“Can you recommend a pair of casual or business minimalist shoes?”
I get this question at least once every week. There aren’t too many options. Merrell made the Tough Glove. Vivo has a good few models. The new Stems are good options. A few non-minimalist companies produce workable solutions. But for the most part, the market is still barren.
I’ve always wondered why. After all, there’s A LOT of demand. Once people make the switch to minimalist running shoes, they invariably look for the same features in a casual or business shoe. So what’s going on?
There are a few variables that play into this, though I’ve been experiencing one first-hand.
A shoe company we’ll call Mr. Happy’s Shoe Company developed two excellent minimalist shoes that could be used as casual or business casual shoes. They’re zero-drop, have a roomy toe box, flexible sole, and look cool. And they’ll most likely be gone by fall if they make it to the market at all.
Why does this happen?
It’s a function of the way the shoe industry works. Here’s a quick non-insider primer (apologies to the shoe industry for gross over-simplification here).
- Shoes are designed by design teams.
- Shoes are wear tested by select people.
- Changes are made based on wear testing.
- Samples are made and distributed to sales representatives that take orders from shoe buyers at retail stores.
- Shoes are distributed to bloggers, magazines, etc. for reviews.
- Shoes are manufactured, distributed, and sold to the public
Step four is the critical step. This is where some great shoes die. If the manufacturer doesn’t get enough orders from the retail buyers for any given model, they don’t manufacture the shoe. It’s simply a matter of scale. A certain number are required by the plants that produce the shoes. Smaller numbers can be made, but they’re crazy-expensive.
This is why some rumored shoes never make it to the market. This is why we see some formerly-popular models disappear. I’ve talked to a few shoe buyers over the years. Their selection criteria varies greatly. Some use market data. Some use customer feedback. Most use their own sales data. Some just pick the stuff they think is cool. One overlooked detail- they can only have so many shoes (often called “SKUs”) on the wall. This requires them to pick only the shoes that they believe will sell.
This brings us to the conundrum of the minimalist casual shoe. The market is so thin, there’s no data. Or customer feedback. Or sales history. On top of this, many outdoor or running stores aren’t going to waste wall space on casual shoes when athletic shoes are the heart of their business. This is doubly true for a new shoe category (minimalist casual).
So shoe buyers pass on the casual models. And the manufacturers scrap them before they’re brought to the market. And we clamor about the lack of casual shoes.
What can we do?
The trick is to convince shoe buyers there’s a huge potential market for minimalist casual shoes. Since we can’t rely on sales to send that message, we have to rely on direct contact. Email or call the managers of your local outdoor or running stores. Ask them to start carrying a few minimalist casual shoes. Have your friends do the same. Spread the word on Facebook. And Twitter. And our forums. Collectively, we can convince the shoe buyers to begin stocking the shoes we seek.
All we need is a trickle… just enough to convince the retailers this will be profitable.
Oh, and Mr. Happy’s Shoe Company- worry not. They’re replacing this year’s models with other casual/business models. We’ll have another chance to bring them to the market.