When you think of athletic shoes, names like Nike or Adidas probably pop into your head. The market is really competitive, and there’s probably already a shoe for every activity you could think of. That doesn’t mean there aren’t brands trying to make practical but fashion-forward shoes for specific markets. In the Crossfit world, NOBULL was one of those brands trying to stand out among the competition. They may have been late to the Crossfit game but right now they’re a noticeable player in the game.
I admit I’m a Crossfitter, and I admit to owning a pair of the shoes. Maybe I’m biased, but if I’m biased it’s for the right reason. I gave the shoes a shot and I’ve been a fan ever since. My story is not unique, and this is part of the reason NOBULL earned fans. They made a simple, clear product that fills a specific need without overselling itself.
Starting with Intent
The foundation of the NOBULL brand primarily starts with two former Reebok employees: Marcus Wilson and Michael Schaeffer. If you’re at all familiar with Crossfit, you’d know the Reebok Nanos are one of, if not the, most popular shoes for Crossfit. Together these two had knowledge of design and marketing from their time at Reebok, but they also collaborated with Crossfit coach Ben Bergeron for his wisdom of the Crossfit community. This knowledge became key, as understanding the unique aspects of these communities would be important when establishing their name as a brand.
As employees coming from Reebok, they knew they were facing competition from major brands. This meant they need to offer a unique product that matched the quality of major brands. This is how the name NOBULL was born. The product itself was straightforward and functional. There was no BS, just a practical training shoe.
The flagship product from NOBULL is their trainers, designed to be a cross-functional shoe that adapts to most Crossfit workouts. This means the shoe is light enough for running, the sole is firm enough for lifting, and the body is durable enough to handle rope climbs. The shoe may not be recommended for marathon running or Olympic powerlifting, but it is fully capable of handling a workout with some sprints and power cleans. Competitors are known to release new models of their shoes each year, but the basic design of NOBULL trainers has remained mostly the same since its foundation. The shoes serve their purpose, and there’s no need to revise the formula.
The brand has released specific shoes for powerlifting and running, so customers who are more focused have options suitable for their needs. Aside from that, the major variation within the trainers is their coloring and patterns. The build of the trainers are uniform, but customers can find everything from camo prints to floral patterns to American flag themes. There’s most likely a shoe for each personality, and the offerings continue to expand.
The first NOBULL shoes were available for purchase in 2015. By comparison, the first Reebok Nanos were available in 2011. This meant they were entering a market with some stiff competition, especially because Reebok’s deal with Crossfit prevented NOBULL from using the name “Crossfit” in their marketing. This is where community support comes into play, and why it was so important to collaborate with leaders within Crossfit communities.
By nature, Crossfit gyms (AKA boxes) are designed to have a community aspect. Classes tend to be small enough that people communicate and build relationships. When someone is wearing something new, people are bound to talk. Word of mouth is a strong form of marketing, and this is how NOBULL became associated with the Crossfit brand.
Starting with their partners, NOBULL shoes would start showing up in Crossfit boxes. Athletes visit another gym and wear their trainers, creating a little more brand awareness each time an athlete wore the shoes. For a product focusing on quality, they were bound to get some positive recognition. Plus, their design tends to be more minimalist than competitors (until you throw the floral print on there). This is going to appeal to certain people, and as soon as they throw the shoes on their feet they’re becoming promoters of the brand.
Word of mouth is always a great form of marketing, but it’s never guaranteed to spread the right message. NOBULL had to take this gamble if they wanted to get in with the Crossfit community. They found their supporters, aligned with their audience, and served them a quality product. This allowed them to become a Crossfit brand without using the word “Crossfit.”
A Focus on Quality
In the end, NOBULL’s focus on quality makes their product worthy of attention. That’s not to say the shoes are better than products by Reebok or Nike, but they’re certainly capable competition for the major brands. The shoes can endure tough movements and are specially designed for Crossfit-style workouts.
NOBULL really shines as a brand engaged with its community. On social media your comment can probably get a reply from a brand representative, something that may go unnoticed for a bigger brand. This relationship is not just about reputation management. Rather, NOBULL might get ideas for future products or prints based on customer feedback. They want customers to feel valued, so when someone asks “how do you like NOBULL?” the customer will be able to speak highly of the brand.
Building quality relationships does not end with the customer. NOBULL has sponsored some athletes, but they only have a few. They would rather have meaningful, longterm relationships with their sponsored athletes. When you see NOBULL printed across a shirt in the Crossfit games, that athlete is someone committed to NOBULL’s mission, not someone who’s just paid to be a sponsor.
Why NOBULL Works
NOBULL has earned fans for the right reasons. They had a mission, created a quality product, and fostered a community to embrace them. While the brand has expanded beyond just trainers, all of their products align with their mission. They’re a fitness brand, and they appeal to people who want to work out. Their customers are the ones who reject excuses and focus on their overcoming hurdles to get to their goals.
This is why the community will share the #IAMNOBULL hashtag with pride. Customers are pivotal to the expansion of the brand, and the customers know they’re valued within the NOBULL community. Many of these customers reject big box gyms and work out at a locally owned Crossfit gym. The same can be aid for their shoes; reject the major brands and help the self-starter succeed.