Reebok: The Entrepreneurship Journey of Joe Foster

When it comes to defining brands, shoe brands are some of the most recognizable brands that are known globally. Reebok is one of these shoe brands that has been around for a long time – and a reason. 

Joe Foster, recent guest on the Making Bank Podcast, along with his late brother Jeff, started Reebok together from the very bottom. From creating sports shoes in a windowless, small three-story building, to running the number one shoe company in America, Joe guided Reebok in the amazing direction it went and to the successful company that is still standing to this day. 

Learn how Reebok first started, what Joe learned from the journey, and how he made his way to the very top with hard work and determination. 

Going Their Way  

Joe and Jeff’s grandfather was the inventor of the spiked runners’ shoes. Growing up with this business influence, it’s no wonder that Joe and his brother got involved in creating athlete shoes that changed the world. 

When it came to starting his business journey, Joe realized how many opportunities came with going to college. At the age of 18, Joe went into the National Service. When he came back from serving and saw that the company his grandfather set up had no business anymore, he and his brother decided to split to start their own shoe company. Doing what they could, Joe and Jeff attended University to help learn the things needed to start his own. 

In college, Joe got to learn and see what was out there on the factory floors. Despite the education, the most important thing that he took away from college was meeting people and the connections he forged. “And the one thing about going to college is to meet people. People that could help us, not just machinery, not just learning how to make a shoe a different way. We met people and that when we left, that was so useful because we needed machinery.” Joe says.   

After college, Joe took the knowledge he got from university and the experience he learned from the people there. But he started from the bottom. “We had no money. So, [we used what] we could buy machinery for very little money because there was a lot of second-number machinery around. And we rented a very old property, which is three floors.” 

There was quite a lot of brainstorming when it came to finding a good name for their shoe company. Not to mention the space that they were working in was too small for any sort of business growth. Setting themselves up in the next town over, Joe and his brother decided on the name Reebok – one of the only names that worked out with attempts to register and own the name.   


The Rise of Reebok 

After some growth and furthering the developments of the company, Joe realized that his business was running into problems. The UK running market, which was the target audience, wasn’t as nearly as big as the football (or American Soccer). In American, there was a market for running sneakers and Reebok was selling them to two different colleges. 

“So, the business [athletic footwear] was going to be a lot bigger probably in the early sixties,” Joe says about taking Reebok to the United States. “And I’m trying to get into the market, but it’s 1968 and I got the opportunity to over to American because the British government decided they’d love to help us export our shoes and the sports business they would like to help as well.” 

From 1968 to 1979, Joe wanted to create that relationship between Reebok and America. When it came to imported products, Americans were hesitant at first. “So, we talk about what were the problems? Well, there’s 11 years in between, and in those 11 years I had at least six failures trying to meet people, athletes, or somebody in the business.” 

Eventually, the running category became big in America. With the rise of the Runner’s World magazine that featured shoes, Reebok got the opportunity to put the spotlight on their shoes. This led to the star-system of shoes. Out of 5 stars, shoes were ranked based on how efficiently they worked and how technically sound they were. 

“So, we made the Aztec, a five-star shoe. We thought it would be a five-star issue. We tested this out in the 1978 Commonwealth games in Edmonton. Great. We got gold medals, lots of top athletes were in them.” Joe recalls. Reebok started being known as one of the top shoes. 

After getting a five-star review, Joe knew that the company and the business we’re going to need help to reach the new demands and heights of success. Working out pricing, distribution, and process, Rebook eventually made more than one five-star shoe that got featured in the Runner’s World magazine, which caused a spike in popularity and continued success. 

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