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Why Merrell is a Little Different

Posted by on May 12, 2011 | 25 Comments

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.

Conclusion

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!  ]

 

 

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25 Comments

  1. Jonny Muir
    May 17, 2011

    Just wanted to say as always a interesting and informative read! Thanks again for the tried and tested advice! Without sites like this transitioning to barefoot/minimalist running would be a long and lonely road/trail/beach/moon surface!

    Cheers again,

    Jonny

  2. Joe
    May 17, 2011

    Great blog, Jason, and congratulations and being able to quit “real” life and start really living.

    I love my Trail Gloves and surprise myself with them all the time; I recently ran 10 miles in them at a good pace, and although I felt sore in all the right places for a day or two after, I’ve had no injuries. I still don’t use them for every run, as I run mostly on concrete and sometimes (like yesterday’s run) my legs just don’t want to cooperate. Regardless, your blog turned me onto the shoes this past February and I’m totally a convert.

    What I’m interested to see is a picture of you (or somebody) wearing the Tough Gloves in slacks; I’m thinking of getting a pair of brown Tough Gloves for work but I want to make sure they look okay with work pants. My job is pretty lax and nobody will care if they look a little weird, but I’m just interested to see what I’m getting myself into before I make the plunge. If you could help with this, that would be excellent — otherwise, no worries.

    Thanks for the blog and the inspiration.

  3. Pjn
    May 14, 2011

    I’m planning a 600 mile hike during the summer. I usually wear very light but waterproof boots, but my feet get very sweaty.
    What is your opinion on a Trail Glove for hiking?
    I have not much experience in barefoot walk method, I’ve read a post where someone claimed you walk slower than normal. The ventilation and very light weight seems great though.

    • Jason
      May 15, 2011

      PJN- I actually walk the same barefoot, in minimalist shoes, and in any other shoe. If I were to hike, I would use the Trail Gloves because I’m not a fan of boots. They do ventilate well, certainly better than waterproof boots. I’d recommend trying a pair in a store to make sure the fit is good.

  4. Len the Harmonicaman
    May 14, 2011

    I know Merrel also do a lot of sandals. Do they have any plans for minimalist sandals in the future?

    • Jason
      May 15, 2011

      Len- not positive. I don’t have any insight to their future lineups. I would think they may as it would likely satisfy a specific niche.

      Have you considered huaraches? Barefoot Ted’s Lunas and Steven Sashen’s Invisibleshoes are both excellent products.

  5. merrell lynch
    May 13, 2011

    Jason, I get you love merell cos they’re paying for you to go camping and stuff but please can you either change the blogs name to Merrell University or stop pumping the corporates so hard through your “independent” blog. It’s really boring.

    • Kevin Schell
      May 14, 2011

      I agree with ML’s not so subtle suggestions that this is no longer an unbiased blog and feel that there should be a clearly posted statement or disclaimer regarding the nature of Mr. Robillard’s relationship with Merrel. I also greatly appreciate the work that Mr. Robillard is doing to encourage proper running form and to generally support the running community.

      • Jason
        May 15, 2011

        ML and Kevin-

        The content on this site is determined by a simple principle that is aligned with the goal I state often- change the world by teaching good form (http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/2011/04/01/why-barefoot-running-university/.) It’s not meant to be an nor is it ever advertised as an impartial news agency like CNN or Fox News. I support anyone that has a vision similar to my own. In some cases, I have some sort of relationship with those entities. Some have paid me for building educational content (Merrell, which I explain here: http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/2010/12/11/my-decision-to-work-with-merrell/), Terra Plana (advertising), or others that have given me products to review. Other entities are my “competition”, and I support them, too (The Sandlers and RunBare, Ken Bob, Ted, Pose, Chi, Evolution Running, etc.)

        The point- I’m sorry you feel the way you do, but I cannot apologize for supporting people and companies that are genuinely interested in changing the world. I have no interest in giving equal coverage to companies like Sketchers, Brooks, or Reebok. If you have an interest in starting a website that will do just this, I would encourage you to go for it. I’m sure there would be an audience.

        If individuals expect me to make decisions for them in regards to the shoes to choose, they are missing an important reoccurring point I make: take responsibility for your own decisions; don’t rely on “experts.” As George Sheehan said- we’re all an experiment of one. Do research and find what works for YOU.

        • Kevin Schell
          May 15, 2011

          I feel that my comment may have been misunderstood. I wasn’t suggesting that you owed anyone an apology. I don’t think you do. I also wasn’t comparing you to the news media and wasn’t suggesting that you review Sketchers (although I’m sure that comment was tongue-in-cheek). I do, however, believe that your relationship with Merrell could be communicated a little more clearly on your home page. You have earned influence in the running community through your book, blog and achievements as an Ultra Marathoner. With influence comes responsibility and part of that responsibility, it could be argued, is to clearly state any bias, especially when that bias results from financial gain. Again, I applaud your efforts to encourage an active lifestyle and to promote minimalism and to support the running community. My comment is only offered for your consideration and any perceived tone of reprimand or admonishment is not intended.

  6. Alex M
    May 13, 2011

    awesome write up. I am excited for the minimal movement but i def agree that it has become a fad. I hope that other companies will follow the example of M and either get in or stay out. Thanks for the great articles.

  7. Kelly
    May 13, 2011

    We probably have more in common with each other than not, so I’m a little reluctant to argue with you, but I’m also disappointed that sites like this one keep perpetuating that there are good reasons to spend a lot of many on shoes.

    BTR was a great book if only for the fact that it debunked the marketing claims that most shoe companies made about the “technologies” in their products. It stripped the shoe down to its basic function: a shelter for the foot. A shoe is just a shoe. It doesn’t make you a better runner. And if you take away the marketing, you take away a significant portion of the shoe cost. If you don’t agree, ask Michael Jordon how much money he’s made from Nike.

    So why are sites like this one that embrace BTR endorsing shoes that cost $160? Reviews are posted that seem to come up with reasons to justify the cost like flexibility or low weight. Most shoes become very flexible after they break in. And most runners I see are overweight and would do better to lose several pounds by dropping the Doritos and beer than dropping over $100 on shoes to lose a few ounces.

    All types of shoes can be found at department stores for well under $50. One of my favorite pairs of shoes was purchased from a well known department store for $5 on clearance. They are Chuck Taylor knock-offs. They are very minimal. The only reason I can see to spend more than $50 on shoes is to make a fashion statement. Maybe I’m a cheap-skate, but I’ve got more important things to spend my money on.

    • Kelly
      May 13, 2011

      That’s “spend lots of money on shoes”.

    • Jason
      May 15, 2011

      Kelly-

      Actually, I tell people to think of shoes as tools. Ideally, go barefoot. If you run in conditions that warrant protection, choose the most minimal shoe for the job. There’s more to the process, but I sum it up here:

      http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/2011/02/13/how-to-choose-the-right-minimalist-shoe-2/

      Cost can certainly be an issue with the decision-making process. It’s possible to make some near-perfect huaraches from crap lying around the house. I ran a 50 miler in a pair of $10 Walmart aqua socks. It wasn’t ideal, but good enough to get the job done. Some people are okay with spending the money if they find a shoe that works for them, some are not. The key- find what works best for you.

  8. Patton Gleason
    May 12, 2011

    Jason-Excellent post and my hats off to Merrell. There is genius to this product, but more importantly how they are communicating the most effective use of it. It is an interesting, but great time in running. Here’s to a fun, injury-free, epic future. Cheers.

  9. Harry
    May 12, 2011

    Hi Jason,
    I agree wholeheartedly however with regard to the trail glove – what I was most surprised by was how narrow it was – which for someone with 2E width shoes – one of the main reasons I was drawn to Vibrams first then through them to barefoot running . It seems many people have expereienced their feet have become wider the more barefoot running they have done . Do you think a wider option for the trail glove will be available in the future . On all the review sites it seems to be the leading gripe people have with the shoe.

    • Jason
      May 15, 2011

      Harry- I’m trying to convince them a wider version is needed. I think this is especially important given the need for a shoe that allows for toe splay.

  10. briderdt
    May 12, 2011

    Actually, on point 4, the Big Shoe Companies ARE listening to the people that know what they’re talking about — just ask them, they’ll tell you they’re THE authority. And most of them have the paper credentials to prove it.

    [and for the humor-impaired, the above is total sarcasm]

  11. Dave Robbo
    May 12, 2011

    Great article Jason.
    Being the owner of a pair of Trail Gloves it is easy for me to get exctied by Merrell as this supports my purchasing decision and makes me feel good.
    But I agree with you that they are a a company that seems driven by a genuine desire to promote good running form and improve the running/moving experience overall.

    • Jason
      May 15, 2011

      Dave- there are a few companies that have made a genuine effort to promote the same principles many of us have been preaching for years. That makes me happy. :-)

  12. Ralphie
    May 12, 2011

    It is my opinion that you should not scare them off. My first foray into “barefoot” was nike free 3.0. I’m not a crazy person that would ever go barefoot or zero drop… Then I tried Vibrams to convince myself that Nike is the furthest I could comfortably go. I was wrong, and now I’m considering going completely barefoot.

    On the other hand, the transition to Vibram after using Nikes has been a very slow progression and I wish somebody told me to go straight into them. I’m sure I’ll experience the feeling again when I switch to completely barefoot.

    • Jason
      May 15, 2011

      Ralphie- it’s a tricky issue I debate all the time. I think this will be another post in the near future.

  13. The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy
    May 12, 2011

    I wish more companies were like Merrell. Seems like a lot of minimal shoe companies are making shoes with popularity instead of function in mind. I’m seeing a lot of “transition” shoes, the concept of which is completely ridiculous. A shoe that will get you from one shoe to another? Way to invent a problem and then provide a solution shoe companies.

    Apart from Merrell, I see the best new minimal shoes coming from startup companies. Altra, Skora, and ZEM will have the best shoes because they don’t have significant investment in a traditional product line.

    • Jason
      May 12, 2011

      CP- I edited and gave those comapnies some love. :-)

      As far as the transition shoe, I have mixed feelings. I agree- the idea of “stepping down” is silly because the whole point is to learn good form. By stepping down, it forces you to relearn how to run in the “transition shoes”, then relearn again when you go to zero drop.

      However, there is a huge demand for them. People are generally scared to go to zero drop. I would love to be able to give each and every one of those people a thorough explanation of why it is not a good idea, but that’s simply impossible. Maybe that’s what they need to begin the process of learning good form. That’s where I run into the cognitive dissonance- do I take a hard-line stance and scare some people off and effectively keep them in cushioned, supportive shoes OR accept the “reduced shoes” as a necessary evil because it ultimately serves a greater good.

      At this point I have no answer. This topic may be my next blog post. :-)

      • Ash
        May 12, 2011

        I think your latter perspective is more realistic. Reduced shoes are a necessary means by which the general public can get a sense of how fun it can be to run barefoot and with good form.

        I’m still a reduced-shoe runner after beginning the trasition a little less than a year ago. I don’t think I’d have given barefoot running as much thought as I did, and do now, if it weren’t for that middle ground afforded by shoes from Inov-8 and New Balance.

        Great post, Jason!