Although the athletic market has long been recognized for its focus on technology, the comfort market is not far behind. From proprietary footbeds to motion-control designs, vendors are routinely introducing new comfort systems into their collections, as well as refining existing ones when new materials and components come along.
However, building innovative technologies into footwear is only half the battle when it comes to enticing male consumers. Brands also must effectively communicate their technology to today’s savvy shoppers. To make the tech connection, comfort brands are using a wide variety of marketing tactics, from in-store visuals to technology sections on their Websites.
Still more effective in spreading a brand’s tech message, industry sources said, are well-informed sales associates. “The more information [brands] provide to a salesperson that they can in turn convey to a customer, the better chance the customer walks out with a pair of shoes,” said Andrew Tastad, VP of sales for Auri Footwear.
Here, seven brands share the tech lowdown on their shoes.
Johnston & Murphy, Nashville, Tenn.
Technology: XC4 Comfort System, debuting for spring ’10 in select styles
How it works: XC4 is a four-part system featuring a removable cushioned footbed that converts a medium width into a wide width. Made of foam, the footbed is layered over a lightweight molded EVA midsole. Interior climate control is achieved through a moisture-wicking Dri-Lex covering on the footbed that is odor-resistant and provides enhanced breathability. A high-density rubber outsole with a channel system provides shock absorption and optimum flexibility.
Marketing tactics: Consumers are invited to try a pair of XC4 shoes with a no-questions-asked guarantee if they are not satisfied. The promotion will be supported by local ads, national ads in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times beginning in March, and various online sites. POS displays will promote the new technology in-store.
Michael Toschi International, San Carlos, Calif.
Technology: CarbonLite Ionet Suspension (CIS), debuted in 1998
How it works: The footbed is built on an anatomically shaped carbon fiber platform nested in EVA with gel pads under the heel and the ball of the foot. Its natural contours are designed to cradle the heel and bridge the arch. And the Ionet Suspension system built into the soles is composed of molded response zones that individually react to the loads applied by the wearer. The heel strike zone cushions impact, the torsion zone controls twisting loads, and independent suspension pillars move back and forth to absorb the shock waves imposed by the ball of the foot.
Marketing tactics: The CIS system is featured on the Michael Toschi Website. To educate sales associates, special key rings with actual shoe components attached are available to retailers.
Piloti, Westlake Village, Calif.
Technology: Racing Comfort footbed, debuting for spring ’10
How it works: The contoured Racing Comfort footbed, made of a high-density foam composed of recycled polyurethane, cork and reground rubber, is breathable, moisture-wicking and antibacterial. For long-wearing comfort, the foam has a nearly 100 percent recovery after prolonged compression and features high-abrasion, tear and tensile strength. It is designed to work in concert with Piloti’s existing Roll Control technology, a wrapped spherical heel that provides cushioning behind the heel bone while driving and mimics the natural heel motion while walking.
Marketing tactics: The technology is featured on Piloti.com, as well as on in-store POS materials and product hang tags.
Geox, Edison, N.J.
Technology: Shoes that breathe, debuted in 1995
How it works: A patented microporous membrane placed inside a perforated rubber sole manages sweat and heat, allowing humidity to be evaporated. The pores of the membrane are smaller than a water droplet, so water can’t penetrate, but big enough to allow sweat vapor to be released from the sole. By eliminating moisture and preventing odors, feet are kept cool and dry in the summer and warm and dry in the winter.
Marketing tactics: In-store POS materials with visuals, in addition to information about actual components, illustrate the technology first hand.
Ecco, New Londonderry, N.H.
Technology: Comfort Shank Technology, debuted earlier this year in running shoes and has been added to dress and casual shoes for spring ’10
How it works: A byproduct of Ecco’s Biom running shoe technology — based on a natural motion philosophy that encourages the foot to move more freely, activates muscles and allows for better energy return — the Comfort Shank is a flexible anatomical shank that delivers a more enhanced balance of torsional support and stability. The foot and shoe are able to flex more naturally together. Creating extra cushioning is an insole featuring Ecco’s Comfort Fibre System, a sockliner of vegetable-tanned leather and recycled materials that is antibacterial and absorbs moisture.
Marketing tactics: The Comfort Shank Technology is called out on the sockliner, as well as highlighted on POS materials.
Auri Footwear, Laguna Beach, Calif.
Technology: Compression Control System, launched in 2008
How it works: The system begins with a removable, triple-density anatomical footbed lined with Dri-Lex in the casuals and leather in the dress styles. Underneath is a polyurethane contoured cushion with gel pads in the heel and in forefoot to minimize shock and promote proper gait. An anti-fatigue TPU shank, which wraps around the footbed and stretches through the arch, adds support. For temperature control, all shoes feature Outlast temperature regulation linings.
Marketing tactics: POS displays feature actual components. In addition, a thumbprint under every footbed encourages consumers to press down and feel the cushioning. Literature explaining the technologies is included in each shoe box.
Wolverine, Rockford, Mich.
Technology: Individual Comfort System (ICS), launched in fall ’09 in adventure-travel shoes and boots
How it works: ICS provides instant customized comfort with the turn of a dial. Designed to support and cushion the foot, the system features a removable insole with an adjustable heel disk that allows the wearer to set the amount of cushion or firmness. Four options are available, including Firm, which promotes increased energy return for all day wear; Outer Support, delivering increased stability for individuals with higher arches; Cushion, providing additional cushion under the heel; and Inner Support, offering additional support for flat feet and fallen arches.
Marketing tactics: In-store display units with videos, actual sample insoles and product hang tags.