Spenco’s Insoles Slim Down to Branch Out

Insole maker Spenco is picking up the pace in the red-hot running market.

“Our roots are in running specialty,” said Jeff Antonioli, VP of global sales and marketing. “As we grew, I wanted to make sure we continued our focus there.”

The firm already enjoys substantial penetration in the channel — product is stocked in 95 percent of stores, according to Antonioli — but hopes some recent moves will grow their share.

For starters, the Waco, Texas-based company appointed industry veteran Len Chatwin to the newly created position of running specialty sales director earlier this spring.

Chatwin, who spent several years with Boston-based New Balance as a sales rep, will focus on introducing Spenco’s newest offerings, Antonioli said. Chief among them are two additions to the 5-year-old, semi-rigid cradle Total Support line for men, women and children, both of which debuted in early 2014.

The first, the $40 Total Support Max, is a sturdier option for athletes who need a more supportive insole and is available in eight sizes to fit in youth, men’s and women’s shoes. The second — called Total Support Thin, also $40 and available in seven sizes for men, women and children — marries TPR Gel pods and forefoot cushioning to create a thinner, lighter insole. Antonioli noted the Thin product was designed for use in more minimal footwear and resulted from consumer demand.

“As hot as low profile has been, we needed a low-volume insole,” he said.

Spenco follows that same philosophy with its Ironman insoles, a license it has held for 12 years. In addition to the Ironman Train, designed for long runs, this spring the brand launched an insole intended for the day of the event, aptly dubbed Ironman Race. The $50 items use a cooling top cloth and pod support system and rely on a geometric facet system to create structure. That, Antonioli explained, makes the insoles both lighter and thinner.

“Many times people use a lower-profile shoe for race day, so we needed something lower in volume that could give a barefoot feel,” he said. “And there are many people out there who are doing that [kind of long distance running], and [the Train] gives a barefoot feel.”

Retailers said Spenco is on the right track.

Buyers at the Philadelphia Runner chain said that traditionally they have stocked the firm’s comfort-focused product. “[The brand] is a better price point for a lot of customers but still offers that customized fit,” said Anna Weisel, accessories buyer for the three-store chain. “They’re lightweight and offer a good amount of support.”

Philadelphia Runner brought in the Total Support Thin style and is considering adding the Ironman insoles, Weisel said, noting that the thinner options are versatile.

“It’s definitely a step in a positive direction for the brand. [The products are] more technical as well as thinner, so it’s putting more into less,” she said.

That’s helpful when working with runners who want to add support to lightweight or more-neutral sneakers. Additionally, lower-volume insoles also appeal to people who want to use the product in their dressier footwear, Weisel said. “It’s starting to be more versatile for people to pair them with other shoes,” she said.

Tana Pusey, accessories buyer for the two Fleet Feet Sports stores in Syracuse, N.Y., said that while Spenco isn’t the retailer’s biggest vendor in the insole space, the brand has a key place.

“Spenco has always been very reliable, and they’re user-friendly,” she said. “It has extremely reliable, extremely well-made product.”

Spenco is pursuing more than just the running business in 2014.

After expanding the 3-year-old footwear business in fall ’13 with slippers and closed-toe options, Antonioli said Spenco focused on adding color and style options for spring, as well as branching out with heels in 3/4-inch and 1-inch heights for summer.

According to the executive, the company will amp up its medical outreach as well.

“All our products are endorsed by the American Podiatric Medical Association, and we haven’t been referring to that [as much],” he said.

This year, the firm will promote the APMA seal on its line at the medical trade shows, as well as at podiatric conferences it attends around the country.

“We want to talk to doctors and make sure they’re referring patients to the specialty retailers. That will be part of our focus,” Antonioli said. “We’re tying that loop together, that the doctors are aware and the retailers are carrying the products [the doctors are referring them for], to make sure the patients can find them readily.”