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How Brooks Running came back from the edge

As the name implies, Brooks Running focuses on shoes for runners. (Photo: KOMO News)

Seattle-- According to Brooks Running CEO Jim Weber, courage comes from two places: looking over the edge of a cliff and being forced to do something, or incredible opportunity.

Weber says Brooks lucked out by having both.

In 2001, Brooks running was on the brink of bankruptcy. The then 87-year-old company, which started with making bathing shoes and skates, now made sports gear not just for the everyday athlete but for the NFL and MLB. They were in a financial crisis. Brooks had grown too big too fast. Something had to change.

“We had a lot of debt and some things that weren’t working so we got upside down financially,” said Weber. “In 2001, we decided to leave athletic footwear and apparel and really become a running company because that’s what we were best at."

Brooks eliminated half their product line, marking a pivot point for the company.

Another shift came when Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway acquired Brooks, and growth quickly followed.

“We actually held a town hall meeting with Warren and all our global employees. We spent 90 minutes with freeform Q & A,” said Weber. “Warren is a fan of Brooks. He’s cheering us on.”

Weber said allowing the company to focus only on running provided great opportunity.

He said six years ago Brooks became the No. 1 brand in the specialty running brand market at about 25 percent market share.

The company also outgrew its Bothell location, moving to Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

“The opportunity to have a store right on the Burke Gilman Trail, to be visible in Seattle, that’s really exciting for us,” said Weber.

Brooks is currently in more than 50 countries and plans to expand into China later this year.

As it does, Brooks is grappling with a changing landscape in the world of sports apparel. Weber says consumers are smarter -- phones enable them to shop around for competitive prices.

“Every brand, every retailer is trying to figure out where they fit in and how to create an affinity and deliver the consumer what they’re looking for,” said Weber.

Weber said Brooks can set itself apart by focusing on making the best running shoe and gear possible.

“We view that as something we have to earn, and it starts with great products,” said Weber. “So we work for that every day.”

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