Versatility is the watchword for Merrell in a changing outdoor market.
Over three decades ago, Randy Merrell began designing and manufacturing handmade custom boots for a small group of outdoor enthusiasts. From there more affordable models of highperformance hiking boots were born. And that innovation has stayed with the company as they continue their aim to be at the forefront of the outdoor industry.
Tim Selby, Merrell product and marketing director EMEA, said: “The ethos the brand was built on was all about fit and comfort, about how your heel was locked in place. And that is what has built our lighthiking boot collection. We are one of the few brands that I would say, with confidence, you could wear the shoe straight out of the box and go and do a serious hike.”
The hiking shoe market has come a long way from the traditional brown leather boot and it is still moving on as a new breed of outdoor enthusiasts emerges.
Tim said: “The whole industry and market is changing. If you looked at the outdoor industry even five years ago it was still very much around the core things – hiking, trail running. There is still a big market around traditional brown leather boots but we have seen that the outdoor market is now, almost, becoming the outside market.
“Our big new product for spring 18 is MQM, which translates to moving quickly in the mountains. It’s all about lightweight versatile shoes, you can go scrambling in it, hiking and it’s runnable, but not a trail-running product.”
Tim believes that the priorities of a lot of people enjoying the outdoors has now changed.
He said: “They want to do a variety of activities. It’s about going for a day quickly in the mountains. It’s about lightness, protection, being robust and more multipurpose.
We have had similar shoes in the past but they were much heavier, more of a hiking product, this is a hybrid between trial running and light hike. Millennials want multiple experiences in the outdoors and not be defined by hiking, they want to be able to run, hike and do in-a-day experiences, for example orienteering or geocaching.”
Merrell have also noticed a coming together in what consumers are looking for in lifestyle and performance.
Tim added: “Another trend we are seeing is blurred lines - performance is lifestyle and lifestyle is performance. People want the performance credentials and you build the lifestyle aesthetic into it.
“Performance is where your credibility comes, in terms of comfort, fit, dryness, waterproofing, and you take that across to the lifestyle side where that might be camouflage uppers, new knit materials, e-meshes etc. So you have the benefits of both worlds.”
And Merrell are always looking to innovate and be ahead of trends. Tim said: “We have taken a trail running innovation and applied that to our new pack hike Cham 7 boot and managed to take 25 per cent off the weight of our boot whilst retaining all the pack hike performance we had previously, the grade six and grade four density and stiffness, grip and the same quality of the upper. When we benchmarked it against a lot of our key competitors we were averaging about 30-60 per cent lighter.
“So it comes back to lightness again. We are going to our retailers and saying you have your traditional brown hike business but we want to bring you something that talks to the trends. It opens up a whole new route of young people who want versatility, lightness and therefore drives incremental opportunity into retail business.”
And the new outdoor enthusiasts are looking for a quick experience and want to look good while they do it.
Tim added: “The mega trend these days is everybody is time poor. They want to go into the outdoors for a day here and a day there. It is a different generation and they want to share those experiences with their 5,000 friends on social media. Such as going on a hike that normally takes four hours but doing it in two-and-half and taking selfies everywhere, which is good from a brand perspective.
“A lot of the communication we have done in the outdoor industry has always been that lone wolf figure on the top of K2, ultimate misery but my jacket has kept me dry. At Merrell we want to get away from that traditional ‘you against the elements’to having fun in the outdoors. As an industry we are not going to be telling people how they should enjoy the outdoors. These days a park or even a city environment can be an the brand and the outdoor market outdoor experience. It doesn’t just have to be in the Lake district or the Alps.
“We are also seeing a huge growth in women coming into the outdoors and, again, their demands and requirements are different to what has been a bit of a male-dominated environment. The outdoor brands have to think about how they communicate to this market and the products they develop. We are starting to see that coming through in apparel and footwear and the specific designs to meet women’s needs.
“This is a key area that the industry needs to be sympathetic to and we are doing research looking to work with ambassadors and influencers in the industry to really hone our point of view on that. It’s a work in progress but we see it as a big opportunity.”