On Opens First German Store, Placing Its Bets on Performance

Berlin’s runners, athletes and even the city’s less kinetic locals won’t just be getting a new location to try and buy On running shoes when the brand opens its first German store on Friday. They’ll also be getting runners’ clubs, in-person encounters with On’s athlete ambassadors, product launches and track meets that boast more of a music festival vibe.

Despite the new Berlin store’s sophisticated decor — all sleek steel, minimalist concrete, wood paneling and some rough urban edges in the form of exposed brickwork, a hangover from the vintage clothing merchant that was there before — the Swiss sportswear brand has fairly down-to-earth intentions for the space.

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This is what is known as a chapter store, Bianca Pestalozzi, the company’s general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told WWD during an exclusive tour of the two floors of the 3,230-square-foot shop before it opened. That’s different from an On flagship, like the one that opened in London last February. The objective here is more intimate.

“It’s to connect the brand with the local community, with runners, with the workout community, and to get them to move with us,” Pestalozzi explained. In fact, she said, her favorite events are those when runners are in the store trying on the different shoes, taking them for a run, giving feedback about the fit and marveling at what On calls its “magic wall” (basically a floor-to-ceiling, retractable cupboard that contains all the sizes and makes trying shoes on easier).

“That’s when the brand really comes to life,” Pestalozzi said.

On’s first store in Berlin.
On’s first store in Berlin.

Own-brand retail spaces are an increasingly important part of the sportswear company’s business plan to grow its customer base. The company operates 32 stores around the world and plans to open around 20 stores a year for the next few years. By 2026, On should have 20 of its own doors in Europe.

On has done well with its direct-to-consumer sales and also sells to local department stores and sports specialists. Every time it opens another store of its own, the company has noticed a kind of halo effect that’s seen other stockists benefit too.

That’s why using the new retail space to appeal to the community of local athletes is especially important, Pestalozzi said. “We want people to feel like they are part of something, for people to really experience the new products and to interact with each other and with us.”

Being known by those communities as a producer of performance sports shoes with innovative technology is how On plans to maintain, then expand, its niche in Europe as well as hold out against local giants like Adidas and Puma.

On footwear launched in 2010 after the company’s founder, retired Swiss professional triathlete Olivier Bernhard, created a new shoe with oddly toothy soles intended to make running more comfortable. The patented system was supposed to make you feel like you were “running on clouds.”

On became a Swiss bestseller but really came to international prominence after fellow countryman and tennis legend Roger Federer invested in the firm in 2019. The company went public in New York in 2021 and has been experiencing phenomenal growth ever since. In 2023, On saw net sales increase by 46.6 percent and for 2024, the company predicts growth of around 30 percent.

As the brand has grown, it has diversified and now sees opportunities in other sports — such as tennis and sports like pickleball, trail running, yoga and training — as another way to ensure success. The combination of different sports, different consumer groups and different geographies gives On a very strong foundation, Pestalozzi contended.

Another aspect of the company’s long-term planning will be expanding its selection of own-brand apparel. The clothing design also starts with performance, Pestalozzi told WWD. “From innovative technical pieces like the performance Ts, the apparel then moves into what you might wear before, or after, a run or workout. Then after that, we’re moving into something you could quite easily wear outside of a workout context, like a hoodie or a vest,” she explained.

The much-hyped collaboration between On and Loewe designer Jonathan Anderson — he is a fan of the sneakers’ unusual sole — will continue. Just like Anderson, younger buyers often like the shoes because they’re “very visibly technical,” Pestalozzi said. There are likely to be some other smaller, “niche collaborations,” like the one with South Korean brand Post Archive Fashion.

But this sort of flash-in-the-pan lifestyle fashion is not a priority for the brand, even if the shoes are regularly seen on both professional athletes and celebrities.

“This [sector] is a crowded space,” Pestalozzi continued. “Any brand can come and go in the lifestyle space but we have a strong anchor in performance. Our clear goal is to be the number-one brand on runners’ bodies.”

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