One Step Ahead
By: Matt Martinelli
That gleaming 250,000-square-foot headquarters along the Mass. Pike isn’t the only new development at New Balance. “Products of all shapes and sizes are becoming digitally enabled,” says executive vice president Chris Ladd, “whether it’s your refrigerator or your coffeemaker or your car.” Your sneakers may be next. That’s why New Balance has partnered with Intel, Google, Strava and Zepp to build its new Digital Sport division, dedicated to creating new devices for athletes as well as sensor technology that can be embedded into footwear and apparel. “A lot of our competitors have been on an acquisition spree,” Ladd says. “We partnered with some of the biggest and best out there, so that they can remain great at what they’re great at and we can bring our knowledge of the athletic space as well as the running consumer.”
Ladd is hoping the partner approach can give New Balance a leg up on the competition, especially when it comes to the division’s first product: the smartwatch. New Balance’s research shows that 85 percent of its core demographic are currently running with a phone despite a desire to ditch it. So the company set out to create a standalone device that provides tracking and music with just a smartwatch and a pair of Bluetooth headphones. While the watch won’t be unveiled till August, and won’t start shipping till November, Ladd offers hints as to what runners can expect, including a heart-rate sensor on the wrist—a feature that Intel played a large role in.
“Heart rate is something you can’t get on your phone but that you certainly can get on this,” Ladd says. “As of this moment, there isn’t a competitor on the market today that offers the full suite of features and functionality that we will offer when ours comes to market.”
But the smartwatch is just the start for the Digital Sport division. Ladd knows that embedded sensor technology is the next step, and he hopes New Balance will be off and running from there. “We see ourselves as an athlete innovation company. In order to keep innovating for athletes, you have to have technology solutions and you have to have data. It’s clearly heading in that direction,” Ladd says. “This partnership has been so great for us. We have one of the world’s biggest and best technology partners, and we maintain our focus on the athletes, and together we can build these things that don’t exist yet.