Vans’ earliest customers were surfers, high school students, mostly teenagers. They played some sports, liked practical yet fashionable and inexpensive customized shoes. Authenticity, style, affordability and quality were their main motives while buying Vans’ shoes. It then evolved with skateboarders and their followers. Skateboarders favored Vans because of the functionality of the shoes (the rubber soles were ideal for maintaining a solid grip on the skateboard) but most importantly the price (7 dollars was a steal for this well made, customizable shoe).
At this time, skateboarding was viewed as a reckless, dangerous and hazardous sport for the general public. How has the company’s competitive position and its value proposition changed over time? Vans’ competitive advantage was the fact that they manufactured in the US compare to other companies at the time, they had a very short cycle time from receipt of order to completion of goods and also had an extensive range of styling. They were also pioneers in distributing to skateboarders and other alternative sports fans.
They developed from early on a strong and recognizable identity. Vans catered to skateboarders and “extreme” sports adepts and fans from the start (Surfing, Skateboarding, BMX, Wakeboarding, Snowboarding, Waterboarding, Motocross). Their core business has always been focusing on the skateboarding market and they developed a strong culture around this sport. Their customers and the general public would identify the brand with certain sports. This is a big advantage over the competition.
At the same time, it also was one of the reasons why they failed to extend in different sports markets (when they tried to penetrate other markets that were different from their core business and culture they filed for bankruptcy). They went back to their roots, developing a great marketing strategy revolving around their core business and its culture (triple crown series, Vans warped tour, vans Skateparks). By focusing into the customers needs and investing in their lifestyles they were able to maintain their bases but also attract newer generations of this sports’ fans.
Because of the economy and to continue being competitive Vans closed his two US factories. They lost their short cycle time, which was one the advantages they had over the competition. They couldn’t offer anymore the same ranges in the same amount of time. Availability and choice wasn’t their strength anymore But Vans invested so much into their customers’ lifestyles that they were able to attract other types of customers.
They started by being the “special, underground sports” shoe company and progressed into a “cool” company, a company that caters to certain type of people, with similar values, culture and lifestyle. In conclusion, Van’s core values stayed identical but evolved to adapt to their customers’ needs: they’ve positioned themselves as the main shoe maker of certain sports, were pioneers in customizing (thus the variety of shoe collection even though they had to stop due to their US factories closing), they are associated with the “California state of mind”, meaning the easy breezy fun brand.
They were a nicher before they started catering to a broader audience, almost never diverting from their original targets. Their marketing strategies, one of them being a customer-driven marketing strategy always revolves around their core business, which allowed them to expand to another type of customers that identified themselves with the brand Recently, Vans has expanded in several areas. How have these expansions impacted Vans’ customer base and brand image?
Even though Vans has expanded in several areas, their main business still is the shoe business. Van’s customers have expanded to kids, women and also internationally. They became mainstream but still are strongly associated with the street and skateboard culture. Their image is not much different from when they started. They were able to maintain their identity, not alienating their core customers who are very loyal yet at the same time, attract a broader audience. Vans’ customers associate themselves with a lifestyle.
Vans succeeded where one of their strongest competitors (Airwalk) failed at: selling in department stores without being considered by the core customer as “selling out”. The company was able in a way to keep and venerate his core customers by making them feel as the innovators. As innovators, people only copy what you adapted early on. They are an “elite”. Vans also made an effort to have different collections: some for their core customers and others for mainstream, for people who want to have a skate look.