Sunday, January 26, 2014

Running Stores of the World: Schuhhaus Lang

This is the first in a long series that I will write of my favorite running stores of the world. There has been lots of talk and there will always be talk on the web and in Podcasts about running shoes. It seems that if you have a voice and an audience you can call yourself an authority.. Those of us in the business of making and selling running shoes know that the real authorities are those who have spent their lifetime servicing runners, the running retailers.

In this series I'm going to take you to my favorite running stores all over the world. Some of them do millions of dollars a year, and some of them don't. What all of them do is put the runner first and they will do what it takes to make running a better experience.

I first met Dieter Lang of Schuhhaus Lang at a dealer camp we held at the adidas World Headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany. It was actually one of the most memorable meetings in my long running shoe career. In the meeting I witnessed a retailer Mr. Lang, passionately express his dissatisfaction with the technical aspects of our shoes. The meeting took place in German which when spoken with passion has a way of sounding quite "harsh". My second meeting with Mr. Lang was this past November when I presented the entire Zoot footwear direction to he and a group of other retailers in Germany. I was sweating bullets during that encounter and rightfully so. It's the first time I saw a truly critical approach to our footwear. He used a level on his I phone, the edge of the table and the top of the table. All checking for balance in each and every model. I was pleased to see him nod approval as I presented each and every shoe. That doesn't mean he liked every model just that each one passed his balance test. That set this stage for my third visit with Mr. Lang  in his store.

His store lived up to everything I envisioned. I knew he was critical and a perfectionist and I wanted to see how that translated to his retail. This is what I saw. If I understood the German correctly this store was first started by his grandfather which means the store is older than most running shoe companies.

The store is on the corner in a small village in Germany. He says he draws runners from Frankfurt and Stuttgart both of which are an hour away. 
Inside he had on display roughly 30 models of running shoes and another 30 models of functional shoes for the German Market. Where we Americans wear athletic shoes on a daily basis the Germans wear sturdy functional shoes built to last in all weather conditions. His # 1 brand on the functional side was Think. I have a pair of Think Shoes and I have to admit they are the best shoes I've ever bought. The running shoes were no surprise, A good combination of Brooks, Asics, Saucony, New Balance and adidas. Not much Nike and no Mizuno. I should point out no Newton, No Hoka and No Zoot either. The real work like many running stores takes place in the lab and this is where Dieter and his staff shine. 

The Treadmill you see in the picture has 4 cameras on it. This way they can see the action of the runner in multiple views. You can also see the posture wall (blue wall). Here they look for postural balance issues a runner might have. All of this information goes into a computer for analysis. Their system has over 16,000 runners on it. One word about that to all the so called experts in running shoes. 16,000 samples wins out in expertise. 

From the computer and the videos they work out which of the 30 or so shoes will work best for the runner. For every runner on the system I saw at least two shoes meaning they believe as I believe that there isn't a single best shoe for any runner. But the shoes are really just the start of the expertise. What really makes them great is the added service they provide. Running is a very personal experience. What's best for one runner is not always best for another. Once a runner has an experience with the shoe they have chosen they come back to the store for more analysis. Here Dieter and the group work to fine tune the running experience. This may be added support through a custom insole, or it may and often becomes manipulating the midsole of the running shoe to make it perfect. 

Raw materials fill half of the cobble shop. 

Grinders are used to shape the shoes 
 An example of what I'm talking about was the Asics DS Trainer above. The women this shoe was being finished for is a 2:40 marathoner. The overall fit of the DS Trainer is perfect for her but the ride is not. She over-pronates or crashes in much later in her gait. The blue EVA you see is much firmer than the EVA in the shoe. This will hold the ball of her foot up keeping her foot centered on the shoe. She is a heel striker and the sharp edge of the heel doesn't work great for her. So the store is beveling the heel which is why you see the orange Gel exposed. Once they have the shape they want they will reapply the outersole. An added benefit is they can customize each shoe which is great because almost everyone has some difference between left and right.
If you buy your shoe at the store the added cost of customization is 30 euros. It's 70 euros if you didn't buy your shoes there.
It was great to spend time with Dieter in his store. While we were there they received a new shipment of shoes. We pulled one of the shoes out of the box and measured it for balance, it was not good manufacturing. Way out of balance. Probably not the way Dieter saw it in sample and it disappointed him that it came in the way it did. On the other side he showed me what he thought was the best running shoe in the last 3 years. I'll have a pair of them by the end of this week.

I have no idea the volume this store does. I do know the influence it has in the area and in the shoes you buy every day. 16,000 samples of hard data is one of the best sets of data in the running industry. More than any book written and way more than any Podcaster talking.  You simply have to respect and appreciate when Dieter talks about a shoe.

It's a good life....

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