After Years of Struggle, Here’s How Mizuno Is Hitting Its Stride in Running Shoes

Three years ago, Chuck Couch was in charge of Mizuno USA’s flourishing golf category while its running segment struggled. Now, with the 26-year company veteran overseeing run, the business unit is back on track.

“In 2016 when I came in, there was a lack of communication among the global team to understand what each other’s needs were,” explained Couch, VP of Mizuno USA running. “We’re too small to be different so I said let’s figure out what the right strategy is together and go after it.”

The division’s fresh unified game plan is most apparent in its product offering.

Leading sales are four storied franchises: Rider, Sky, Inspire and Horizon. They continue to do well, Couch said, because updates are incremental.

“Don’t mess with the product so much that you screw it up,” he said. “You don’t have to be revolutionary or totally different. If the experience matches what the consumer wants and they buy it year after year, you just have to move it one click.”

But the company isn’t relying solely on past favorites to drive business. It is also developing new performance running models it hopes will become future thriving franchises.

Mizuno USA’s latest innovation is the Wave Sky Waveknit 3, built with the brand’s plush XPop cushioning, which hit stores in June.

Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 3
A runner in the Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 3.
CREDIT: Mizuno

This approach to nurturing beloved franchises and creating innovative ones is what industry insiders believe could boost its presence in specialty run retail.

“They’re viewed as a true running brand, and there’s a favorable view of the products they’re making,” said Matt Powell, senior sports industry analyst with The NPD Group Inc. “They want to help runners run better, run more efficiently, and product is a strength for them.”

It appears these efforts are paying off. Couch said 2018 was the first time in three years the running division has seen sales growth, and business is up 15% this year.

Despite the improvements, Mizuno still trails several heavyweights in specialty run retail market share, including Saucony, Brooks, New Balance and others. For the 12 months ending April 2019, according to data provided by the NPD Group, Mizuno was positioned No. 7 in the marketplace, the same slot it held the previous year.

Couch said there are areas of the business that still need dramatic improvements, most notably its marketing efforts.

“We have Japanese heritage and sometimes their philosophy is, ‘If you build a great product, consumers will come.’ Sometimes in the U.S. that’s not the case,” he said. “You have to show and tell people why you’re doing what you’re doing so they can discover your why and then join your brand.”

To rectify this, Mizuno is starting to use retail accounts to test the effectiveness of upcoming initiatives, which is in its infancy.

“We have them sign nondisclosures and throw everything at them — ‘This is how we want to spend our money, this is something we think is resonating, this is how we want to communicate,’” Couch said. “We’re aggressive listeners and we can tweak and make adjustments based on honest feedback.”

While it improves marketing initiatives, Mizuno is preparing key product launches to continue to gain ground on its competitors. For the remainder of 2019 and early into 2020, the company has plans to deliver the Wave Rider 23 in August and the Rider Waveknit 3 in October. A new Horizon silhouette featuring XPop will debut in March 2020.

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