Louise Ramsay finds out more from Jonathan Hedges, managing director of Mar-Systems
Minimal, structured, neutral, performance - there are a myriad of terms to describe the different categories of running shoes on the market.
Within each category there are a multitude of brands all promising to transform an athlete’s performance by merely donning their wares. The retailer’s challenge is to match one of these shoes to a customer’s foot.
There are a whole host of different tools to help, but the world of gait analysis is constantly changing. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many a retailer’s head is put into a dizzy spin - meaning that not only do customers lose out on buying a shoe that fits and functions properly, but a retailer may risk losing repeat custom through a dissatisfied - or worse, injured - customer.
Easy-to-use POS system
So what is an overworked but well intentioned retailer supposed to do? Enter the currex Monolith. An easy-to-use POS system, it’s a machine that can analyse a customer’s running style and in minutes recommend the perfect shoe and insole combination. But can a machine replace a human? And if so, how does it do it?
Jonathan Hedges is the man who knows. The co-founder of the sports footwear and insole specialist Profeet, he heads up Mar-Systems, which provides motion analysis tools to the health and sports industries.
“One reason for setting Mar-Systems up was to take top level biomechanical assessment to the masses,” he says. “The problem in sports retail today is that you almost need a degree to be able to fully understand and use these assessment tools - and clearly that isn’t appropriate for even the most specialists of retailers. So I started to look for software that could do the job.”
Hooking up with Björn Gustafsson, owner of motion analysis brand currex, Hedges set to work. The main driving force behind the software was the theory that a running shoe works best when it supports an athlete’s natural motion pathway.
“This is the way you walk or run naturally,” Hedges explains. “It’s not about whether you hit the ground with the forefoot, midfoot or rearfoot - there isn’t only one way to run, that’s been put to bed now. It’s what works best for you.
“As you get fitter and stronger, your natural motion pathway may change as different muscles build and your biomechanics are affected. The correct shoe is the base of support for this natural motion pathway and Monolith works by finding a shoe that can provide this base.”
Touch screen technology
Taking up just 70 cm square of floor space, the Monolith assesses a customer’s natural motion pathway by utilising touch screen technology to ask a customer a number of questions, such as whether they are male or female (apparently women may need more supportive shoes because they tend towards laxity in their muscles) and their weight and then to carry out a series of movements, such as walking over sophisticated pressure pads and performing single leg squats.
Inside the Monolith, motionQuest Neo software processes the data and, adjusting for variations in sizes between brands and taking into account how feet swell during exercise, suggests a range of appropriate shoes and insoles stocked by the retailer for the customer to try on. Shoes are updated via a web service, so when a manufacturer releases a new model, it’s automatically put onto the system.
It also recommends exercise and stretching plans to help improve performance and mitigate the worst effects of any particular running style.
“A customer walks into a shop and just sees a wall of shoes,” Hedges says. “They can’t focus on what’s going to work for them. The Monolith provides them with a way of assessing their own biomechanical profile, which as well as being accurate, also helps them to feel in control.
“As any retailer knows, the ultimate decision about whether to buy a product or not is the customer’s, not the retailer’s, and the Monolith helps to promote this idea. It helps in the sales process. It allows the customer to have a second opinion and together with your sales assistants, the customer finds and buys from you.
“Yes, a retailer can talk a customer through the differences between the shoes - the Monolith lists the performance characteristics of each shoe, so you can compare - and how a currexSole RUNPRO insole will improve the fit and comfort, but to a certain extent the customer can serve themselves.”
Importance of insoles
The insoles are an important aspect of the Monolith package.
“They’re more a high performance sock liner, something retailers will understand,” Hedges says. “This means they can work with existing shoes, rather than just override any support already designed into the shoe.
“They’re flexible rather than rigid and work with the foot rather than against it. The insole cups the heel, has arch support and provides some metatarsal support, but unlike many orthotics, which are rigid, it adapts to movement. This allows the foot to work in harmony with the shoe.”
Science agrees. A recent study by sports scientists at the University of Cologne put currexSole insoles top in a blind comfort test.
“How the foot/shoe interfaces during the running gait is a hugely complicated set of events, but essentially increasing the fit and comfort of an athlete’s chosen shoe will improve performance,” Hedges says. “Ultimately, a runner’s favourite shoe is one which is fitted the best, is the most comfortable and doesn’t cause injuries. That is what we want to deliver.”
The insoles last for two pairs of shoes and can improve existing shoes. A customer can always come back and buy more insoles without buying a new pair of shoes. Better still, if retailers buy enough insoles from Mar-Systems, the Monolith is free.
Hedges adds: “The Monolith is a worker. It’s on the job 365 days a year, doesn’t want a holiday or pay rise and if you get sick of it, you can just switch it off.
“It’s great for the retailer who keeps in touch with customers too, as it captures data. Then if you’ve got four pair of shoes left in a certain model/size, you can get in touch with the customer who bought the same pair and offer them at a discount. What a brilliant way to clear out old stock.”