Li-Ning HQ tiptoes out of Oregon
Posted: March 24, 2012 by Ross
The Oregonian - Allan Brettman - March 24, 2012
The Chinese shoe and sporting goods company Li-Ning made official this week what was becoming apparent as early as January last year: Chicago rules its U.S operations, not Portland.
Li-Ning quietly made Chicago its U.S. division home in August, general manager Ray Grady acknowledged Friday.
In 2008, Li-Ning opened a retail store in Portland's Pearl District. Behind the retailing walls and upstairs, about 30 people -- designers, marketing strategists, sales people and others -- were given the job of executing Li-Ning's U.S. operations strategy.
On Thursday, the Chicago office announced the introduction of a Li-Ning brand website and e-commerce strategy with the digital marketing company Acquity Group.
The operation will do business as "Digital Li-Ning." When it was based in Portland, the U.S. operation was named Li-Ning Sports USA.
Grady said basketball shoes will continue to be designed at the Portland office. He did not know how many employees remained in the Pearl District location, where the retail store, believed to have been the only one the Chinese brand was operating in the U.S., has been closed for weeks.
A woman who answered the front door of the Pearl District location on Friday said no one at the site was authorized to speak publicly on the company's behalf.
Grady said the design of Li-Ning running shoes, a task that used to be assigned to the Portland office, has been shifted to the company's corporate headquarters in Beijing.
The Li-Ning website on Friday featured the "Liede" running shoe, named for a bridge in China and designed in 2010 at the Portland office.
The brand's basketball web page features "Turningpoint" gear, inspired by one of the three Li-Ning sponsored NBA players, guard Evan Turner of the Philadelphia 76ers.
One of the other sponsored basketball players, point guard Baron Davis of the New York Knicks, has been the focus of perhaps the only social media campaign on earth seeking more bench time for Taiwanese-American sensation Jeremy Lin (a Nike-endorsed athlete), and more playing time for Davis.
Davis, who occasionally visited the Portland Li-Ning office when he was in town, has seen his minutes cut this season by injuries and, now that he's again healthy, by the emergence of Lin.
"Could we see Baron take over as the Knicks starting point guard?" a Li-Ning tweet asked March 4, with a link to a news article that speculated on that possibility.
The other NBA player sponsored by Li-Ning is Jose Calderon of the Toronto Raptors.
Li-Ning, while sometimes called the Nike of China, has struggled in the past year, according to Chinese news reports. While it once was clearly the No. 3 sports brand in its home country behind Nike and Adidas, that is no longer clear.
The company has made a clear shift to digital-only sales in the U.S., after it stumbled in one of its few attempts to find a bricks-and-mortar audience in the U.S.
It's "BD Doom" basketball shoe, designed in Portland for Davis, made a brief appearance in some Champs Sports stores before the start of the 2010-11 NBA season. But shortly after the season started, Champs dropped the poor-selling shoe from its stores though it remained for sale on the Foot Locker-owned company's website.
Li-Ning's shift from Portland to Chicago had been underway for more than a year. In January 2011, Li Ning chief executive Zhang Zhiyong told a Wall Street Journal reporter the company would invest $10 million in its U.S. business this year and enter a joint-venture with Acquity Group LLC to expand U.S. distribution.
As the year wore on, however, Li-Ning officials in Portland seemed at a loss to characterize the brand's U.S. strategy or how the $10 million was being spent. At the same time, the office underwent a mass exodus of staff, through job shifting or layoffs.
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