A Brief Dive into AND1’s Failing Business Strategies

I’m a 90’s city baby who completely missed the AND1 wave, but after watching Netflix’s Untold: The Rise And Fall Of AND1 I became deeply invested in their story. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to take an anthropological dive into early 2000’s street wear and also learn from the company’s failures.

My partner, a Black boy and basketball fanatic from a suburb near a major-metropolitan area was smack-middle of AND1’s target marketing – and geesh, did they get him. He, along with millions others, followed along with the AND1 players infusing their brand and poetic moves into basketball courts across the country, with annual revenues that once peaked to $250 million in the early 2000’s. Today, the company is almost unknown.

Here are a few cautionary tales we captured from the Untold: The Rise And Fall Of AND1 story.

1. The competition is forever on the hunt.

It was no secret to AND1 that Nike was their biggest competition. They also knew the giant shoemaker marked the street wear startup as a competitive target early on. Still, they seem to have been taken by surprise when Nike’s 2001 iconic basketball commercial was released, directly targeting their market share. Once Nike deployed their strategy on a larger scale, they cowered instead of innovating. Truth is, their market instability problems began way before the squeaky basketball beat because they ceased to reinvent at the pace of industry maturity, which made their brand easy to imitate.

There’s a lesson here: The market is always maturing as competitors find what’s working in their segment and implement it into their business model. If you’re not actively seeking change as a company, your differentiator is bound to get folded into “industry standards.”

You can find so many more of these AND1 mixtape video clips on TravinJaks website.

Business Action Takeaway

Create a quarterly or annual plan to assess the market and your position within in. Do a SWOT, SOAR, NOISE, SCOC, PESTEL, etc. (there are many options, just try one to see if it works for you. if it doesn’t, try a different one).

Conduct market research analysis on a regular basis to devise an actionable game plan on at least one big bet per planning session.  

2. Mainstream appeal can be a killer.

There are two general ways businesses can leverage innovation to stay ahead of the competition.

  1. Digging deeper into what’s already working and doing it better, faster, more interestingly, more economically, etc.

  2. Seeking outside inspiration and applying it to your industry to create net new solutions.

Initially, AND1 brought outside inspiration to the sportswear industry by exploiting on an already-established Black culture. While their initial approach may have initially alienated some old school sports heads who weren’t fans of the very colloquial t-shirts being sold, it ultimately spoke directly to a specific underserved market. A “hot” market, at that, with an increasing cultural influence in the 90’s.

As the company’s ambitions grew, their dedication to the street baller blurred. A more mainstream appeal meant moving away from local court games into big arenas, creating a bigger gap between the brand and it’s city-roots, and ultimately, diluting its authenticity. As a result, the brand became less distinguishable, unable to uphold commitments to any specific group when the market inevitably caught up.

AND1 Player in blue shorts holding two AND1 basketballs in front of a ferris wheel and blue skies.

Business Action Takeaway

With each planning session, ask yourself two questions (1) Who is this for? and (2) How does this serve them?   If these validation checks don’t align with your company mission or strategic objectives for the near future, then either tweak or redefine the initiative altogether.

3. Take care of your people. Always.

AND1 didn’t “fail” because of Nike pressures or changing fashions. They failed because they didn’t take care of their people. Their failure to tend to the AND1 players, the founder/shoe designer who burnt out, and the rest of the team left them vulnerable to the inevitable changes of competitors, evolving markets, and within the organization. We know this because of tale-old corny culture signs:

  1. The team was not grown strategically
    They had single point of failures in their systems when one founder left. No one person should make or break a company or department. It’s a risk to both team culture and business objectives.

  2. Limited upward mobility
    They did not have another sneaker designer ready to promote into the role and bring in the new wave of sneaker design, nor did they have long-term plans set in place for the players or team manager.

  3. Non-scalable internal systems

  4. The team’s commitments weren’t documented, neither were their requests to management, neither was management’s obligations to the team – it was clear that systems were not integrated into the company.

  5. Inability to leverage diverse perspectives
    Players had the closest access to the audience AND1 served and would be best equipped to see the changing landscape. Without welcoming their insight, the brand became stale and, ultimately, forgettable.

  6. Trash internal culture
    Founder burnout and general lack of communication with the company’s ambassadors (players) yields tons of red flags and pose great risks to the company’s stability.

Life Action:

Take care of your people. Always.

Your turn.

What are your thoughts on AND1 and their business strategy: Were the changes inevitable, a by-product of the changing times, or do you think they may withstood the test of time should they had they taken a different strategy?