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Volume 20 No. 46
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Plugged In: Mark O’Brien, president, Mizuno USA

Mark O’Brien took over as president of Mizuno USA in January, two years after joining the sporting goods firm. In April, the company opened its first Mizuno Experience Center. The 4,000-square-foot high-tech retail space is part of The Battery Atlanta, the mixed-use district next to SunTrust Park, the Braves’ new stadium. The store uses video technology in a “laboratory” setting to separate itself from traditional retailers.

The experience center is proving to be a great tool to give the consumer of today a true experience and immersion, unlike traditional retail.

On the new store: From a consumer standpoint, it’s knocking it out of the park. I think what they’re really looking for is a different type of retail environment. What they’re telling us is that they get that combination of product experience and overall brand immersion … in an environment that isn’t just flat walls and product that you’re tripping over. You can go deep in any direction that you like. You can speak to a specialist in a swing lab about your golf club swing, or if you really want to understand the right running performance footwear and do a foot analysis in our run lab. It’s taking retail to a completely different experience level, and that’s what’s exciting for us.

Mark O'Brien.
The strategy behind the concept: One of the things we want to do is build the brand from our home market [in Atlanta] outward. We’ve been here in North America since the early ’80s, but there’s a lot of people that still aren’t familiar with Mizuno. The concept itself was “Let’s not just do a retail or outlet store. Let’s develop a premium experience for the consumer and use it as a beacon to tell our story nationally and globally.” That’s what we’re seeing happen. It’s one tactic we’re leveraging in a broader strategy to build our brand across the country.

On competing against online sports retail: Everyone is in search of what’s next due to the penetration of online buying. There’s still a need for an experience beyond just a “click and ship.” The other piece we’ve added to the experience center is the endless aisle, where even if it’s not in store, there are kiosks throughout the store so the consumer can find anything that we might have and we can help them source it and ship it in a matter of days. That’s the new reality. Consumers expect to receive products immediately because so many experience it on a daily basis now.

On Mizuno’s “Rent a Glove” kiosk inside SunTrust Park: Again, it speaks to experiences and that emotional connection that consumers can have with the brand. You can check out a ball glove for free [by leaving a credit card number], so if you forget your glove or don’t have one with you, no problem. We’re surprised at how many adults have been attracted to it. Sometimes they return the glove and sometimes they come by and want to purchase it. The first woman who checked one out caught a home run [at the April 14 regular-season opener] and that’s a lifetime memory that Mizuno is now a part of. She posted a picture on her social channels; her eyes are beaming with excitement.

                                                                                                                               — Don Muret