Thursday, January 15, 2009

The great irony

One of the drawbacks of leaving town is that your work often stays behind rather than taking a break too. So despite a brief break I have been greeted by meetings and work that have been waiting for my return.

Its the season of product showing for all our vendors for the coming summer and fall. The revolving door of reps coming to Skinny Raven to show the new shoes and apparel comes every January. After that we write predicted orders and the vendors produce the products based on our orders. Its fun to see the new styles and colors, etc and hear what's new for the coming season. The running industry is full of great people excited about their job and to be working with companies like Skinny Raven, that share the enthusiasm. It's a job, of course, but its not like floor tile or some other mundane product. Everyone along the process from shoe designers to sales reps to myself and our staff and ultimately our customers are passionate about the sport and the product.

That said I was very sad to receive a phone call from Keith Kelly yesterday just as I was preparing to view product from my Asics rep. Keith called to let me know that he along with 300 others were laid off from Reebok. The short story is that Adidas owns Reebok and its been a strange marriage for the past three years and Adidas decided to trim work force from Reebok. I just met Keith a year ago and if not for his enthusiasm and his boss, Kevin Adams, we would not have been bringing the shoes into our store. Having great relationships with our business partners is something we look for and in the case of Reebok it was obvious they were excited to be involved with Skinny Raven. Keith and Kevin even traveled all the way from Boston this summer to reinforce their commitment to that relationship.

I looked forward to building the brand and the relationship with Reebok and Keith in the coming years and saw great potential. Personally I'm very sad for Keith and for the hard work he and Kevin put in to make Reebok a relevant brand. It had to have taken a tremendous amount of work to go to all the stores and events and develop the relationships and confidence for shops to take a risk on the brand. And just when it was time for that work to show its fruit, the rug has been pulled out from under them.

Today I had an appointment with the rep from Under Armour, which is coming to the market with footwear for the first time. The company has generated quite a buzz for its aggressive introduction to the channel and especially at a time many stores are reluctant to add new models, much less unproven brands. The irony of having a company with no history or commitment to running, no history of design of quality footwear or no evidence of support for the sport of running gnaws at me. Especially in light of a company like Reebok that has sponsored meets and races and sponsored athletes and has runners working in the running business now without jobs. So unfair.

So I had a cordial meeting with an individual who has never run competitively wanting to have a position in our store that Keith had worked so hard for and Reebok had invested so much time and effort and money into. Its very disappointing to have to consider that this brand may have a future in our industry, not because it has a history or real interest in the sport, but rather because its going to throw a lot of money at advertising and try to appeal to the casual sport athlete who runs. I tried the shoes on and they are okay, but frankly I would not advise anyone to purchase as the quality is better in all the other major brands and I'm not convinced that the shoe you try this year will be anything similar next.

Keith #18 banging with "The Big Mazungo" Craig Mottram #3
Luckily, Keith has so much to offer any company and I would hire him in a second if he wanted to come to Anchorage. Perhaps the extra time he has will translate into enhanced running and better results than he could have achieved while working. In the span of 10 months I ran into Keith six separate times from Boston to Anchorage to New York and Dallas. I hope we'll have more opportunities to run and share beers in the future. Click here to read an excellent interview with Keith after he won the NCAA Cross Country Championships


Anonymous said...

Good luck to Keith and his compatriots. Obviously he is talented and hard working. Reebok's loss and another companies massive gain.

Ryan Hall said...

great read--hard to not support Keith as he's sits at the top of the heap of good guys in the running industry.