Phil Knight, a track athlete, and his coach, Bill Bowerman, put up $500 each in 1964 to form Blue Ribbon Sports. Blue Ribbon, headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon, changed its name -- and the world of sportswear, equipment and accessories -- to Nike. Nike, named after the the Greek winged goddess of victory, enjoys annual revenues of more than $19 billion and employs more than 30,000 people in the fiscal year 2008.
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Bowerman and Knight held full-time jobs when they teamed up to sell sports shoes. They decided they needed additional help and found it in Jeff Johnston. Johnston, a runner, became the first official employee of Blue Ribbon Sports in 1968. Johnston spearheaded marketing efforts, helping to forge the Nike brand. With Johnston's help, Nike became one of two Fortune 500 companies in the state of Oregon. It would eventually earn global acclaim as the leading publicly traded company.
Knight, whose early entrepreneurial efforts involved selling running shoes out of the trunk of his car, landed a distribution deal in 1964 to develop and distribute sports shoes. He signed a contract with the Onitsaka Co, a Japanese firm that distributed Tiger running shoes. Toward the end of this contract, Knight and Bowerman toyed with the idea of designing and selling their own shoes. Johnson established a mail order system and opened the first Blue Ribbon Sports store in Santa Monica, California. Nike's first self-designed and crafted shoes included waffle soles that made the shoes lighter than traditional athletic footwear.
Logo and Slogan
In 1971, Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University, designed the Nike swoosh logo. Seventeen years later, "Just Do It" became the company's slogan and an international catchphrase. The slogan, according to Nike, was coined in 1988 at a conference of select Nike employees and their advertising agency Wieden and Kennedy. The slogan and the logo created waves and have come to be internationally associated with Nike footwear. Besides its brand name, Nike markets its products under other names and runs retail stores as Niketown.
Nike's marketing efforts include sponsorships by top athletes. Steve Prefontaine, an Olympics long distance runner who died in 1975, and tennis pro John McEnroe added star appeal and sports world influence to the Nike brand. Nike's creative marketing strategy and big-budget efforts helped the company capture one half of the total market for sports shoes by 1980s. Nike survived competition from companies such as Reebok and legal troubles in the 1980s, and continues to dominate in the athletic gear market.