I should like to begin by saying that I have been, for many, many years, a big fan of Brooks shoes. And for no particular reason that I can remember. I just always liked your brand and your products.
The relationship began in high school, when I both trained and raced in Brooks. It must be admitted, however, that the genesis of my allegiance was a more pragmatic one: My parents didn’t have the money—or likely, wouldn’t spring for something that was, in their professorial eyes, an amusing distraction. And so my spikes and trainers were purchased, well discounted, at the local Marshall’s. No matter, as I’d achieved a level of mediocrity in Dallas-area cross country competitions rarely seen. I remember drawing skull and crossbones on the heel counter of each racing shoe, delusional that all of the competitors who would ultimately finish up to two minutes ahead of me in the three mile race would be so intimidated that they would hide behind the trees before the start, conceding victory to someone with athletic abilities so far beneath them as to be unchartable.
And so that was it. I’ve always liked your shoes. I think I liked that you were the underdog, scrapping against the big dogs, the David (Brooks…HA! Political humor!) to their Goliath. Fast forward many, many years. I’m co-owner of a small running store and I liked that you were, by this time, making only running and walking shoes—authentic if there ever was—and were still there, trying to reach the top of the hill, still scrappy. And I like the way you did it, with silly, humorous, cartoony magazine ads that showed humility and a sense of play. And, I liked your products. (I mean, what could you not love about the Beast? It was the Hummer before the Hummer was cool.)
And remember the Brooks Burn? Oh man, you guys made an awesome shoe, that Burn. The 2 and the 3 were even better. Bright colors, light weight, no techy stuff to get in the way. I loved the way they felt on my feet as I flew along the ditches next to the Rio Grande, or on the trails up higher in the foothills. (We’re in Albuquerque, at this point, if the geographical notes hadn’t given that away.) Each time your sales rep would come to the shop to show the new goods, I’d get excited in the same way I remember being excited on Christmas morning. When I was a kid. Not now. Now on Christmas mornings, I’m mostly wanting coffee—lots of coffee—so that I can partake in my son’s excitement at ripping open the packages. You guys are so lucky, being up there near Seattle, with all that coffee. Man, Christmas mornings up there must be awesome!
I remember being a little sad when you discontinued the Burn. That kinda sucked. Not terribly sad, but the kind of sad you get when you go to a show, and your favorite band says goodnight and walks off stage without playing their best song, you know? But then your realize that the house lights are still down, so you know there will be an encore, and they’re gonna bring that shit out and keep the party going full on! Aww yeah! Well, it was kinda like that, except shoes.
And son of a bitch! if that encore wasn’t the shit! OW! Whooooooo! Best encore ever! Damn that shit was on! In the space of, like, nine seconds I’d completely forgotten about the Burn. When you introduced the Brooks Launch, oh shit! that thing is awesome! There is nothing on the shoe wall that even comes close to the smoothness of the Launch. Nothing. I mean, no techy shit, just butter smooth EVA and rubber! Holy shit, you can do anything in that shoe. I’m trying to think of a design that is better balanced, more functional. But I can’t. It works for almost everyone who puts it on. It’s brilliant, really. The guy who designed that is a real talent, that guy. I mean, after all, one mark of a good design is to make something so impressive out of so few materials. Just brilliant.
And so now I’m at Rogue Running here in Austin, TX. Maybe you’ve heard of us, maybe not. Austin is pretty much where you want to be if you’re in Texas. And here at Rogue, in Austin, TX, we are the last of a breed. Or the first of a breed, whichever way you want to look at it. We pay attention to our customers and the shoes they need, unlike other running specialty stores, where they pay attention to, um, something else, apparently. Yeah, we’re smaller than others, but we know what is functional, and then what is bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors. And we love the Launch.
There was a time when we joked that we could open up a store selling just the Launch. We understood the brilliant, simple design, the functionality, the breadth of appeal. It is arguably the best shoe in decades. Oh, man we love that shit. (Full disclosure: It is a bit soft for my taste, and the differential is a bit much, but I appreciate the smooth transition and know what works for others. ) I mean, the Launch is one person’s daily trainer, one person’s marathon racer, and then everything between. I’ve used the word “brilliant” too much already, but it isn’t hyperbole. It is simple in design, simply brilliant.
It blows us away, us Rogues, that the rest of the country doesn’t share our appreciation, our fandom, for the Launch. I’ve talked to people in other running markets, and they’re all, nope, we don’t carry it; no sir, never run in it. WTF? Srsly? That Launch is the shit, you don’t even know! And they’re all, huh?
But I guess I can see why others haven’t fallen for it the way we have. I mean, from a sales point of view, there are no technologies to market. I mean, it’s pretty simple as far as running shoes go. It’s just EVA and all, you know. I guess that’s why you guys put, like, zero marketing dollars behind it. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen an ad for it. I know on your website, the Launch gets a 5-star rating in customer reviews, and it appears to be the highest rated of any shoe on your site with 85+ reviews. One guy gave it 3-stars, and the worst he could say was, “these are great trainers… but they are not for me.” Seriously, even the worst review is a back-handed endorsement, that’s how good they are. So I know the people who run in it really dig it. I mean, we know. The Launch gets more repeat customers than almost anything we sell. Maybe it is because it’s only $90. I mean, that’s nothing these days. And what running specialty shop wants to sell a bunch of $90 shoes? Even if it is a really, really, really good shoe that functions well for a just about everyone. Did I mention that it is a brilliant design?
I guess I can see why, when the majority of the country is still selling the Brooks Adrenaline as their number one shoe, for chrissakes, that the Launch doesn’t even appear on the radar. Never mind that most of the country—most of the running spectrum—whether you’ll admit it in public or not, doesn’t need a shoe like the Adrenaline. Never mind that our understanding of footwear and biomechanics and runners now tells us that, really, people will more often than not run better—more efficiently, with fewer injuries—in shoes that aren’t over-corrective, over-cushioned, over-engineered. Never mind that.
But we know how you feel about that anyway. You guys love your “technologies.” Performance shoes need “technologies,” right? I mean, in that symposium you were so generous to invite my boss and me to a couple of years ago, you said that “less is more is bullshit.” I think those were your exact words. Maybe because that was another company’s tag line, I don’t know. But that’s what you said, right before you introduced a line of shoes that is designed to be biomechanically appropriate, er, less is more (like the Launch, except different; unlike the Adrenaline). But you didn’t even really mention biomechanics, except to mention how the new line would better “align force vectors.” (God, I don’t know how many times I heard that. That sounds so cool!) Compared to, what, the Adrenaline? The Ghost? You said something about “float” and “feel” and how your core shoes and this new line of shoes were both biomechanically valid, or something to that effect. That’s why we love the Launch so much: It doesn’t fit that spectrum. It already is valid in its function. But I guess since it doesn’t have any marketing behind it, no technologies, it isn’t valid to you guys.
And that’s probably why you are discontinuing it in January. And, that’s probably why you are discontinuing the Green Silence too. [Tears well up, author struggles to continue writing.]
Which is cool, we totally get that, but now we’re a little confused. A little sad. And a little, ok… a lot, pissed off. You guys had done it. You guys had become number one. You surpassed the undisputed king of running specialty to become number one! Yeah, you did it, and you did it because you made better shoes! So forgive us if we’re a little confused after you just discontinued two of the best shoes on the wall for chrissakes. And, don’t, don’t blame it on the shoes. Don’t say “the numbers just didn’t support it.” This isn’t the shoes’ fault. We know it, customers know it. A handful of other running shops who get it know it. In this case, the almighty dollar won out over superior product, and that just ain’t right. Sure, your other shoes are good but these shoes were great… so great that we will probably have our own special memorial events to commemorate their passing, seriously, no seriously.
You’re so intent now on becoming a $500 million dollar company, or whatever your goal is, that you are now more interested in numbers, in dollars, than you are in making good product. I think I get it: If the shoe doesn’t have anything on it that needs a proper name, or an acronym or some shit, it isn’t worth it. And don’t bother even trying to defend your side of the story. Because we know, we see it. Just like we saw with ASICS, when they were number one. They got to be number one because they made good product and marketed it well. And that’s what you did. You did. But times are different now, and it is time to do things differently. I thought you would do things differently.
This whole barefoot/minimalist movement—which you originally talked shit about—began because the customers wanted something new and better, because whatever they were wearing wasn’t working. Shoes had gotten heavier and more clunky, and injury rates rose as quickly as the weight on their 15 ounce Beasts. This was really a market driven movement. The customer wanted less shoe, simpler designs, and biomechanically appropriate footwear to run in. So of course you had to make the shoes. Of course you did. And are now making your own version of a “barefoot” shoe. It’s the fundamentals of business, even this liberal arts major knows that. But c’mon: It is so obvious that you are more interested in being number one than making real, authentic product. I mean, your “barefoot” shoe has more “technologies” than the Launch, so it must be a better shoe, right? Absolutely. (Because that Nav Band, yeah, that’s an awesome technology.) We totally get that you have to make the shareholders happy. We’re not arguing against that. What we’re arguing against is that you are being all snaky about it, that you’re saying one thing and doing another, that you’ve lost your focus, that perhaps you are no longer the authentic brand you once were, that you maybe got to the top and would rather stay there and get bigger than be authentic.
And that you are becoming the Giant you just defeated. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The future is unwritten, and you can still do this differently…. just making superior, authentic products.
My feeling is that people will buy Brooks, and will continue to buy your stuff because the shoes really do feel good on the feet (again, a bit soft for my taste, but still…). Maybe they like that Desi wears them, or Chrissie, I don’t know. Your everyman pitch is really spot on, really. But in the end, I see this kinda like McDonalds offering salad. They do it because the market wants it, and not because it is the right thing to do. Maybe that isn’t a good analogy. Maybe I’m just seeing things too black and white. Maybe I don’t have shareholders breathing down my neck. Maybe I just spend most of my waking hours watching people run, talking to them about it, using observation to know what ultimately works. Maybe I need my own focus group, I don’t know.
Don’t worry, I’m totally not going to break up with you, because, I mean, we have history. But maybe we do need to talk. Or, maybe we need to talk about an open relationship. Now, that would be awesome!
Ok… now I feel better…