For two years, Nike has been testing a subscription plan for kids sneakers, without letting on that it was an in-house Nike project. Formerly known as Easy Kicks, the initiative is now being rebranded as Nike Adventure Club, a program Nike says is intended to make it easy for parents to keep up with their kids’ fast-growing feet and tendency to trash sneakers quickly.
Of course, it’s also a way for Nike to start building loyal customers as young as age two, and continue growing its increasingly important direct-to-consumer business.
The program already built a base of 10,000 members in its “burner brand” stage, according to Dave Cobban, who helped launch it as Easy Kicks and is now general manager of Nike Adventure Club. It offers parents three subscription tiers meant for kids ages two through 10. They can sign up to get four pairs of sneakers a year for $20 a month, six pairs for $30 a month, or 12 pairs for $50 a month. Parents are able to change their level at any time, and the kids will get about 100 different sneaker styles to choose from in sizes 4c-7Y.
That may seem like a lot of sneakers to be buying a child. Indeed it is, according to Alan Bass, a board-certified podiatrist in Manalapan, New Jersey, and spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association. “There’s no way that any kid needs six pairs of sneakers a year, from a functional standpoint,” he says. After age two, kids’ feet generally aren’t growing fast enough to warrant four or more new pairs of shoes a year, and as for wear and tear, Bass tells patients who are avid runners and athletes they need two to three pairs of new shoes a year.
Cobban says they developed the tiers through testing. Originally they thought one plan for up to four pairs a year would be sufficient, but while running their “burner brand,” as he calls it, they found parents wanted options with more shoes.
“Generally what we see in the acquisition behavior is people come in on the $20-a-month plan, but over the course of a few months after they join, they upgrade,” he says. Now Cobban estimates roughly a third of the participants are in each plan, an evolution he says was “not what we expected at all.”
The kids probably aren’t complaining. Dominique Shortell, director of retention and member experience for Nike Adventure Club, and her team created the experience to be fun for kids, from the printed box that shows up with their name on it—opened with a pull tab to dispense with scissors, and made to be drawn on—to the adventure guides that arrive with each delivery.
For Nike, the program offers a few benefits. “One is to build a deeper relationship with kids from a younger age,” Cobban says. “If we can serve kids with this delightful membership, they’re going to be loyal to us longer in the future, is our hypothesis.”
It also makes it easier for parents to buy their kids Nike sneakers. A large share of the families that signed up in the program’s incubation period were rural and suburban, and might not have had easy access to a wide selection of Nike shoes for kids.
This last point is particularly important as small retailers and mall-based stores have shuttered. One way Nike has responded to the struggles of these brick-and-mortar businesses has been to increase its own sales straight to shoppers. Adventure Club lets it do just that.
So how was Nike able to run the program for so long without parents realizing it was a Nike business? For one thing, it offered shoes by Nike and Converse, and many people still don’t associate the two as being the same company, Cobban says, even though Nike has owned Converse since 2003. Easy Kicks also advertised that it was working “in partnership” with Nike.
Nike had recently started to acknowledge that it was backing the business, but Cobban explains that it waited to reveal its full engagement because it wanted to know if there was a need and market for the service regardless of Nike’s involvement. It also wasn’t sure what the final version would look like.
The 10,000 members it signed up as Easy Kicks answered the first question. Now Nike Adventure Club has answered the second.