After experiencing a boom in 2020 in large part to COVID-19 restrictions, the running footwear market continued to be hot in 2021, and Saucony made sure it was a consistent part of the conversation.
When parent company Wolverine World Wide Inc. revealed its first-quarter 2021 earnings in May, it stated sales at Saucony surged close to 60% for the three months ended April 3. And most recently, Saucony continued to prove it is a standout brand for Wolverine in Q3. For the three months ended Oct. 2, it grew more than 40% year-over-year, and 60% compared to the same period in 2019.
From a product perspective, the brand won runners over in 2021 with selections from its pinnacle Endorphin range. Endorphin, which Saucony revealed in July 2020, expanded this year with new silhouettes, including the Endorphin Trail in July and the Endorphin Pro+ in September.
Looking ahead, Saucony will deliver its third year of Endorphin shoes in 2022, which includes the Endorphin Pro 3 that was revealed at The Running Event in Austin, Texas this month.
But product alone won’t keep Saucony a pack leader in run. Below, president Anne Cavassa shared with FN how the brand will stay in the running market conversation in 2022.
How do you keep the momentum Saucony developed in 2021 heading into 2022?
Anne Cavassa: “It’s the exact question that we’re asking ourselves internally. We’re focused on product innovation, that’s the most important thing. We’re focused on continuing the pipeline of innovation, and for 2022 we’ve got the Endorphin collection, Triumph, the new Tempus, and the Ride and Guide feel amazing. [The running market is] super competitive, so we’re trying to figure out how we can stand out uniquely, and how this growing consumer and people coming to our sport get to know our brand. Also, there are not many brands that are 123 years old, so how do we tell our heritage story? And what are all the things within Saucony — our history, our heritage, our mythology — that are just cool stories that people want to know hear? We’ll be thinking through the lens of one Saucony and what does it mean in road, in trail and in Originals, and how do we tell the stories across the categories. The last thing really is we’re super good at running culture, and we recognize that it’s important — and we will continue to [focus on] that — but there’s more things people care about than just the run. It’s really about lifestyle and culture and what’s happening around you, so being relevant in the zeitgeist of what’s going on in the world is important, and also recognizing that we’re not just talking to a dedicated elite runner, but also people just coming into run from a health and wellness perspective. Things from a diversity, equity and inclusion perspective, from a sustainability perspective and the other things that are happening out in the world, from the music and art culture that we need to be paying attention to, we’ll be talking about those things.”
How does Saucony define running culture?
AC: “Running obviously is a sport that drives community, and it doesn’t matter what pace, you’re still running the same kind of distances, in the same environments and things like that. One of the things that we think about internally is what are those connecting points of running for anyone and everyone? It sounds cliche, but it is so true: there’s transformative power in running. What it does for you as an individual, for relationships, for communities, speaking directly to the most amazing things about running, that’s what running culture is. All the consumer insights will tell you that half the people who run love it, and half the people who run hate it but they like the benefits, but those things that are common between all of us are what connect us.”
Because there are more things that people care about than just running, how can Saucony ensure you’re continually expanding your consumer base?
AC: “Our core competency and what we do the absolute best is performance running footwear, and we are not intending on doing things outside of that. We will stay true to that core, do it exceptionally well, but one of the things we’re talking about is connecting innovation at the tip of the spear from a product perspective, all the way down to what’s accessible. How do we bring that innovation down? How do we bring the technology down? How do we make it for $60 a shoe?”
Industry insiders are confident performance running shoes will become fashionable once again, thanks to the COVID-19 running boom. Is there a way for Saucony to capitalize?
AC: “I think we are uniquely positioned because of Originals. When you think about the brands that are growing really fast right now — and I put us in that bucket, for sure — but when you think about Brooks, Hoka and On, there’s only one of those brands that is as old as we are, but they don’t have a lifestyle business. We can do the lifestyle side of that really well while still being a running silhouette. That will be one thing that we do. The other thing is, we established a design hub in Montebello, Italy. Having our team in Italy working with our team in Boston, working with our team in China and getting a world perspective on fashion or trends to infuse into our product line is something we’re really working on from a trend relevance perspective. And then I would say just being competent leaning into it, and doing color in a fun way. Sometimes what tends to happen in our space is people get really conservative with color, and it’s true that a lot of people want muted colors and toned down colors, but there’s also that audience that wants something a little bit more edgy. Leaning into that is a fun way for us to differentiate, too.”
What makes the third year of the Endorphin collection the best yet?
AC: “Endorphin, in its origin, was was built and developed by deep consumer insight, and iteration after iteration after iteration, and then the original was born. The first Endorphin was amazing — the Pro, in particular. What’s happened over time is we’re just getting more and more insight, and tuning our product, so some of the things that happen in these super shoes, some people feel like that balance between the carbon fiber plate and the cushioning isn’t quite where they want it to be or that’s what you’re tuning, or midsole materials are getting that much softer and that much more responsive. What we’ve done is we’ve taken the best of Endorphin with our SpeedRoll technology, the carbon fiber plate, and continued to tune with our foams and our geometry. It’s it’s faster, it’s lighter, it’s more bouncy. It’s a really fun shoe.”
What impact do you anticipate the supply chain backlog will have on Saucony in 2022?
AC: “We feel like we’re in a pretty good spot, we feel OK about 2022. No doubt, there’s a lot of disruptions — Vietnam shut down for 90 days, it’s going to impact the first half of the year for the entire industry. However, what I would say for us is we have a diversified portfolio of where our factories are, we aren’t predominantly in Vietnam and our core product is sitting outside of that, and we’ve been able to transfer product where we needed to. We feel pretty good that we can deliver in the first half and the second half, for sure. The second thing I would say is that we’re hyper focused on the reality of this situation, and controlling the controllables. We can’t control that the government shut down our factories in Vietnam, but we can control how we organize around it, how we launch our product, what our communication is, what our go-to-market plans are, so we’re trying to be super buttoned up on all of those things and very communicative and in partnership with our retailers so they know what’s coming, when it’s coming and they can plan for it. And then if there’s some disruption and things are changing, something else happens, we’re very quickly getting our arms around that.”