Selling Nike Out The Wagon: The Story Of Phil Knight’s Journey Across America
It is safe to say that the world over knows the brand Nike. Sure, there are far depths of our planet where there still remains civilization untouched by the western world and its ever-encroaching culture, but for the most part, the brand has reached global awareness. That being said, while everyone is aware of the name and its status as the leading sneaker brand in our shared history, there are many that are unfamiliar with its origins; the storied legacy that has led the brand to the heights and breadth of influence it has achieved in both sports and lifestyle.
As a culture platform and avid fans of the brand, we’ve made it our mission is to present a brief and concise backstory of how a young man by the name of Philip Hampson Knight ended up traversing across the America, selling performance footwear that was once under the company name Blue Ribbon Sports out of a Plymouth Valiant, to the most ubiquitous brand name ever.
It all started with the Oregon-native and his appetite for sports–all things sports, from playing on school teams to covering the sports section of his school newspaper. Although activity ran in his veins, Knight went on to graduate with a Bachelors of Science for Business Administration, which later lead to an MBA at Stanford University. This would come around as the spark to the entrepreneurial spirit Knight had that would help bring on the inception of Nike Inc. But before we jump too far ahead, back in his Stanford days, Knight took up track, of which he was pretty damn good at apparently. From that, he met the man that would ultimately help change the course of sports footwear for ever. This man was Phil Knight’s track coach, Bill Bowerman.
Bowerman came into the Nike picture after Knight had discovered the innovation behind Japanese running shoes from a trip he made to Kobe, Japan, where he witnessing first hand the high quality and low cost of Onitsuka Co.’s Tiger brand. After a cold call to Mr. Onitsuka to distribute into the US, Bowerman was on Knight’s list of who to sell to. Not only did he land the sale, but he also gained an investor and partner. After deciding to work together and invest a mere $500 USD (or around that amount… either way it was not much) each to start the aforementioned Blue Ribbon Sports, the quest to develop designs of their own kicked off, as did the Blue Ribbon Sports company, which soon turned into Nike Inc.
To continue this stories humble beginnings, this is where we re-introduce the aforementioned Plymouth Valiant, a now legendary green wagon that served as the vessel that would lead Nike down the road to success. It’s not easy for anyone of the newer generation to think of such a dominating brand as Nike to have started off with a scrawny man–aerodynamically scrawny keep in mind–rolling up to track meets in some arguably ostentatious station wagon back in the early ’60s, parking on scene, then popping the trunk to start flogging these unusually designed, slender pieces of footwear with a promise of betterment in performance. But alas, that’s how it all started.
By 1969, Knight was so successful that he was able to leave his then-job as an accountant to become full time at Blue Ribbon Sports.
The road then led Knight throughout the Pacific Northwest, where he would continue to market and sell these new shoes as the next generation of running footwear within the United States. By 1969, Knight was so successful that he was able to leave his then-job as an accountant to become full time at Blue Ribbon Sports. It wasn’t until 1971 when the companies name changed, all thanks to Knight’s friend Jeff Johnson, who suggested the name after the winged Greek Goddess of Victory. And as with most, if not all successful brands, a name must come with a logo, one that now famous graphic designer Carolyn Davidson was commissioned to come up with for only $35 USD. That logo, is now regarded as the most powerful brand logo in history. We all know it as the Swoosh.
While Phil Knights story is chockfull of little details that ultimately lead him to where and who he is today, much like any minute detail in our own lives play even the smallest part to our own story, that almost-fabled green Plymouth Valiant station wagon stands out as a story of the ages. A classic “from humble beginnings” style story that you’ll hear repeated in any case study on the co-founder/former CEO of Nike. It’s also a welcome reminder of where success comes from: anywhere.