Rest and recovery are key considerations for anyone who’s actively involved in endurance sport and the ‘recovery market’ is now well established with specialist recovery fuel, rollers, sticks, compression, sprays and gels – and shoes.
Recovery first became a ‘thing’ when Paula Radcliffe sported her long compression socks in the early noughties, and when, in 2007, a New Zealand study looked at the effects of compression socks on recreational athletes.
With the rise of the mass running market there emerged a lot of tired, worn out and injury-prone runners, looking for ways to make the most of their rest and recovery, and minimise their time out of running.
OOFOS is a US brand which was launched in January 2012 by Paul Brown, Juan Diaz, Steve Liggett and Lou Panaccione, who are veterans of the US sports footwear business, having worked together at Reebok in the 1980s.
By April 2012 the company were stocking the product in 25 stores and the company has doubled in size every year since, with OOFOS shoes found in over 1,400 stores in the US and 20 countries worldwide.
Running needs recovery
It was at the Boston Marathon Expo in 2012 when Brown and Panaccione decided it was time to focus all their energy on running. “We had the smallest booth, hidden in away in a corner. But we still sold 200 pairs of shoes.”
It was clear that as more and more runners had taken up the sport, the frequency of running injuries increased, particularly related to the feet.
The design is simple and looks like any other flip-flop/slide-on shoe, but the secret to its success is the technology. “When we first developed the technology we didn’t have recovery in mind,” says Panaccione. “We had spent two years developing it, and had worked closely with a South Korean chemist to come up with the formula. And at the same time we were continually researching the market. We had the intention of licensing the technology but soon realised we needed to own and create our own brand.”
“We decided to keep the ‘ingredients’ secret, like Coca Cola,” Panaccione explains.
The shoe offers an antidote to other training/racing shoes which are designed to offer rebound and energy return.
“What was needed was the opposite – a shoe that could absorb shock and impact from hard natural surfaces, cushion and support the foot and relieve pressure on joints.”
The ‘secret’ is a closed cell foam called ‘OOFOAM’.
The company says it absorbs 37 per cent more shock than traditional running shoes (typically made with EVA foam) and combines this proprietary foam with a patented biomechanically engineered footbed that provides superior arch support.
Prevention is better than cure. “We like to think of the shoes helping you to ‘pre-cover’” says Panaccione. Prehab has been a headline grabber for the last decade.
With the rise of the barefoot shoe movement came a renewed discussion around biomechanics – as well as more injuries. At the same time, advances in technology have made gait analysis a very precise science and physiotherapy has become mainstream for recreational runners who want to keep running more and more, year after year.
A holistic end-to-end approach means there’s scope for more and more products and services in the ever-growing endurance market.
As well as the need for the shoes, the brand has been helped by the founders’ approach to business. Having a very clear goal and vision can be the difference between success and failure for any start up, and it’s clear these guys kept on track.
“Our starting point was our mission statement that we want to make people feel better. And after two years of testing we knew our technology was doing just that.”
Clearly, the technology in the shoe can be of benefit to consumers way beyond running, for example, for foot injuries, diabetes, and a whole host of sports, but as Panaccione says, “one of our key challenges was staying focused because there are so many opportunities with this technology and we had to make sure we didn’t do too much too quick so we’ve kept focused on running and the outdoor market.”
Word of mouth marketing: try it, test it
The running market has a reputation of being a hard one to sell into, which is why the team focused most of their marketing on getting the shoes tired and tested by ‘ooficials’ and getting them to tell the story at the grassroots level.
“We gave shoes to running coaches, personal trainers, as well as fitness instructors, podiatrists, yoga and pilates teachers and it was word-of-mouth marketing that was most effective.”
Panaccione admits some of the running retailers were a little cynical, but he says that once they had persuaded retailers to try their “pioneering recovery footwear” they were sold.
Focus has been a driver to the success of OOFOS and Panaccione explains that they wanted to get the product right before taking any bigger steps, so even simple things like colour updates haven’t been rushed.
But following feedback from women, who wanted more design, the brand has launched OOlala, a women’s specific shoe, and they are continuously looking at ways to develop the foam technology and improve the foot bed design.
The intention is to keep expanding, and growing the recovery section of independent retailers.