The Chuck Taylor Challenge

Growing up, my father (you can read his monthly columns in LBM Journal as well) was always pushing the Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars.

As an 11-year-old I thought, “Actually Dad, I think I’ll opt for the new Air Jordans, but thanks for the recommendation.” I wanted to make my ole man happy, but wearing Chucks was a bridge too far for son #2.

Not so for my brother. One afternoon in 1990, he returned from shoe shopping with a brand new pair of canvas Converse All Stars. My father was glowing. “What do you think?” my brother asked. I thought red was a bold color choice.

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Thirty minutes later, my brother was crying. The neighborhood kids failed to see all the features and benefits as described by my dad. I vividly recall the chorus of “clown shoes.” The Chucks were chucked in the closet.

Recognizing Opportunity
Shortly thereafter, a funny thing happened… the Chuck Taylors had a rebirth. All Stars became cool again. It turns out my brother (father) was a few months ahead of the pop culture curve. Soon everyone was sporting Chucks.

Converse recently released the first redesign of the shoe in nearly 100 years. The shoe has an interesting history. It started with great success as an athletic shoe. Then a funny thing happened… unexpected customers began to evangelize the brand.

In a Fast Company article, Converse brand VP Geoff Cotrill recalls, “In the ’70s and ’80s, the Chuck was being adopted by musicians and artists, and we were actually fighting them. We were saying, ‘No, we’re a sports brand!’ The reason we got where we are today is because creative people adopted us almost against our will.”

People weren’t buying Chucks to play sports—they were buying them to look cool, to make a statement. Converse initially pushed back, saying All Stars are for Rockets, not Ramones!

The profit motive prevailed. Converse didn’t expect these counter-culture customers, but they embraced them. This is the Chuck Taylor Challenge: how does your company respond with unexpected—and for some employees, unwanted—customers?

Think Like Converse
In my work helping LBM firms accelerate their growth, the Chuck Taylor Challenge is playing out in real-time. These firms are witnessing steady organic growth from Hispanic customers, and some employees are pushing back.