Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Running Shoe Business

There are a few things that cause frustration in running.
  1. You develop a nagging injury that just won't go away. 
  2. You take a break from running and struggle to get back in shape
  3. You find a shoe that you love only to have the brand change it on you

This post is about #3 and feel comfortable knowing that we’ve all been through this. I was a Nike Air Pegasus guy. For a number of years I would just rotate in a new pair and my running would continue on. Then one day Nike stopped making the Air Pegasus. They didn’t change it they simply stopped making it. I didn’t make enough money to test and find a new shoe. I had to buy what I could afford and hope that it worked. That was a dark time in my running because it was really hard to find a perfect match like that Pegasus. That was so long ago that Nike got smart 15 years ago and brought the Pegasus back. 

Fast forward a good number of years and I was in position to do the same thing to a great deal of runners. I was working at Adidas in Germany far away from you the end consumer. The lead Developer had bad news for me, the mold for the SuperNova Classic was finished. The mold could not handle any more production, it was too worn out. We or I had a choice, open new molds on that existing shoe or create a new shoe. Molds are the most expensive part of building a running shoe. The revenue numbers on the SN Classic (All in the USA) had been dwindling by a large amount year over year. Part of it was that the shoe was starting to look old in design but the real truth was that it was one of a kind when it first came out and in 2008 there were plenty of copycat shoes on the market taking market share. The decision from a business sense was easy, let’s make a new shoe. The decision from my heart tore at me for quite some time. I remembered back to that Air Pegasus and knew I was creating some frustration in the running world. The shoe we created SuperNova Adapt (also discontinued after I was gone) was a really good shoe but it was no SuperNova Classic. Every once in a while I run into someone who loved the Classic or is actually still running in a pair after stocking up and I find myself begging for forgiveness with a smile on my face.

There are a number of influences that cause brands to change your shoes.

Altruistically brands are in business to help runners but let’s face it, shoes are money makers and when your favorite shoe isn’t making money or isn’t making as much money as it should be making, it’s going to change. Often times this is also where shoes get dropped out of the line.

The general thought process is shoes are changed to improve a current problem in the shoe. I’ll use an example here. In 2014 Mizuno introduced the Wave Rider 17 to much fan fanfare. This was supposed to be the lighter faster Wave Rider. One high powered retail buyer said to me “The Wave Rider 17 is the best Wave Rider yet”. When it finally came out runners complained. Yes, it was lighter but it was physically harder in the forefoot and at least one runner said “they made a Wave Precision” which was a lightweight performance running shoe built for runners who like to go fast. I’m not 100% sure what they saw in the Wave Rider 16 that needed to be changed but the Wave Rider 17 was too much of a change. Now look at the Wave Rider 18. They stiffened the forefoot and balanced the heel but the end result is still not what the Wave Rider once was. It was the standard by which many neutral shoes were created and today it’s just another shoe on the wall.  On review I read on the new Wave Rider summed it up "Get used to hearing yourself run, the outsole is so hard it makes noise all the time" 

Trends in the Market  
There have been two recent trends in the market that are having a huge impact on the entire market. The first major trend was minimalism. The minimalist trend caused shoe companies to change midsole drop, upper construction, and a great deal more. As an example, Saucony changed the Triumph (I believe it was the Triumph 8) and a number of other shoes from a 12mm heel to toe drop to 8mm heel to toe drop. There were probably a few runners that felt that change was drastic.  At the same time because of minimalism and feedback from one of their athletes Saucony created the Kinvara and that’s been nothing but good for Saucony and runners.

The latest trend affecting the shoe market is Maximalism or more pointed, Hoka. The market is reacting and reacting quickly. Brooks quickly changed the Trance to the Transcend, New Balance introduced Freshfoam and Asics in 2015 is coming out with a Maximalism shoe in the 33 line of shoes.

This is probably the leading reason shoe brands change shoes. They are all watching each other and today more than ever, competition is leading the way and causing you the runner the most confusion. The leader in innovation nobody really ever talks about any more is Nike. They lead in midsole creation, upper construction and much more. Generally speaking if you want to know what Asics, Brooks, Saucony and others are going to be doing next year, look at what Nike is doing this year. The Lunar Glide is a perfect example. It’s a stability shoe that looks and feels very much like a neutral shoe. Nobody wanted to change their current shoes to match the Lunar Glide so they created new shoes. Asics Super J 33, Hoka Constant and quite a few other shoes now incorporate a construction much like the Lunar Glide. Expect this trend to continue.

My issue in all of this is that there seems to be a component missing, the runner. I feel like the business of running shoes is more about staying on trend and beating the competition than it is about helping runners find their best running. I’ll probably hear it from someone deep in a shoe company challenge this comment but I’ve been there. I’ve been in meetings where the runner is never mentioned.

I only see this getting worse. With the consolidation of retailers and the abundance of product these things are only go to become more intense. 

The good thing is this keeps me working. 

It's a good life...

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