It was time again for the RW crew to head to the annual Asics Gold Account Meeting held this year at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort just outside of Austin, Texas. This annual meeting is held to provide the top Asics running specialty accounts across the nation an opportunity to meet face to face with key people at Asics and to see the upcoming Asics product for future seasons.
We arrived on Wednesday and attended the initial group meeting later that evening. This is where Damian McCuster, the manager of Gold Accounts, laid out the plans and goals for the event during the first part of the presentation. The second half featured Bob Babbitt of Competitor Magazine fame interviewing Deena Kastor in a fairly informal Q&A session. Deena handled herself very well and showed why she is not only a great athlete, but a proper role model not just for Asics, but for the sport of competitive distance running itself.
Soon after the meeting and the dinner that followed it started to rain – a LOT! Thunder, lightning and the loss of power at the resort forced the generators to be fired up and the loss of the air conditioning. It was a fairly hot and sticky night. The rain also made the surrounding 17+ miles of trails within the adjacent McKinney Roughs Nature Preserve and along the Colorado River unrunable due to the mud that was thick and sticky, I know because I tried to run on them which was a mistake. We ended up doing the 6:00 AM runs instead on the cart paths of the Wolf Dancer Golf Club which wasn’t bad at all.
The next day brought the first of 2 1/2 days of product previews, general business and industry discussions. Much of the talk focused on upcoming footwear which is a key area not just for the brand, but for the attendees as well since footwear makes up the bulk of sales for most stores.
Asics, like many other brands, is taking the trend toward minimal-type footwear seriously and planning future footwear to respond to the trend. An issue for most brands is the lack of a definition of what exactly defines a minimalist shoe. There are aspects of minimal shoes that people seem to agree on, but as far as an industry standard, one currently doesn’t exist. The result in a wide range of footwear defined as minimal by the maker, but the execution is vastly different from brand to brand.
Asics has chosen to use primarily existing tooling (midsole and outsole designs) and tweak them to produce various models. The tool used most is a variation of the DS Trainer. There’s the new Gel-DS Sky Speed, a neutral DS trainer based on the DS Trainer 15 tooling. There’s the new Gel-Noosa Tri 6, a model brought over from Australia designed for the Tri market. It’s based on the tooling from the DS Trainer 14 and the colors are pretty out there. Think of your 3 year old putting different colored pieces of Play-doh on your shoe and leaving it out in the sun to dry. Definitely an eye catcher.
The shoe Asics is betting big on is the remodeled Gel-Speedstar 5. The shoe maintains the current tooling, but the upper is much different and really cool. No seams and a rubber dot pattern affixed to the 1 piece upper that looks great in person. You can’t readily make out what the dot pattern forms from up close, but pull the shoe away and you realize the dots create the Asics stripes. The photos of the shoe really don’t do it justice. There are 3 men’s and 3 women’s colors with a matching color midsole on 4 of the 6 available models. The shoe is super light and looks very nice. Plans call for the upper used here to be used on upcoming Dirt Dogs and Dirt Divas. Seeing as they are Asics’ top cross country racers, this speaks to the lightness of the upper.
The other models within the Tempo Run Collection remain largely unchanged with the exception of the Gel-DS Trainer 16. This model will receive the new heel Clutch Collar System that is about to be unveiled in the new Gel-Landreth 6. The other news from this collection is the addition of a new women’s flat, the Gel-Tarther Diva, a women’s version of the current Gel-Tarther. The current Tarther, DS Racer 8, Piranha 3 and Hyper Speed 4 will receive no updates.
The shoes from the general training collection (Nimbus, Kayano, 2000 Series, Cumulus, etc) all receive the evolution not revolution treatment, meaning the changes are pretty minimal. The one shoe that receives a fairly substantial makeover is the Gel-Evolution 6. The shoe is beefed up quite a bit particularly on the medial side and features a new upper with Ecsaine overlays which should increase comfort significantly.
The end of day 3 brought buses to take us to Buffalo Billiards in the heart of downtown Austin for some live music, BBQ, pool and shuffle board. After dinner Jonathan our head footwear buyer challenged me to a game of pool. We went back and forth with Jonathan winning some while I was on the winning end other times. On a game I won, Jim Spivey asked to jump in. He did an outstanding job of playing defense, basically placing the cue ball so I didn’t have a clean shot. He ended up winning the first game. After this, I seemed to find my groove and ended up winning back the table title.
The final day focused primarily on apparel, accessories and general business. The women’s apparel line adds a nice fashion twist to technical running apparel. It will be interesting to see how customers react to the line. On the men’s side it seemed somewhat safe, but knowing how men shop for clothes, that isn’t a bad idea really.
The final dinner was held at the outdoor covered area. We were treated to a nice Texas style BBQ with lots of beans, brisquet, sausage and fixins while a live band played. We sat next to Bob Kennedy and enjoyed his company for dinner. I asked him what he though of Lagat’s new 5,000 AR set the night before and Solinsky’s 12:56. Kennedy was very gracious, mentioning when he ran sub 13, he was essentially the only American running at that level in the 3k-5k. He thought it was great to have so many US kids running so well. “They need to look at running sub 13 to be competitive with each other which is great for everyone”. He seemed genuinely happy for the young US athletes, which I thought was great. The evening ended with us sitting back, listening to the band and chatting with other accounts and the people from Asics.
The Asics Gold Account Meeting is nice on a number of levels. It’s a low key atmosphere that is both fun and productive. A key thing I took away from the meeting was how humble the Asics personnel was and how everyone from top to bottom were on the same page in terms of the direction the brand was heading. Good stuff to see. It really was a nice event.