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361 – One Degree Beyond

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Founded in 2003, 361° has developed into a top sports brand that covers the sectors of research, design, production, marketing and sales. To learn more about this innovative company, RLI took the opportunity to speak with CEO Ding Wuhao about the history of the brand and to understand what is in the pipeline.

Dedicated to supporting athletes of all levels and abilities, the 361° brand wants to deliver the message that the company will take you that one degree further, to push you out of your comfort zone and to the level that is beyond your own expectations. The commitment from 361° to its customers is simple, to deliver its products with the ultimate for and comfort for athletes across the globe.

361° operated around 5,400 adult stores and 1,800 kids’ stores in Chinese mainland market till middle of 2019 along with 64 mono shops and over 1,300 doors in global market. During its 17 years in existence it has already expanded to Europe, South America, North America, Southeast Asia and the central Asian markets and it now has a presence in over 40 countries. ‘In the past couple of years we have continued our strong momentum of growth both in domestic and international markets,’ explains Ding Wuhao, CEO of 361°. ‘Taking the South East Asia market as an example, after we successfully sponsored the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018, they started to have deep co-operation with Matahari Group in Indonesia who quickly planned the presence of our brand in over 150 of their department stores and monobrand stores.’ Last year the company has opened more than 20 new stores in South East Asia and Middle East countries, predominantly in Indonesia, Vietnam and Iran with the most recent store a 260sq m unit in Indonesia.

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Looking forward, development will still focus on South East Asia markets with particular attention still being given to countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, where the population base is large and the retail trend is currently very positive with annual economic growth showing very positive numbers.

“As ever we are looking to the possibilities to expand in emerging and developing countries. China has started the ‘one belt and one road’ projects with a lot of countries and we do believe with this support from the government, brands from China can accelerate its market expansion,’ says Wuhao. “For 2020, we intend to explore opportunities in India, Russia, Africa, the Middle East and some of the Eastern European countries.’ Product innovation has always been key for 361°s business growth as it has the ability to push the business forward, so investment into the research and development arm is extensive and has been for some time.

The group implemented the science and innovation centre in Jinjiang in 2016, which includes product design, innovation and development departments (shoes, apparel and accessories), technique research department, material development department and a chemical testing centre. In all the years since this launched the yearly investment for the research centre is tens of million in RMB, above three percent of the revenue in the first half of 2019. A very popular communication in the Chinese market is now social media, and 361° utilises this medium and influencers also play an important role in their daily marketing strategy.

‘Overall, we are adopting this new marketing platform which is the trend for young customers and we are using our resources to make our marketing voice be heard and known on a broad spectrum.’ Wuhao believes there are three main areas that differentiate 361° from its peers in the market. These are the fact they are close to their consumers and their needs, providing customers with high quality products with good design at a very attractive price point. Their innovative products and the implementation of technology into these items is another reason as they embrace the new trends that young customers like and want.

Finally, the marketing strategy that has been taken has kept customers loyal as it has been shifted to better meet the customers’ needs, better integrating the brand message into the daily life of its customers. So what does Wuhao believe to be the greatest challenge facing the company as they move close to their third decade in operation? ‘In the China market, the biggest challenge facing us is the change in the shopping habits of guests, with a large shift taking place from offline to online. In terms of international markets, the challenge we are facing is we need to further improve our brand awareness.’