I recently had the opportunity to talk to several members of Merrell’s management and development teams. These conversations reaffirmed what I had deduced awhile ago:
These cats do things a little differently.
As many of you know, I’ve been working with Merrell to develop educational material to help people learn to run with better form. My goal is to change the way people think about running and have fun in the process. It’s my way of making a dent in the Universe. Merrell has taken a similar approach with producing their line of minimalist shoes. They’re leveraging their influence to inspire people to get outside, be active, and lean how to move naturally in the process. In short, their goals perfectly align with my goals.
There are many companies that either produce or will soon be producing minimalist shoes. Some are pretty good. Some are pretty bad. Regardless, it’s a good thing for us because: 1) It gives us choices, and the individualistic nature of the fit of minimalist shoes demands many choices to find a perfect fit, and 2) It creates competition which ultimately results in better products.
It’s no secret- I love Merrell’s new shoes. The Trail Glove is the single best trail shoe I’ve ever used. It is the perfect tool for the type of running I prefer. That was the hook that got me interested in Merrell. It was their vision that sold me on the decision to help them develop their education materials.
Like me, the folks at Merrell want to change the world. The way they go about doing this, especially in regards to minimalist shoes, is second to none. Other companies entering the world of minimalist shoes could learn a lot from Merrell. This is the advice I would give those companies:
1. Don’t sit the fence. If you produce a true minimalist shoe and claim it is a better or more natural way to run, you can’t simultaneously promote the health benefits of your motion-control, overly cushioned shoes. This lack of internal consistency is glaringly obvious.
Merrell bucked this trend. They did research, determined minimalist was the best way to make a running shoe, then aligned their entire running line off this philosophy. They truly believed in the idea and weren’t just trying to make a buck off the latest fad (cough, cough, Fila, cough.) If you talk the talk, you’d better walk the walk.
2. Teach. The running world is filled with recreational runners that have no idea how to run. They lace up some cushioned foot coffins and start pounding the pavement (literally.) If you are going to produce a product that will require people to change, you’d better take the time and spend the cash to teach them how to use it.
Merrell realized they were producing a product that would require people to learn to move in a different way, and that movement would take some adjustment and adaptation. They decided to research the best possible methods to teach running form to the masses, developed a plan to spread this information in an efficient manner, then executed. The result- A LOT of people are finally learning the fundamentals of good form. The ancillary benefit- a handful of other companies are following suit. This hits are the very core of my own personal goals, so this in INCREDIBLY exciting to me.
3. Don’t parade a few elites and imply your product is the reason they’re successful, spend your marketing bucks motivating the average Joe to become active. Okay, almost everybody does this… and it annoys me. Elites are usually elites because they work their asses off, not because of the shoes they wear. The implicit message is that the shoes are a shortcut to some performance goal… a “quick” fix if you will.
Simply put, shoes are tools. Instead of marketing the shoes as a magic bullet, convince people to become active. Convince them to get off the couch and have fun doing physical exercise. This is the real appeal of barefoot running- it’s fun! This is the reason so many people begin and never stop. If you make physical movement the enjoyable experience it should be, THAT will lead to improved health, fitness, and believe it or not… performance.
Merrell uses the slogan “Get Outside.” I perfectly sums up the idea of motivating people to start being active and begin making their own adventures. It’s not about chasing some unrealistic ideal, it’s about enjoying your own personal experience. I like to think our society would find a lot more happiness if we spent more time focusing on our own experiences instead of dreaming of attaining what others have accomplished.
I’m a bit of an idealist, though.
4. Listen to the people that know what they’re talking about. There are quite a few of us that have determined what qualities a good minimalist shoe should possess. We determined this by running thousands of miles barefoot or using our own homemade or heavily-modified minimalist shoes. We’ve tested every conceivable shoe out there. We discuss this with each other ad nauseum. WE KNOW WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT! All we want is for you to listen.
Merrell’s first question about the Trail Glove wasn’t “What did you like.” It was “What didn’t you like?” They weren’t looking for an affirmation that the shoe was a good shoe. They knew it was a great shoe. They wanted to know how they could make the shoe even better. The shoe isn’t great for road running. When I discussed this with them, they didn’t come back with a defensive response or dismiss my opinion. They took the information as a challenge and went to work. I was even more shocked when my blogger peers reported the same thing. Merrell identified the people that had a ton of experience with minimalist shoes, solicited their feedback, and used that information to refine the product.
A certain company I’ll call “Blooks” recently sent out a press release about a new quasi-minimalist shoe.” In the press release, they talked about how the shoe was developed by their marketing team’s input. They designed the shoe to appeal to complete novices. This is wrong on so many levels… I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
If every company followed these four bits of advice, we’d be flooded with quality shoes that would genuinely make a positive change in the world. Having engaged in conversations with quite a few shoe manufacturers, I know some are already going some of these things. Terra Plana and Vibram have implemented some of these ideas, and Barefoot Ted’s Luna huarache company was founded on these principles. That’s progress. Until more companies start down this road, all we can do is support those that already do these things.
Our little community is slowly changing the world. It has been difficult, but we’re gaining momentum. Companies like Merrell have done the research and made the decision to support us. They’re helping us bring about significant, meaningful, lasting change. I’m excited about the future. Within the next two years, I predict we’ll see a wholesale change in our society. We’ll see a movement toward simplicity, individuality, and self-reliance where people are more comfortable making their own decisions. Society will realize “experts” only give generic advice meant to appeal to some statistical “average.” Personal responsibility will become a celebrated trait. I like to think the minimalist shoe movement is at the forefront of this change, and Merrell is helping us lead the way.
These cats do things a little differently.
[ EDIT- Christian Peterson brought up a good point I failed to make- many of the small minimalist shoe start-ups are dedicated to this idea, too. This includes companies like Altra, Scora, ZEM, STEM, Kigo, Invisibleshoes, etc. They also deserve credit for fully embracing these ideals. Hats off to each of them! ]