In the coming weeks, I will be posting a comprehensive review of Merrell’s new Trail Glove minimalist shoe. This will be a difficult review because of the potential conflict of interest involved. I take great pride in providing honest, accurate reviews of the various shoes I review, both good and bad. I have been very careful to avoid situations that would prevent me from giving impartial reviews.
The problem with my Merrell review- Merrell hired me to do some educational consultant work.
Here’s the story:
In October of 2010, I received an email from a Merrell representative asking if I would be interested in talking about their new line of minimalist shoes. I heard rumors of these shoes a few months earlier. Even though they are a well-known brand among outdoor enthusiasts, I had never heard of them. I was familiar with their parent company- Wolverine Worldwide. It is based in Rockford, Michigan; a mere ten miles from my home.
Since I am always interested in testing the newest footwear that may help in running ultramarathons, I replied. The representative put me in contact with Meg Hammond, Merrell’s marketing manager. I was surprised she asked to meet. Most shoe manufacturers simply communicate via email.
As luck would have it, I had a barefoot running clinic planned that week at Crossfit Grand Rapids. Meg agreed to meet me there.
When the night arrived, I brought all my gear which essentially consists of about twenty pairs of minimalist shoes from a variety of manufacturers. Meg arrived on time and we chatted about Merrell in general and the new line of shoes in particular. We talked about the importance of running form and the qualities of a good shoe. She brought a pair of the Trail Gloves for me to try, so I slipped them on. I’ll wait to give you my impressions in the review.
Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed with the shoes (they are my shoe of choice to run the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in June). In subsequent conversations with Meg, she revealed Merrell’s plans for the release of the line of shoes. They were planning a major education campaign to teach people about running form from the perspective of a barefoot runner. The goal was simple- it was an attempt get people outside to embark on adventures while also providing a wealth of information to prevent them from injury.
To date, every other manufacturer of minimalist shoes has done a very poor job of educating people about proper running gait when moving from traditional running shoes to minimalist shoes or barefoot. Merrell was making an attempt to fill this education void. My ultimate goal in the promotion of barefoot running has always been education. I want to give people the resources and knowledge necessary to avoid many of the pitfalls of making a transition from traditional running shoes to minimalist shoes or barefoot.
The problem- all these resources require runners to seek out the information. I simply don’t have the resources to advertise or otherwise cast a wider net. Since Merrell was interested in producing materials to be distributed at the customer level, this was a perfect opportunity for me to help make a significant, lasting impact on a population that may or may not have found my other resources. As a teacher, this is incredibly exciting.
Ultimately they wanted me to be a consultant, along with several other prominent barefoot runners. Collectively, our experiences would help them craft a well-planned series of innovative tools that would teach good running form. Interestingly, the tools they were planning were the EXACT same tools I had planned to develop in the future. I’m not a huge “fate” person, but this did send a slight shiver down my spine.
Since education is the primary goal I accomplish with my book, clinics, my site, my involvement with the Barefoot Runners Society, other forums, and articles such as the article in Ultrarunning Magazine, I took Merrell’s goals to heart. They were doing exactly what many of us barefoot runners have been waiting for- a major manufacturer getting involved in actively teaching about good form. This was an opportunity to help reach an entirely new population of outdoor enthusiasts, including many runners.
I also liked the focus on all sports and activities. As a runner, I tend to focus only on running. I sometimes forget that the minimalist shoe movement has expanded well beyond the running world. The sincerity of Merrell’s commitment to education swayed me. Of course, it helped that their shoe was… well, I’ll wait for the review.
Since we started a professional relationship, I’ve been helping with the development of these awesome tools that will help new runners and outdoor enthusiasts learn good form. Merrell took input from an impressive array of sources and distilled their message down to some very simple yet effective teaching points.
Our agreed-upon message is slightly different than the typical methods and techniques I teach, but the underlying concepts are the same. I don’t want to give details as of yet, but Merrell will be releasing these tools around the beginning of February.
Anyway, back to my impartiality. A major sticking point for me was my autonomy as a blogger. I review shoes for all the major manufacturers. Obviously my work with Merrell would be an issue. I had a long talk with Merrell’s marketing team. It was important that they allow me to continue my work as a reviewer, which included the understanding that I may give their shoes a horrible review.
At the time, I had enough experience in the Trail Gloves to know I liked them. Still, I did have a few complaints I will document in my review. I needed Merrell to understand I was going to be brutally honest. Furthermore, I would also be comparing their shoes to their competition. It was also important that they accept the fact that I may like the competition more and will not hesitate to say so publicly.
This was a tough stand for me to take as I was really excited about their education program. Again, their plans were the very thing we (the barefoot running community) has been waiting for from a major manufacturer… a comprehensive plan to educate. As a professional teacher, I was salivating. Yet, my audience came first. The cost of compromising my autonomy couldn’t justify the benefit of working to educate.
Luckily, Merrell not only agreed with my points, but also encouraged me to be honest about their shoes. At that moment, I really understood that this company was a little different. They were willing to weather a potential negative review in order to receive feedback to make a better product. At first I thought they were just supremely confident in their product. I have since learned it’s just Merrell’s commitment to quality. Apparently their products produce some of the most loyal customers in the entire industry. I now know why. I’ve had many conversations with shoe manufacturers over the years. None have been so open to potential negative feedback.
Anyway, I will be posting a full review in the near future. I’ve run several hundred miles in the Trail Gloves. The obvious issue with the review will be my perceived impartiality. It’s standard practice for shoe companies to provide products to reviewers which I usually note with a simple sentence at the end of the review. This situation is a little different because I have actually teamed up with the company to produce educational tools and materials.
While I can assure you my reviews of the Merrell line will be completely impartial, it is up to each of my readers to reach your own conclusions. My best recommendation would be to seek out other reviews. Better yet, find a store and try the shoes for yourself. As always, my opinions are just one data point.