PSFK chats with ARCH sneaker brand founder Chris Burns about the intersection of sports and literature and how to create a lasting brand from scratch.
Self-confessed multi-career man Chris Burns has a lot on his CV: Founder of sneaker brand ARCH, owner of an online sports shoe store and a small publishing company, and lecturer in PR & marketing. Plus, there’s the successful writing career and a history in sports coaching. Exhausting? Of course. But Burns is aware that forging a new niche in a sports footwear market dominated by the big players isn’t just about creating a great new shoe- it’s about being able to turn his hand to just about anything.
We caught up with Chris for a chat about shoe design, poetry readings and how managing his social media is getting to be something of a full time job…
Let’s start with the Olympics- have you been enjoying the games? And do you plan to use the games to raise a little brand awareness of your own?
I wish I could have gone to the Olympics this year! It’s on my bucket list to one day see it in person! I really like that people get excited about the games- it’s the only time that people actually care about events and sports that are often overlooked in the US.
As for using the opportunity to build brand awareness, the Olympics have always been a statement event for shoe brands. Unfortunately as a small business I don’t have the funding to generate a full scale campaign for ARCH around the Olympics, but I have timed the launch of my ARCH running shoe – the CG097II – with the start of the games. I even have US and Barbados colour ways (in honour of Ian Gale who designed the shoe). I’ll certainly be taking advantage of the fact that many people begin jogging and running when the Olympics roll around.
You’ve had a lot of experience coaching basketball and working with young people. How important is fashion in relation to sport? Did the boys you worked with feel conscious about what they wore on and off court?
As a coach I had to be very conscious of what my players wanted to wear. Before founding ARCH I coached at one of the toughest schools in San Diego and so I wanted my players to exceed the expectations people had of our part of town. I even went so far as to tell my players that when they looked good they played better. You know – tucked in shirt, shoes clean, everyone well-groomed.
I also worked a lot with young people through my website Center Court Basketball. I created this site to help high school players and junior college basketball players get scholarships to various universities. I ran this website actively and really successfully for 4 years up until 2008 before founding ARCH in 2009. The site now acts as a home for my various projects as well as my online sneaker store and ARCH.
In a sports shoe market pretty much dominated by Nike, what do you bring to the table that isn’t there already?
What no shoe brand has done to this day is to discuss how comfortable their shoes are straight out of the box. The CG097II (my newest design) is going to be a lightweight, cushioned running shoe that allows the person who is wearing it to be comfortable right away at a great price.
My goal is also to offer people a shoe that is different. When I was growing up, the more of an individual you were, the more you stood out. I plan to always keep the production of my shoes and colour ways to a limited volume. With ARCH you are never going to walk into a room and see thirty other people wearing the exact same shoes. There isn’t anything cool or stylish about wearing what everyone else has on.
You lecture in marketing and obviously know a thing or two about self promotion and PR. If you had to advise other businesses start-ups on how best to promote, what would you say?
If I had to give advice to anyone starting up a business it would be to start reading books. ‘REWORK’ by Jason Fried, ‘Eating the Big Fish’ by Adam Morgan, ‘Primal Branding’ by Patrick Hanlon – I’ve read all of these books and many others, and each one has its own method of approaching marketing.
Obviously social media plays a massive role and this has given small businesses a huge platform at zero cost. The problem is that there are so many different platforms to manage that it can become a job in itself! I think all small business people should find the social media outlets that they like operating and focus primarily on those. I am now at the point where I have a Twitter, Facebook, Google + and Tumblr, but I place the majority of time into Facebook because it is where I am most comfortable and get the best results.
In terms of building an online presence it’s really important to reach out to bloggers. These days I think it’s easy to focus too heavily on social media but bloggers still have an extraordinary amount of influence. Social media is quick but not necessarily lasting.
You’re a successful writer and say you first got into writing after attending a poetry reading at college and consequently wrote several books. The two worlds of sport and literature seem so wildly different- do they complement each other?
Funnily enough, the worlds of sport and literature have become a lot more intertwined. Many sports writers have penned books with and for professional athletes. Even during this year’s NBA Finals, one of the biggest stories was Lebron James reading the Hunger Games trilogy to take his mind off the banter surrounding his play. I think writing is like sports in a lot of ways. To be a good writer, you have to practice. You have to read and write daily to hone the skills needed to create poetry or fiction.
For me, there isn’t any distinction at all between the two disciplines, although it hasn’t always been this way. When I was playing college basketball I really didn’t let my team mates know I was going to poetry readings and as I moved further into my college career I kept the two things separate. Now I feel that my writing and my participation in the sports world both help each other which is why I have finally decided to pursue both this year.
Buy ARCH shoes, pre-order the new CG097II running shoe and find out about Chris’ other projects here.