We’re getting closer to freedom. 12th April has been etched in our minds for weeks (at least for England).
A little over a year since the UK was introduced to the darkness of a nationwide lockdown we will step blinking, into the light. This time we can more than hope it’s for good. This time we expect to open and stay open. All the numbers are looking good. As I write this (and I pray also as you read it) new cases are down, hospital admissions are down, COVID related deaths are down, and the NHS is injecting the arms of the nation faster than Victor Conte ever did.
As we try to find our feet again, what have we learned from lockdown? Life, work, retail and of course the sports trade have all changed irrevocably in those twelve short months. We’ve found new ways of living, new ways of doing what we want, of getting what we want. Just this past weekend, I enjoyed a family roast dinner from a traditional English country pub. Of course, I couldn’t eat it in that traditional English country pub but had to don my mask and collect it in (recyclable) plastic containers so we could eat in the comfort of our own home. The same weekend, my daughter spent an hour doing her gymnastics lesson with a dozen of her friends. Of course, she couldn’t do that at the dance studio, but she took part in our living room via the delights of Zoom with her gym teacher leading the group in 55in full HD glory.
Both of these activities were a fun taste of near-normalness and made for a very pleasant weekend. We would never have done either of these before the perils of COVID-induced lockdown, and maybe we won’t do them this way from 12th April onwards, but they are great examples of how industries have adapted to enable to them to continue to service their consumers, and ultimately attempt to secure their own survival until brighter, safer days return.
Running has clearly boomed in the last twelve months, and as one of the few activities we were all allowed to continue with, that is hardly surprising. Anecdotally, whenever I went out running or cycling during Lockdown 1 (as it will now be known) I was met with dozens of other runners out there doing the same thing, they certainly weren’t all there previously.
More analytically, Strava reported a huge uplift in memberships and new runners logging efforts throughout 2020. All these new runners need shoes, and the running retail channels that were open served them like never before. E-commerce grew as exponentially as COVID cases did, retail websites saw traffic and sales take up some of the slack from their mothballed shops, and some previously webshop-free establishments even created new sites so fast that they were open for trade within weeks of locking down.
There are also low-tech examples of our own marketplace showing this Darwin-esque short-term evolution. Stores took their expertise to the consumer with gait analysis being offered literally over the garden fence, or at the very least via video phone or Zoom. Several store owners were (are) out every day delivering shoes to their local consumers, offering advice from a distance, serving their communities.
Our connection with the very running community that we serve became demonstrably vital to our existence both commercially and emotionally, we built those connections even stronger to get us through.
As a brand, Saucony have adapted too. By extending seasons, moving launch dates and deadlines and creating content to help tell stories online. Learning to do the simple stuff remotely, building a digital staff training platform and presenting future ranges via Zoom.
During this frustrating year, the phenomenon that is the Endorphin collection was born. Three shoes which have changed Saucony the brand and changed the way runners (and the industry) look at us.
Because there is an Endorphin for everyone, the lack of races for the last twelve months has barely dampened the interest since selling 2000 pairs on day one. But the true importance of the Endorphin collection is the brand direction from here. Not just the next versions and the technical developments, but how the innovation from the line is brought into the rest of the range. This has already begun with technologies, durometers and foams flowing into other shoes. There will be updates to Triumph, Ride and Guide which benefit from this performance led innovation.
There are a huge number of exciting developments to come but the next months are as much about the aforementioned adaptation as they are about creation. About finding an answer as much finding the answer.
The world has changed irrevocably in a year, retail evolution has accelerated, but people are running more than ever, there is demand for running shoes like never before.
We’re still here, we’ve adapted and we’re ready. Welcome back.
Country Manager UK & Ireland