Stock - New Balance in Dubai
Stuart Henwood of New Balance: "Within the last two years of starting our own operations in the region, we have seen increased brand recall and visibility..." Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The US sneaker brand New Balance has been around the blocks for a while now – all 115 years and counting. So, it’s not likely to be ambushed by a competing brand upping its game or some hot new names – the Roger Federer associated On and Brooks Running - catching on like never before.

Chances are that those at New Balance would have seen it all, and then some. Now, New Balance has opened its flagship store in Dubai, at The Dubai Mall, and wholly owned by it. In a chat with Gulf News, Stuart Henwood, Country Manager, gives his take on what it means for the brand to be in control.

What difference will it mean having a store owned directly and without franchise partners?

We will have the opportunity to connect and engage with our customers at a grassroots level - and our objective is to create a space that serves as an enablement hub, a community space as well as a sneaker destination –as well as serving as focused brand activation. The store will support our existing regional partnerships by generating brand heat and being part of the market strategy.

And that’s continuing to push boundaries and elevating the brand experience – whether this be in-store, in our multi-brand partner locations - or across the x5 streams rolled out across the Gulf in the past nine months.

New Balance is seen as a dominant name in the US and Europe. Is there a lot of catch up to do in other regions?

We are extremely proud of our US heritage with Boston as our home. As we expand, we continue to show strong growth and momentum around the globe – showing that we are truly an international brand.

Within the MENA region, where we are a newer brand to market, demand continues to be strong.

Stock - New Balance in Dubai
The new wholly-owned New Balance store at The Dubai Mall. The Boston-headquartered brand is seeking a major breakthrough in the UAE and Gulf markets.

Some new specialty sneaker brands are starting to generate some serious heat. Are the rankings outside of the Top 3 names still to be decided?

Essentially, rankings differ depending on the region. New Balance’s growth in the Middle East over the last two years has shown triple-digit growth. Our role as a leading global athletic brand has earned us the reputation to now partner with some of the most in-demand design names such as JJJJound and Joshua Vides – bringing us both visibility and viability outside of the traditional sportswear.

We have invested in the infrastructure and functions for our MENA operations to be based here in Dubai. Within the last two years of starting our own operations in the region, we have seen increased brand recall and visibility. And controlling what we do and how we service our partners and consumers has been at the very core of this.

New Balance is an authentic challenger brand - and we acknowledge that we still have much work to do as we develop in the region. The opening of our Middle Eastern flagship store in the biggest mall in the world is a key milestone for the brand’s journey here.

Shouldn’t NB start be thinking of going bigger and deeper beyond sneakers? Or have the dynamics of the sneaker marketplace changed?

Internationally, we are recognised for both apparel as well as footwear as a true global athletic brand. Our footwear and apparel ranges have experienced significant growth over the past two years - globally and more specifically across the Middle East. This expansion is an integral part of New Balance’s growth across category as it enables us as a brand to now engage with consumers across both performance and lifestyle.

This growth across categories demonstrates our commitment and understanding of the importance of the apparel sector – and reflected and leveraged by both our global partnerships with athletic events such as the New York and London Marathons - as well as hype lifestyle collaborations with global names including Salehe Bembury and Staud & Casablanca.

Any early thoughts of using your brand leverage to work your way up in athleisure?

Since the onset of the pandemic, our apparel sales have spiked across both performance and lifestyle as consumers look for hybrid products that allow cross-purpose and shifts in working, working out and relaxing from home. The market demand for athleisure has shifted significantly in the last 18 months.