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IIBMS – Rollerblade Inc.

CASE: III   Rollerblade Inc.


IIBMS – Rollerblade Inc. 

In 2002, in-line skating ranked among the most popular sports for children ages 6 to 17, behind basketball and soccer, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. About 7.5 million youths skate an average of over 25 times per year. This is quite a change from 1980, when Minneapolis-based Rollerblade Inc. introduced its first in-line roller skate.

            Rollerblade’s founder, Scott Olson, was a hockey player with the Winnipeg Jets’ farm teams who envisioned a roller skate with the action of an ice skate that hockey players and skiers could use to train during the off-season. At first, the plan was to use modern materials to construct a model based on an 18-century design. However, Olson discovered a similar in-line skate already on the market and purchased the patent from Chicago Roller Skate Company. Olson and his brother, Brennan, perfected the design using a plastic molded ski-type boot atop a blade of polyurethane wheels. Their first sales were to Olson’s teammates as well as a few to sporting goods stores. Thus began the sport of blading

            Although they generally cost twice as much as conventional roller skates, in-line skates are purchased for two reasons. First, they are faster and therefore more exciting to use than conventional skates. Second, they provide skaters with a better aerobic workout, requiring the use of more muscles. However, it is more difficult to learn how to use in-line skates because they require greater balance and their speeds may cause more severe injuries if a skater falls.

            By 1986, wholesale sales of in-line skates had risen to $3.5 million. Recognizing an opportunity to get in on a growing market, a number of companies began producing competitive products. First Team Sports, Inc., also based in Minneapolis, started manufacturing its Ultra-Wheels brand skates, which included the first in-line skates for children. Roller Derby Skate Corporation in Litchfield, Illinois, a manufacturer of standard roller skates since 1936, produced an in-line skate with a toe-stopper for those accustomed to conventional skates (Rollerblades had a rubber stopper located on the heel). The ice skate manufacturer Bauer entered the market with a skate that had a leather rather than plastic boot.

            Rollerblade Inc.’s sales increased when it expanded its target market. At first, the product was targeted to hockey players, who were 95 percent male and 18 to 25 years old. However, by broadening the target to include 18-to-35-year-old males and females, the company increased sales considerably.

            By 1990, industry wholesale sales of in-line roller skates topped $50 million, which almost equaled sales in the conventional roller skate business.

Rollerblade Inc. maintained a 66 percent market share, First Team Sports had 22 percent, Bauer had 5 percent, Roller Derby had 3 percent, and other competitors combined had the remaining 4 percent. Rollerblade could have done better, but it could not fill store orders for several months because it ran out of inventory early in the year. By 1998 there were 30 million in-line skaters, although growth in the number of skaters was slowing down; skate boarding was taking off as a cool alternative.

            The fierce competition in the industry involved not only product features but also marketing elements. Companies rushed to sign celebrities to promote their products. Competitors also moved into new retail markets, including discount and departmental stores. Rollerblade expanded its market by selling to Macy’s and Nordstrom.

          Although the name of Rollerblades may become generic term for this type of skate, the company’s management will have to work hard to maintain its market lead.   “We have been pioneers and continue to maintain an edge,” a company spokesperson said. “You only get one shot at pioneering a new sport, and that’s exciting.”




  1. What role do you think modeling could have played in the diffusion of this innovation?
  2. How could you use modeling to teach a friend how to use Rollerblades?
  3. If you were designing a commercial for Rollerblades to be used for an in-store videotape demonstration, how would you design the commercial to take advantage of your knowledge of modeling?

IIBMS – Rollerblade Inc.

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