What does beer really have to do with running shoes?
The bond between runners and our favorite tasty, malty beverage has been forged over many years. It's a partnership that, in the words of Hollywood's most famous runner, Forrest Gump, "go together like peas & Carrots."
As one of the founders of Pace Athletic, the quest to understand our customers is continual: what do they buy, why do they buy, what are their brand preferences, what are the latest and greatest products to hit the shelves...?
It's a rapidly-moving, perpetual cycle that changes with the release of new products (which happens on an almost weekly basis) and a maze of brand-driven marketing.
About three years ago, I had an epiphany whilst standing in a bottle shop on my way to a Sunday afternoon BBQ. Hahn Superdry is my favorite beer and I find it irresistible for a number of reasons.
But for motivations unknown, I found myself wanting to buy something else that day in the bottle shop... Like a dog without a leash, I wanted to 'test the waters' of another brew.
I felt like straying from my old buddy, Superdry - I was ready to try something new!
I can't recall what I bought, although I remember being mildly satisfied; I wasn't disappointed, I just knew I should have just 'stuck with the Superdry'.
Upon arrival at the BBQ, the sight of all my friends made me realize that they - and their beer choices - were like the various customer stereotypes we find at Pace Athletic.
My school buddy Mitch turned up with a six-pack of a bespoke, South Australian craft beer that had a story so long it was an event in itself. The beer wasn't great but the story was impressive.
This is the guy that comes looking for obscure shoes from equally obscure manufacturers partly due to the backstory and partly due to the "nobody else has a pair" mentality.
Jake turned up with a XXXX Gold. I questioned him why, and he simply said: "I love it and I'm scared to try anything else." That's the customer that buys the same shoe every six months and doesn't change, regardless of what the competitor brands are doing. It's easier, and safer to stay.
It led me to the question: 'If our footwear brands, were beer brands, what would they be?'
New Balance is... Coors Light
New Balance and Coors Brewing company share well over 100 years of history and are both as American as the stars & stripes. Founded by small-time 'punters', these companies gained global success and have some huge revenues to show for it.
Both brands have had some 'political issues' and some dramas in their PR department, but at the end of the day, still pump out premium, top-end products that their customers love.
Brooks like a Bud?
To avoid another cliche, these are the patriotic American powerhouses. Stateside, Brooks is the number one brand in run specialty; in Australia, they're relatively well-known, but definitely not numero uno.
The same goes for Budweiser - every year they pump out 41.3 billion bottles. How many of those are sold in Australia? I'm willing to bet about one percent of production ends up with Aussie consumers.
Both are well known brands with deep American heritage, but that hasn't translated to big sales in Australia for either manufacturer.
Hoka One One... Hidden in the (4) Pines
Strong are the parallels between this craft beer that isn't really a craft beer and boutique shoe brand that isn't quite so niche anymore.
When 4 Pines started, they were a quirky brewery known to only a few and their products were quite tricky to find. Only a hardcore beer lover would have known about them.
Fast forward 10 years, and 4 Pines is now actually owned by AB inbev, the US $45 billion, Belgian-based international alcohol powerhouse that's home to some of the world's biggest brands - think Stella Artois and the aforementioned Budweiser. Their products are a staple in almost every bottle shop.
Take Hoka; nearly 10 years old, this previously French-owned brand was once the quirky, ugly duckling of the footwear industry. Now owned by Deckers Corporation (which also owns UGG, Teva, sanuk, among others). Hokas are sold at so many specialty footwear stores because the brand is now widely accepted as part of the 'mainstream'.
Both are examples of brands that have broken through the 'niche' barrier and catapulted into their respective 'mainstream' markets whilst maintaining their niche image.
Nike + Corona = Success
Global giants, marketing guns - brands that appear in movies. Celebrities are seen with them, and they appear on giant billboards across the world.
Nike and Corona are without doubt the best known beer and footwear brands on the planet, with a global span across multiple brand perceptions and production volumes that smaller brands could only dream of. The only criticism you would hear about either brand is the same - they're 'fashion.' Sales and brand reputation tell a vastly different story!
A match made in Aussie marketing heaven - Asics & Hahn Superdry
It's summer in Australia and that means one thing for millions of locals: cricket season.
Asics dominates footwear sales in Australia and Hahn Superdry the beer sales at its sporting stadiums. In fact, whether it's rugby or cricket season, it's the same story: Asics and Superdry keep the punters going.
These brands are so ingrained in Australian culture that they're quite often the first choice for Aussies simply because that's all they know.
Both brands have done amazing jobs at saturating the Australian market; what they've also managed to do, however, is maintain their 'integrity' as premium brands of choice.
When all you've ever had is Asics footwear, you're hesitant to ever change - it's the same story for Hahn Superdry. They've marketed their respective brands perfectly to suit Australian tastes and won, big time.
Saucony and Samuel who?
Samuel Adams Boston Lager is a beer named after one of America's forefathers, and is as American as a brand can get. It's brewed in Boston and sold in huge numbers throughout the States but the brand awareness in Australia is almost zero.
Take Saucony, a Boston-based running shoe company with massive brand awareness and shoes sales in the US and it's the same story in Australia. In Pace Athletic stores, we are constantly asked: "Who's sorsony?" and "Do they make good running shoes?"
Despite its age and revered status in its home nation, Saucony as a brand is relatively unknown in Australia, but make some of the most innovative products in an attempt to replicate the success from back home here on Aussie soil.
Mizuno & Kirin - The Japanese Underdogs.
Mizuno and Kirin share so much in common. They live in the shadow of their respective countrymen; other brands from Japan such as Asics and Asahi are better known (in Australia, anyway), which means many Pace Athletic customers ask: 'Mizu-WHAT?'
People who drink Kirin and those who run in Mizuno will tell you they've chosen the best Japan has to offer in their respective fields but from a volume standpoint, they pale in comparison to their Japanese competition.
Why these brands are smaller than their counterparts, we're not really sure but in Australia, anyway, Mizuno and Kirin are the underdogs.
What am I trying to tell you with all of this?
The point is simple. Next time you are in the bottle shop (or your local Pace Athletic store), don't be afraid to try something new... Who knows - you might just love it!