Breaking New Ground

Birkenstock and its original recovery shoe move into the outdoor and specialty running channels.

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Birkenstock and its original recovery shoe move into the outdoor and specialty running channels.

When your brand’s story revolves around comfort and wellness, it only makes sense to seek out customers who need those attributes the most (think: marathoners, trail runners and backpackers). Come February, Birkenstock will tap a new channel of distribution by bringing its simple cork and leather construction to outdoor and specialty running stores across the country.
With recovery shoes hitting shelves from practically every brand this spring, Birkenstock wants to remind people what’s made its brand buoyant for more than a century. “No smoke. No mirrors. No gizmos. You walk, the shoe molds to your foot. You feel good,” reads the company’s website.

“If you were to ask 50 people in Times Square, ‘What do you know about Birkenstock?’ Most would say they’re comfortable and kind of ugly,” jokes Shelly Glasgow, director of product development and merchandising. “We’ll take it—it’s our history and our heritage.”

The trick, Glasgow notes, will be bringing Birkenstock into consumer consciousness as a viable option for runners accustomed to more athletic interpretations. “The challenge for us is making the brand top of mind in this market,” she concedes. To jump that hurdle, the company began a national advertising campaign last year and stepped it up this year, talking to runners and outdoorsmen on their own turf. “Our team goes to the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons, the Big Sur [Marathon] and Appalachian Trail Days,” Glasgow says. “We talk to participants about their experiences and their needs. It’s critical for us.” And, as it turns out, the target Birkenstock customer—women between 24 and 45 years of age—runs too. “Women are the fastest growing segment in the running market,” Glasgow explains.

Specialty retailers like Fleet Feet, Skinny Raven, Fjällräven and Kirkham’s have been reacting well to Birkenstock’s newer styles. The Riva, a men’s fisherman slide, provides a bit more coverage than a classic fisherman. Recently featured in Runner’s World, Glasgow says it generated a fair amount of buzz.

Birkenstock predicts the movement into the specialty running and outdoor channels will generate tremendous growth. “We’re not looking for the heavy hitters,” Glasgow offers. “We’re about smaller, hands-on stores where the person behind the counter knows how to help you, and the customer makes a stronger connection each and every time they shop.” —Meagan Walker

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