Keith Kelly was recently appointed sales manager at New Balance as the brand strengthened its commitment to the run specialty channel. The move came about as Kevin Adams, who has been leading the New Balance specialty sales team for the last 11 years, instituted a number of organization changes, including the promotion of two account managers, Melanie Chambless and Jamie Owen, into regional manager roles, and Kelly’s move into the management position.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you professionally?
The pandemic has impacted New Balance no different than any other brand of our size. It's been a huge challenge but one that we have navigated with optimism and positivity.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Our biggest concern was our team and our customers and thankfully both seem to be doing well right now. It has been incredible to see the specialty channel persevere and come out the other side.
Did any good come out of the past year?
The pandemic has made everyone better at their job and in many ways our team is closer now than it was pre-pandemic. We are not out of the woods yet, and we are finding it difficult not being out in the market meeting with customers and consumers alike, but we know we will be.
How about personally?
I have tried to stay very positive. I got married during COVID and consider myself very lucky to live in Park City, where I have access to lots of outdoor space. I rode my bike an awful lot, getting lost in the mountain trails. But its been incredibly difficult to not see family. My parents and my brother’s family are back in Ireland and its been over two years since I’ve been home.
What do you bring to your new responsibilities at this point in your career?
I’ve been very fortunate to have learned from great mentors like Kevin Adams and Tom Carleo and I believe this is a natural fit given my experience and strengths. Fortunately, I have an incredible team around me.
How would you describe your job responsibilities?
My job is to ensure they have the freedom and support to manage their business, leading with empathy and delivering against our goals.
What are your strengths?
My biggest asset is my ability to navigate the challenges that the team faces and arrive at solutions that ensure they can kick ass. I also like to think I have a strong relationship with the owners and buyers in the specialty channel and I’m very comfortable having the difficult conversations when things are not going smoothly. We are all experiencing headwinds right now and I try to be a calming and positive influence for my team and for our customers.
How would you describe New Balance’s position in the run specialty business?
I wish we had more inventory and that the global supply chain disruption was suddenly fixed! It is also difficult to work from behind a computer when one of the strengths of our team is our human connection.
We are all feeling that for sure.
That said, we are still optimistic and we’re very proud to work with the businesses within this channel. We have outstanding product that we believe in and our future product is insanely good. Some things are out of our control, but like I tell our team, we work for a fantastic company and we have a product team that is making the best shoes and apparel in the industry. I know our retail partners are frustrated at our inventory delays, but we’re getting through it and in the second half of 2021 I hope we are back to business as usual.
How do you envision that position evolving over the short and long term?
I’m only looking short term right now. We are working in abnormal circumstances and my goal is to help Kevin and my team navigate the challenges. I haven’t been in a specialty shop in over a year and my good friend Kris Hartner of Naperville Running Company is the only retailer I’ve seen in person since the Olympic Marathon trials in Atlanta.
What is the New Balance social media strategy in 2021?
Our global marketing team has incredible digital leads that have revolutionized our social media approach. It’s a fewer, bigger, better approach to ensure our stories are impactful.
How’s that work?
Each region has their own paid strategy to drive sales and foster deeper relationships with consumers and customers. Our North America marketing team, led by Tracy Knauer, gives our channel great support, allowing our channel lead, James Carney, to create bespoke social media strategies to drive consumers into the doors of our retail partners. Its not rocket science, but the team certainly gets great return on their investment and it allows us on the sales side to focus on our jobs knowing our marketing team is driving demand creation.
Does this strategy involve your New Balance athletes?
Oh yes, I would be remiss to not mention our Team NB athletes. Their organic reach and they way they highlight our shoes and apparel is incredible.
How would you describe the state of run specialty in mid-2021?
The global supply chain issue is negatively impacting the run business from an inventory standpoint, but overall there are a lot of reasons to be very optimistic. There are millions of new runners, which presents a great opportunity for brands and retailers alike. After a year of isolation and limited movement it seems like everyone wants to get out and walk/run/hike/ride/swim.
And run specialty retail’s role in this?
The specialty shop is a central hub in the local running community and so many runners are craving the engagement the store can offer. We know that runners are eagerly anticipating a return to events and it’s fair to say that we are experiencing a running boom that is only gaining momentum. I hope the specialty retailer can capitalize on this and foster deeper relationships.
What can you tell us about the direction New Balance is headed?
We are delivering our back-half product in the next few months and we are no doubt excited about the Fresh Foam More v3 and Vongo v5. Our new 860v12 delivers in September.
Any other hot products we should keep an eye out for?
The excitement for me is around our fast product like our Fuel Cell Rebel v2 and our RC Elite v2. Our athletes will be hopefully tearing up the track in our MDx spikes. The team has done an incredible job on the innovation side and as we enter 2022 you will see some of the most disruptive and inspiring product New Balance has ever created. To see the excitement on the faces of our account managers and Trackster team when they saw the new product tells me everything I need to know. The shoes can’t come soon enough!
What are your personal passions and interests? Are you a runner?
Without sounding cheesy, one of my passions is the work I do for New Balance. I truly love the running business and I love my team and the brand I represent.
That is a little cheesy, but okay. So what’s your typical day like these days?
I live in Park City, UT, so I start my day at 7 a.m. when the East Coast meetings kick off. Working from home doesn’t suit my personality, but I have gotten into a nice groove of staying at it until the afternoon when I look forward to getting my training in.
What is that?
That leads me to my outside of work passion Ñ cycling. I love the bike, its been a lifesaver. I was a decent runner, but a slew of injuries prevented me from ever achieving what I thought I could. However, on the bike I can ride as much as I want and aside from occasional crashes I feel zero pain.
That’s a busy day. How’s it usually end?
After my ride I sit down with my wife, Evie, stick on a record, crack a nice IPA or bottle of red, and talk about everything except work. The balance is very important to me and makes me better at my job. We both love travel and I love live music, so I’m counting down the days to a post-pandemic time when we can go to Europe and when I can get back into a dark, dingy room to see an awesome band.
Finally, what would you like New Balance to accomplish under your sales direction?
Very simply, I want to continue the work started by Kevin Adams and be the best partner in the industry. I want to see the team blossom and I want to see our Tracksters grow their careers within New Balance. Ultimately, I want to ensure we always do the right thing by our customers.