Saucony Gets Low, Aims High

Saucony Gets Low, Aims High
Richie Woodworth

NEW YORK — Saucony is taking a major stand on minimalism.

Inspired by its success in the minimal and ultra-lightweight running categories, the brand has introduced new versions of two key styles: the Triumph and Guide. And next month, Saucony will release an update of its Hurricane shoe.

All the styles feature new midsole/outsole configurations that reduce the traditional 12-millimeter heel-to-toe drop to 8 millimeters.

The move makes Saucony one of the first major running brands to apply minimalist tenants to its mainline product. Despite all the buzz around the barefoot concept, most vendors have confined their minimal shoes to a dedicated category. And Saucony President Richie Woodworth acknowledges there’s risk involved.

“The world went off its axis around toning. We can’t let the world go off its axis in lightweight running,” he said. “There has to be real authenticity and real credibility in the shoes you bring to market. There has to be a reason and a rationale that supports that technology.”

The products are part of Saucony’s push to take share in a running market that has seen big changes in the rise of minimalism. While overall sales have grown for the brand — by 2010, it had doubled its 2006 business — the fastest-growing category has been lightweight and minimal. In a third-quarter earnings call, parent company Collective Brands Inc. reported Saucony had taken the No. 1 position in lightweight and minimal sales for the running specialty channel — a significant upgrade to the brand’s overall position in independent stores.

And that makes the launches significant, Woodworth said. While stripped-down styles such as the Kinvara and the Hattori target efficient runners, the new midsole (which actually adds some padding under the forefoot) is meant for runners who want to transition to a forefoot or midfoot strike. And, he added, the brand’s research and run-test feedback suggest that the 8-millimeter height is more comfortable even for runners who plan to maintain their traditional gait, letting Saucony reach more mainstream audiences.

Retailers said the brand should benefit from that plan.

“I’m very excited about the new focus,” said Matt Lucas, CEO of the Dallas-based Luke’s Locker running specialty chain. The reception to the new models has been “very positive,” he said, though time will tell if the changes will be enough to boost the brand’s market position, which is now fifth or sixth in sales.

Of course, there’s more evolving at Saucony than just product.

In June, Collective Brands announced that CEO Matt Rubel had left the company and that the board would undertake a strategic review of the business as a whole. In the subsequent months, speculation has focused on a potential sale of Collective’s high-performing assets, Saucony among them.

Woodworth said the company is definitely expecting a shakeup.

“Clearly, they’re doing a strategic review and something’s going to change. But what that is, we don’t know,” he said. “Saucony has been through this a couple of times and the employees are veterans at it, so it doesn’t ruffle their feathers too much. We can keep our focus, which is our job.”

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