The Running Event is the annual expo where all the major vendors and the running specialty retailers who sell their products meet see what’s new and catch up. It’s one of the few chance for running specialty accounts to see all the major players together in one location. The Running Event allows all of us to cover a great deal of ground in a short period of time. This year’s event was held in Austin TX and it was the 3rd time I’ve attended.
Jonathan, Tami, Erik and I had a 6:30 flight out of SLO on Tuesday AM. I see Jordan Hasay’s father Joe waiting for the same flight as us – he’s heading to Texas for work and returning to SLO Friday, only to turn around early Saturday with his son Jed to fly to Eugene and watch Jordan run the NCAA D1 West Regional Meet. He explains his flight lands in Eugene 45 minutes before start time. I hope he made it in time to see the meet.
After a smooth and uneventful flight we arrive in Austin at 1:30. We catch a cab to the hotel and check in. We see Mike Rouse from K-Swiss in the lobby and agree to run at 2:30. Mike’s a good guy to hang out with on this trip since he’s a fun guy and he also used to live in the area so he knows the lay of the land. Erik, Jonathan, Mike and I get in a 40 min effort along the river at a pretty easy pace talking and joking the entire run.
A quick shower and an apple later, we’re off to meet up with adidas. I sit with Scott Schilter who heads up running for 3 Stripes in the US, while Tami, Jonathan and Erik sit with Craig Vanderhoef and Chris Hollis to discuss product. The big news is Craig’s in charge of the apparel lines adidas will display at the 2012 Olympics in London. He’s got some pretty cool concepts he’s working on.
We then head over to the Convention Center, get our passes and walk over to the Brooks booth. We grab snacks at the booth, get our complimentary pair of Adrenaline 10’s, Adrenaline 10 t-shirt and reusable shopping bag. We chat with the Brooks people a bit and then hit the expo floor for a quick preview.
The Running Warehouse crew leaves the expo around 7:30 after walking the isles. We jump into a cab and head to Guerro’s a few miles away for some local Tex-Mex. It’s a pretty cool place, with good food, excellent chips and a festive atmosphere. Erik is beginning his Western States training and as a result has a very large appetite. After he eats his 2 plate dinner, he then downs the last half of Tami’s dinner before the cleaning crew can take it away.
It’s then back to the hotel. I see many people in the lobby area and find myself in the middle of lots of different conversations from talking about training with Keith Dowling to chatting with Mike McQueeney from Headsweats about what the guys from our old JC racing days are up to these days. Todd Williams and Bob Kennedy are holding court in the corner while groups make their way to 6th Street for a late night on the town.
The next morning Erik, Jonathan and I meet in the lobby at 6:30 for a run. On our way out we see the Nike crew of Liz Buckey-Wheeler (National Running Specialty Account Manager), Kevin Paulk and John Truax (the guys in charge of running footwear at Nike) who are heading out for a run as well. We join up with them, but we didn’t really ask where they were headed. After 20 minutes of running through the streets of Austin, we find ourselves at the start of the Running Event 5k. None of the Running Warehouse crew had any intention of jumping into a 5k at the last minute, so we turn around and head back toward the hotel along the river. The trail along the river is a great place to run with wide dirt paths right through the middle of Austin. Even at this fairly early hour, there are a lot of people running. I’m thinking we’re lost until I see the famous Stevie Ray Vaughn statue and know we’re a few short blocks from home.
A quick shower and a buffet breakfast later, we’re off to the expo again. 9:00 has us meeting with our training partner from Nike, Liz. At 10:00, it’s on to our formal meeting with Brooks. Erik and Jonathan meet with Mike to chat footwear, Tami meets with Liz to go over apparel and I meet with Rick Wilhelm the national sales manager. Jim Weber the President of Brooks joins Rick and I halfway through.
11:00 and time for the next meeting, this time with the key people at Mizuno. Our group meets with Dave Lambert the national sales manager, Tim Urbine the western regional sales manager and Janice Bayshore who heads apparel for the brand. Once we finish up there, we head over for the complimentary lunch box. We sit down for a quick bite and a short rest before the next scheduled appointment which is Saucony at 1:00. We sit down with Fred Doyle, Jamie Lachance, the VP of product Pat O’Malley and the president of Saucony, Richie Woodworth. We are shown a few of the updated models including the new Type A, the new Shay XC and the newest lightweight trainer from Saucony, the Kinvara. The Kinvara looks hot, it has a similar one piece midsole/outsole treatment that the Nike Lunar Racer displays. All the shoes we’re shown look fantastic, they are definitely targeted at the go fast crowd. Hyper light, great graphics, super materials – just a really nice job all around.
2:00 brings a meeting with Damian the Gold Account Manager for Asics, followed by a large group presentation from Liz, John and Kevin from Nike about current and future developments at the Swoosh. Probably the most controversial is the decision to stop branding certain franchise models with the Bowerman logo in late 2010. This has more significance than simply taking a logo off of a few shoes.
Seven years ago, Nike developed the Bowerman concept as line up of shoe to meet the specific needs of running specialty stores. They were designed to compete with the key models in the industry from competing brands and they were to be distributed only through the running specialty channel. The idea was to reestablish Nike credibility with running specialty accounts which by most accounts, it did. The decision going forward is to do away with an exclusive lineup of Nike shoes for Running Specialty and instead go back to opening distribution to a variety of channels that make sense to the brand. This decision caused a lot of waves with the 40 or so retailers in the room. Later in the day when I mentioned this development to Warren Greene who handles the shoe reviews for Runner’s World, his response was “What are they thinking!!!???” It’ll be interesting how this all plays out particularly since you sense that Liz, John and Kevin were the messengers, the decision appears to have come from higher up the ladder in Beaverton.
The other interesting development is the faith the Nike team has put in the Lunar concept. Kevin mentioned that they are working on developing a Structure Triax by 2012 based on the Lunar concept. Not an additional model, but a single Structure Triax that happens to be a Lunar Structure Triax. This is a very bold idea which is to take an inherently springy and somewhat unstable platform and through the use of the Dynamic Support concept and compound makeup, create a shoe that performs as well or better than their franchise support trainer which requires a firmer, more controlled base. Not an easy task, but Kevin and John are good. If anyone can pull it off, these guys can.
The rest of the afternoon I spend walking the expo looking at what’s new. I spend some time with Jeff Dill from Salomon, Paul Perrone at Karhu, Keith Kelly and Ted Fitzpatrick from Reebok and then head to the Brooks Booth to check out the new shoes which I hadn’t done yet. I meet up with one of the product line managers of footwear for Brooks Jon Teipen and he breaks out the bag of new items. I see the new Ravenna, Trance, Defyance, Beast, Mach 11, T-6 Racer, Ghost and Cascadia. The stuff just rocks. Brooks is clearly providing the customer a good, better, best scenario and every shoe at each level looks like it’s worth more than the suggested MSRP. They did an absolutely fantastic job.
I make the last stop of the day at the Mizuno booth and chat with the head of running Fritz Taylor. We talk a bit about business and then he asks about my health. I explain how I messed up my hamstring changing the radiator in my ’59 Bugeye Sprite and the subsequent brake fiasco that followed. Just another benefit of being a masters runner. Jonathan and I then spend some quality time with the footwear PLM for Mizuno Rod Foley. He shows us the updates to the Precision, the Ascend and the Alchemy. All look very good, another job well done.
We head back to the hotel and who do we see in the lobby? Mike Rouse of course, plus the gang from K-Swiss and Larry Eder who owns the Running Network. They invite us out to dinner. We head across the street to Manuel’s, a nice Italian restaurant. Seafood appetizers, capresse salad, Pollo Parmagana and a great evening of conversation follow. And what evening would be complete on this trip without Erik downing the last half of Tami’s dinner for his second course before the cleaning crew can get ahold of it.
We stroll back to the hotel with Mike. We join up with Chris Brewer and the crew from Under Armour, Super Dave Jewell from Zoot, Mike Browne from adidas and Chris McCormick the stud triathlete who promises to get Mike the first 2 seasons of the show “Californication.” They head to 6th Street while I head to bed to get ready for our 7:00 AM flight.
We meet in the lobby at 5:30 AM for our flight back home and after a completely uneventful day of travel, I find myself back here in my office at 11:30 AM.
The thing I took away from this year’s session is a sense that the shoes in the industry are trending to lighter weight products. Every booth seemed to be showing a new, lighter, more responsive update to the current model. Additionally, the construction quality and design features on these models, from the top brands, is just outstanding. 2010 should be an absolutely great year for the industry.