The Athlete’s Foot is dedicated to growing the following technology of black franchise homeowners and diversifying the sneaker business
Atlanta, April 28, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – The Athlete’s Foot (TAF) USA today announced the launch of its new signature program StAART, which stands for Strategic African American Retail Track.
Its mission is to increase African American representation and ownership in the sneaker industry, particularly through franchising, while promoting retail and black-owned entrepreneurship across the black community.
The program directly addresses one of the biggest differences in the industry.
“The data shows that blacks are the primary consumers and influencers of sneakers and sportswear, but are not represented in executive or profit positions,” said Darius Billings, senior director of product and marketing at The Athlete’s Foot USA and inventor of StAART. “We have the mission to change this through StAART. We need more African American ownership in this industry built on black culture and influence, as well as in black communities. Property is directly linked to wealth. If we can create more African American retail owners, the ripple effect in the industry and in the community will be remarkable. “
Via StAART, The Athlete’s Foot will directly recruit, develop and support black entrepreneurs through its retail franchise model. The program provides StAART franchisees with access to resources, systems, relationships with their strategic brand partners, and a mentor network that directly addresses many of the barriers that normally prevent black entrepreneurs from starting and running their businesses successfully.
Athlete’s Foot, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, was the country’s first sports retail franchise and remains the only sports lifestyle specialty retailer to operate exclusively under a franchise model. He is uniquely positioned to start a program like StAART. All branches across the country are independently owned and operated, with most operators owning multiple branches.
Black Lives Matter Movement triggers an idea for StAART
The idea for StAART came to Billings in summer 2020 at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Last summer’s events sparked conversations with friends and family about the challenges, opportunities and our legacy of the black community,” said Billings. “I knew at that moment that I had a responsibility to find a way to use my platform to drive change. This is not performative or to tick a box. It was born out of my personal desire to bring about change in an industry that I love. Fortunately, this desire aligns with the vision, mission and values of The Athlete’s Foot. I’m grateful to be working for a company that values its team enough to support them. “
Billings himself grew up in the sneaker industry and has seen it develop. After graduating from Howard University, he began his career as a merchandiser for Nike before moving to a marketing career in 2008 that brought him to TAF. Since joining TAF, he has worked directly with the company’s franchisees, assisting them from the day of signing and beyond. Because of his direct contact with this aspect of the company, he saw the opportunity.
“We have seen the change that can take place in both the life of the owner and the communities they serve,” said Billings.
For example, Billings offers TAF franchisee Isom Lowman. Lowman grew up watching his mother build multiple businesses and inevitably followed in her footsteps right after graduating from Morehouse College.
“A classmate took me public and I was able to use the money I made in stocks for my first business when I was 22,” said Lowman, who will also be a StAART mentor. In his 20+ years as a franchisee, Lowman has opened more than 39 stores across the country, including one of the world’s top-selling TAF franchises in Atlanta, just blocks from his alma mater, Morehouse.
Only the StAART: inspiration for the next generation
For Billings and The Athlete’s Foot, however, store ownership for StAART is just the beginning. In addition to recruiting and mentoring black entrepreneurs through the program, TAF’s mission is to encourage greater representation across the industry.
“StAART represents ownership in all its facets,” said Billings. “Personal responsibility for our ideas, our influence and the culture. With this program, we aim to shed light on the various possibilities of this billion dollar industry, which is still largely determined and influenced by black culture and consumers. “
One example is TAF’s partnership with black-owned Atlanta-based creative agency Tantrum Agency to develop an in-school Sports X Retail X Entrepreneurship curriculum that begins with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public school system. North Carolina is one of TAF’s most populous retail markets. The curriculum will introduce the various careers in the industry such as design, purchasing and merchandising to the necessary support services such as accounting, construction and architecture.
“While we believe it is important to reach college students and support HBCUs, which we are going to do, we see it as a missed opportunity not to try to reach children and adolescents sooner. Exposure is key, and the sooner it can be exposed, the better, ”said Billings.
TAF has curated a StAART advisory board, which includes important influencing factors in the sneaker industry as well as professional and community organizations that can provide additional support for the success of StAART.
For example, The Athlete’s Foot has partnered with Citizen’s Trust Bank (CTB), one of the largest African-American-owned financial institutions in the nation.
The partnership gives StAART participants direct access to Citizen’s Trust small business programs and products, removing one of the traditional barriers to entrepreneurial success: lack of access to capital. The two companies will also work together to provide free financial literacy programs to young adults and equip them with the tools necessary to acquire, build and maintain wealth, a pillar of StAART. Adrienne White, Vice President Strategy and Business Development at CTB, will also serve on the Advisory Board.
The StAART program will officially start on April 27th. If you want to find out more, apply or become a StAART partner, visit staart.us for more information.
About the Athlete’s Foot: The Athlete’s Foot is more than just a retail store. It’s a destination for sporty street style. At TAF, we want to be known for encouraging our customers to break the rules and explore the unexpected. We are also a traditional brand that is rooted in the American sneaker culture. Our founders Robert and David Lando opened the first TAF store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1971. The athlete’s foot was new and brave: the first sports shop of its kind. Today TAF is represented worldwide. We don’t just sell sports equipment: we curate items that celebrate an active lifestyle. We are community-oriented, locally relevant and known worldwide.
Darius Billings (1)
TAF – Pooler Store