal.

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