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Architecture + Branding: Divergent branded store portfolio imitates one of Nike’s long held axioms

1-Global powerhouse

Few would have believed that a gamble on importing Japanese-made running shoes into the US market would pen the opening chapters on what would become the story of the dominant name in sports apparel.

In 1964, Phil Knight and legendary track coach Bill Bowerman founded Blue Ribbon Sports with the initial mission to promote and distribute Tiger running shoes in the United States (source: Design is how it works, Jay Greene). Years later, as its relationship with Tiger grew more strained, Blue Ribbon Sports adopted the Nike name in homage to the Greek goddess of victory (source: Design is how it works, Jay Greene).

A global behemoth, it is seemingly impossible to follow professional sports, such as the NBA, or the NFL, or even amateur sports, such as the NCAA, without Nike in the picture. Whether directly on the court, or the field,  by way of shoes, apparel, sporting equipment, sponsorship deals with professional leagues, or with individual athletes, Nike has a large and looming presence in sports today.


Lebron James billboard during 2016 NBA Finals, (view from Huron Road East), Ontario Street, Cleveland, Ohio

Having moved the goal posts far beyond its original running sneaker niche into a lifestyle brand with a global footprint, the brand’s product breadth has grown exponentially.

Far removed from the days of Phil Knight peddling shoes from the trunk of his car at track events, the brand’s retail distribution channels have become more sophisticated. Adopting a multi-channel retail sales strategy, the vast portfolio of Nike branded stores sees the brand compete with its own retail partners for sales.


Footlocker, front view, 11 West 34th Street, New York, New York

In order to not cannabilize its distribution strategy, whereby the result is a zero-sum game, Nike inherently must shoulder the burden of growing the brand, creating, increasing, and maintaining desirability, and fostering an affinity or customer association to the brand.

2-Home advantage

Diving deep into the ethos of the neighbourhoods in which it opens it’s “city/neighbourhood-specific” branded stores, a particular subset of Nike stores tend to reflect, and emulate the character of the locale in which they operate. From stocking merchandise of the local sports teams, to decor items and murals highlighting local sport team colours, lore, heros and icons, to celebrating the local sporting culture, these stores strive to stitch themselves into the fabric of the communities which they serve.


Nike Georgetown, front view, 3040 M Street NW, Washington, District of Columbia (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Brooklyn (circa 2015), front 3/4 view, 2236 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Refreshingly not prototype, or cookie-cutter, the stores run the gamut of building types and architectural styles. Whether housed in the central business district (CDB) amongst commercial office towers, central downtown locations with heavy foot traffic, historic enclaves rich in older building stock, or new suburban constructions, Nike’s “city/neighbourhood-specific” stores appear more attuned to their surroundings, and blend into the milieu quite harmoniously.


Nike Boston (circa 2014), front 3/4 view, 200 Newbury Street, Boston, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Featuring minimal building modifications, signage in line with the adjacent commercial activities, and general respect for the surrounding built-environment, “city/neighbourhood-specific” stores offer a localized and tailored consumer shopping experience, and a brand building channel for the Nike brand.

3-Location with vocation

Ratcheting up the market segmentation one more level with psychographical markers, the brand has gone beyond “city/neighbourhood-specific” stores in a quest to establish even deeper connections with its customers.

Taking the attributes and design diversity apparent in the “city/neighbourhood-specific” store subset, Nike added a vocation or specialization into the mix to create a wholly unique retail experience.


Nike Running Flatiron (circa 2013), front 3/4 view, 156 5th Avenue, New York, New York (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Running Eugene, front 3/4 view, 135 Oakway Road, Eugene, Oregon (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Running Pasadena, front view, 37 West Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, California (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, flagship stores marketed under the NIKETOWN banner, could be summed up as a place see and experience everything Nike. Typically proposing the brand’s full range under one roof, it is essentially a swoosh-lover’s dream.


NIKETOWN, front 3/4 view, 1500 6th Avenue, Seattle, Washington


NIKETOWN Los Angeles, front view, 9560 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California (source: maps.google.com)

Limited in their vocation (Running), or gender specific (Women), or offering a unique experience customization (NikeID), this subset differs in product offering and experience, but very little in exterior aesthetic from the “city/neighbourhood-specific” branded stores.


Nike Running Upper East Side, front view, 1131 3rd Avenue, New York, New York (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Union Street (Women’s), front view, 2071 Union Street, San Francisco, California (source: maps.google.com)


NikeLab 21M (circa 2014), front 3/4 view, 21 Mercer Street, New York, New York (source: maps.google.com)

As before, limited building enhancements, consistent and coherent signage, and appreciation for the surrounding architectural stock allow these Nike stores to fit in within a cluster of similar stores.

4-Factory. Clearance. Outlet.

Regardless of community involvement and integration into the urban fabric, it would be a grand fallacy to infer Nike being on an equal footing with the locally owned/mom and pop, sporting goods/running store. While “city/neighbourhood-specific” and specialized stores may excel in selling the brand ideals and projecting Nike as a lifestyle brand, not all stores can be brand beacons, destination, or flagship stores. At times, retailing is summarily the gritty, low-fanfare, business of selling the product.

The more mundane task of moving out the slower selling merchandise, end of runs, out-of-season and discontinued items, or pushing through higher product volumes, falls almost entirely upon the overwhelmingly more numerous Nike Factory and Nike Clearance stores and Nike Outlet Centers, sprinkled throughout numerous urban areas, enclosed shopping malls, and strip/outlet malls.


Nike Factory Store, front view, 30 North Arkansas Avenue, Atlantic City, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store at Westgate Center, front 3/4 view, 1600 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose, California (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front view, 2692 Madison Road, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front view, 375 Prime Outlets Boulevard, Hagerstown, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

Taking a page from the “city/neighbourhood-specific” stores community integration playbook, Nike Factory, Nike Clearance, and Nike Outlets are seldom the most extravagant amongst their retail peers.


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 8510 South Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 300 Artisan Way Somerville, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 697 Broad Street, Newark, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Primarily located in suburban strip malls or exurban outlet malls, Nike Factory Stores, Nike Clearance Stores, and Nike Outlet Centers are almost wholly location dependent. Typically tied to the overall built design of the mall, the stores can vary greatly from location to location.


Nike Clearance Store, side 3/4 view, 530 Outlet Village Boulevard, Lebanon, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front view, 4250 Anthem Way, Phoenix, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Outlet Center, front view, 1553 Retherford Street, Tulare, California (source: maps.google.com)

Often devoid of prime locations within the shopping complex, or massive signage, or ornate designs, many stores call little attention towards themselves.


Nike Factory Store, front view, 20350 Summerlin Road, Fort Myers, Florida (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front view, 199 Outlet Center Drive, Queenstown, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 9851 South Eastern Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front view, 4600 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

Alternatively, when presented with a corner location, or a more intricate store design, the stores will invariably gain more prominence among its retail brethren.


Nike Factory Store, rear 3/4 view, 1650 Premium Outlets Boulevard, Aurora, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 5195 Factory Shops Boulevard, Ellenton, Florida (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, side 3/4 view, 6800 North 95th Avenue, Glendale, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 5704 McWhinney Boulevard, Loveland, Colorado (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 3700 North Cabela’s Boulevard, Lehi, Utah (source; maps.google.com)


Nike Clearance Store, front 3/4 view, 140 West High Street, Centralia, Washington (source: maps.google.com)

Ganged amongst other retailers, or occupying a free-standing building, there are few clear markers, or traits within the store portfolio which could be construed as irrefutable brand elements, thus serving to amalgamate all the various stores under one broad, overarching brand design umbrella.


Nike Factory Store, side view, 7654 West Reno Avenue, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 6149 West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, Kissimmee, Florida (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, side 3/4 view, 71 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, California (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 4326 King Street East, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 300 Fashion Way, Burlington, Washington (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front view, 38500 Tanger Drive, North Branch, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

And, due to finite building alterations, location appropriate signage, and regard for adjacent architectural environment, Nike Factory, Nike Clearance, and Nike Outlet locations tend to blend into their built landscape rather seamlessly.

5-Athlete in everyone

Although a hierarchical system obviously exists in its retail portfolio, Nike branded store are just as likely to be located in an urban core at a busy intersection, in a suburban shopping mall, or tucked into the far back confines of an outlet mall off the interstate. And, in almost every case, the architectural identity and form factor is much more likely to be determined by location than by store vocation.


Nike Portland, front 3/4 view, 638 SW 5th Avenue, Portland, Oregon (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 4101 South Carrollton Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)


Nike Factory Store, front 3/4 view, 1025 Industrial Park Drive, Smithfield, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

In a way, the dissimilar stores, through their various architecture, inconsistent design, and locational determinism, pay respect to one of Bill Bowerman’s famous quotes, “If you have a body, you are an athlete”. Although overshadowed by the “Just Do It” campaign from 1988, Bill Bowerman’s creed invariably held that, regardless of body type, age, level of fitness, there is an athlete in everyone.

Operating such a disparate collection of retail store, with no prototype, one-size-fits-all mentality, unifying theme, look, design, similarity, narrative, aesthetic, or style, seems to bring the co-founder’s ideal to life in a very real and concrete manner, and reflect the ethos and character of the brand.

As there is no single type of athlete, there is no single type of Nike branded store.


Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


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