We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift away from the antiquated “neutral, stability, and motion-control” paradigm and toward the minimal-based “shoes as tools” paradigm. It’s easy to write this off as a passing fad or just another option to compliment the old way of doing things, but this is short-sighted.
When people make the switch to minimalist shoes, they don’t go back.
Based on the number of people making the transition AND the rate at which that number is increasing, that paradigm shift will hit critical mass A LOT sooner than most predict. We’re in the midst of a revolution. How will this affect shoe companies?
It depends on the company. As a relative outsider, I base my opinions on my own observations of individuals, not things like sales data or market trends. I’m more “old time scout” than “Moneyball.”
The future of many companies will be tied directly to their willingness to accept the ideas behind quality minimalist shoes. The most important quality:
Develop shoes that doesn’t interfere with natural running form.
Those that manage to do this will thrive. Those that don’t will suffer. Some may even go belly-up. Such is the nature of revolutions.
The companies that will be most successful will be those that are the early adopters. They will have gotten into the game at the right time- before critical mass hits. This will allow them to experiment with design to find the right combination of form and function. It will allow them to discover an important point that will doom the late-comers:
No technology can improve the function of a shoe.
Right now, shoe “technology” is marketing gold. Adding fancy materials that provide support and cushioning or supposedly launch the runner forward is a sure way to sell a lot of shoes, even if there’s no empirical evidence supporting the claims. Unfortunately for the companies hanging their hat on technology, consumers are getting more educated. A growing number are looking at shoe technology with skepticism.
Adding technology to shoes seems to be addictive to some companies. In recent years, several have developed supposed minimalist shoes loaded with stupid features that claim to improve performance. Eventually they will learn to strip the technology and build a fundamentally sound shoe that gets out of the way of a runner’s natural gait.
The faster companies realize this, the better off they will fare in the near and distant future.
Some companies are at that point. Others will be very soon. Many are not and will continue plodding along with their head in the sand. Those that are at that point are working their asses off to fully understand this new paradigm. They’re putting in the hours that will ultimately assure their future success. Those that are not there are playing with the idea of minimalist shoes, but don’t fully buy into the idea. As a company, they’re content to sit on their asses and continue churning out the same motion-controlled turds.
Another variable is size. The bigger the company, the more potential success they will have in the future assuming they “get” the first idea. Having a well-established known brand with a capable sales force and adequate marketing,manufacturing, and distribution in order to meet consumer demand is HUGE. The behemoths already have this. The midsize companies do, too. Smaller companies and upstarts… they may struggle a bit. Still they will be in a much better position than the late adopters.
The final variable is somewhat related to the first- internal consistency. The companies that fully buy into the ideas of minimalist shoes will have a much easier time developing good shoes than a company that produces some minimalist shoes and some traditional foot coffins. Eventually all companies will produce variations of minimalist shoes, but the sooner they get the entire operation on board,the better they will fare.
If we can use this idea as a predictive tool, which companies will be successful and which ones will struggle? Anyone that follows the minimalist shoe movement should immediately know the answer to this question. By 2013, these are my predicted winners and losers:
Winners that can’t miss
- Vibram- This should go without saying. They will lose market share to the non-five toed shoes, but will continue to be a dominant force. The Five Fingers division of the company meet all three of my criteria. It helps that they produce a lot of minimalist soles for other brands.
- Merrell- I write enough about the culture of the company to get the idea- they are definitely ahead of the curve on all three of the above variables, which places them as the company with the room for the greatest growth. Their enthusiasm will be market-changing. Their Spring 2012 lineup will confirm that they’ve carefully listened to their audience.
- Newton- I’m not a fan of the shoes, but they do all the right things. That includes learning. They’ll only get bigger.
- VivoBarefoot- Their size is a limiting factor, but they’re doing all three of the above very well. Once they master the design of athletic shoes, their popularity will take off.
- Nike- They have something up their sleeve, and I think it’s going to be HUGE. They’ve been too quiet. I predict they’ll abandon the old paradigm entirely,which will be the tipping point where every company will be forced to follow. This is part of what will allow the other four above to have such an advantage.
Those that are in a great position to win, but need to work on a few things
- New Balance- They’re learning good design with the Minimus line. They have the size. Unfortunately they still make a shit load of non-minimal shoes, which will present a tricky transition period. Despite this, I’d still bet on NB becoming a winner in the new paradigm.
- Inov-8- They’re in the same boat as New Balance without the size. This will allow them to make a faster transition to the new paradigm, but they don’t have as wide of a distribution network. Their 2012 lineup will be impressive.
Companies that have a decent shot
- Saucony- The Hattori is a small step in the right direction, but not enough to convince me.
- Adidas- Their Five Fingers knock-off shows they are at least flirting with the idea. They would benefit from a strong international minimalist movement. If they capitalize when that happens, they could be a winner.
- Hoka One One- Their idea, while appearing to be the polar opposite of minimalist shoes, isn’t as far off as it seems. This is a long-shot, but their shoes allow good running form and offer something no other company offers.
- Sketchers- Yeah, I am as shocked as you. Unlike their Shape-up train wreck, I think they may do this one right. Call it a hunch.
Companies that will be the losers
- Asics- They may be the last company to still produce motion controlled shoes.
- Brooks- The fact that they still produce the Beast is all you need to know.
- Reebok- RealFlex. ‘Nuff said. Oh, and their Crossfit shoe is a joke. After years of being on the forefront of minimalist shoes, CF took a serious step back. P90X, anyone?
I left off some of the small companies that are doing great things for brevity’s sake. For the most part, they don’t have the distribution capabilities to be market-changers. Still, companies like Altra, Skora, STEM, Kigo, Sockwa, Soft Star,etc. will do just fine. The huaraches companies, like Luna, Invisible Shoes, Branca, and Un Shoes will do well, too.
What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree?