NEW YORK — Mizuno USA is aiming to pick up the pace in the footwear market.
The U.S. subsidiary of Japanese parent Mizuno Corp. is launching a series of product and marketing initiatives to become more competitive in the hot running category.
The brand garnered big buzz in June when Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis wore the brand’s Wave Runner sneakers for 11 hours during her filibuster of an abortion bill.
The moment resulted in unexpected media attention for the brand and a significant increase in traffic to Mizuno’s website, particularly the Wave Runner 16 product page. “We are fortunate to have benefited from this conversation and do appreciate Ms. Davis’ decision in athletic footwear,” said Mizuno USA President Bob Puccini, adding that there is no company position on the topic of abortion.
Now, Mizuno USA is anticipating further strides. “We see running as a critical opportunity, and we’re trying to accelerate our growth,” Puccini said, adding that footwear sales grew 25 percent in North America for the full year ended March 31. “Our company has done very well, but we can do better.”
Last month, Mizuno USA announced an expansion of its design outpost in Portland, Ore. As part of the transformation, running footwear for all of Mizuno’s global markets will now be designed and developed at the new facility rather than in Osaka, Japan.
In addition to relocating all of its running designers from Japan to Portland, Mizuno USA also promoted U.S. footwear director Rod Foley to oversee product development on a global scale.
“The U.S. market has become the most demanding in terms of innovation and design,” said Fritz Taylor, Mizuno’s VP and GM of the running division. “If we can understand and satisfy the U.S. market, that will translate to a lot of other markets around the globe.”
The North American region also represents the company’s biggest volume driver for running, as well as its fastest-growing.
Mizuno USA has ambitious goals, according to Taylor. “By 2017, we hope to have doubled our business,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of runway to do that without changing our distribution or dramatically altering our product mix.”
Relying heavily on the specialty-running channel, Mizuno is beefing up its resources to work with its independent accounts on more grassroots marketing. The brand also is differentiating its footwear offering by creating products exclusive to key running retailers.
“The specialty stores are where the running community starts, so we want to partner with them more to better connect with the consumer,” Taylor said.
The brand, which isn’t as widely known as many of its competitors, is working to ramp up brand awareness. The company recently bolstered its marketing staff with veterans coming from Rubbermaid, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark. “There are best practices from outside the industry that we think can apply to what we’re trying to do,” Puccini said.
Jack Rabbit Sports owner Lee Silverman said Mizuno already has built a good reputation among runners. He noted that the brand is one of the four top-selling vendors at his New York-based shops. “They’re not expected to be a big marketing or endorsement type of brand,” Silverman said. “They’ve shown that through word of mouth, they can maintain this ‘best-kept-secret’ appeal while continuing to grow.”