French-based outdoor brand Salomon is straddling the line between producing high-performing footwear for hiking, trail running, and road running, while getting huge publicity boosts from the fashion world.
For example, the company received worldwide, A-List celebrity exposure when singer Rihanna wore a pair of MM6 Maison Margiela x Salomon Cross Low sneakers as she performed at the Super Bowl halftime show this year.
Celebrities including Bella Hadid, Hailey Bieber, and Emily Ratajkowski have also been spotted wearing the company’s XT-6 trail-ready shoe.
While Salomon has enjoyed the attention from the fashion world, the brand is sensitive to staying true to its roots with the outdoor community, said Scott Betty, the vice president of footwear and gear at Salomon North America.
“Certainly, it’s terrific that the fashion community has adopted some of our classic looks as a modern-day fashion statement,” Betty said. “How we treat them without undermining our performance and credibility comes back to remaining authentic in both worlds.”
The Daily spoke with Betty about challenges in the hiking segment, the evolution of trail running footwear, and remaining an authentic brand while becoming a fashion darling.
Salomon’s Footwear Origins
Founded in 1947, Salomon creates premium footwear, apparel, gear, and winter sports equipment.
To understand Salomon’s approach to footwear, the brand’s location is key – Salmon started in Annecy, France, at the base of the French Alps and near the Swiss Alps, and the company’s European headquarters remain there.
“You see the scale of the Alps, and you realize the brand’s been doing footwear for over 30 years now as an athlete-driven brand, originally born in skiing,” Betty said. “It has extended that into the footwear arena and hasn’t abandoned any of those brand principles. It’s still athlete driven. It’s still about meeting the needs of the athlete.”
Tying the approach to footwear back to the Alps and meeting the needs of consumers putting themselves into demanding situations has helped Salomon develop and maintain its reputation for quality and performance, Betty added.
Overall Business Climate
Despite a challenging macroeconomic environment and the same inventory problems that many companies across the industry are experiencing, Betty said the company is on a “record pace” and seeing “tremendous growth.”
“If we look at our key segments of the business, I’d say we remain pretty bullish,” he added.
As a privately held company, Salomon doesn’t publicly report its financials, but Betty said 2023 should result in a “pretty healthy year.”
Bloomberg has reported Salomon’s parent company Amer Sports has filed confidentially to go public, with plans for an IPO early next year.
Hiking Ups and Downs
Salomon breaks down its footwear business into four parts: hiking, trail running, road running, and sportsstyle.
In the hiking category, Salomon’s X Ultra 4, one of the company’s franchise products, is still resonating with consumers.
At the Outdoor Retailer Summer 2023 trade show, data research firm Circana said Salomon’s X Ultra 4 Mid GTX held the No. 1 spot in total sales among all shoes in the hiking, trekking, and mountaineering segment.
The beefier Quest 4, which Salomon views as a backpacking shoe, has also been strong, Betty said.
Following the industry trend of thicker midsoles with a taller stack and longer travel, the brand has developed a shoe it calls Elixir, which is part of its Comfort hike franchise.
“We saw the evolution toward taller stacks and more comfortable stacks within hike,” Betty said. “But we didn’t want to sacrifice underfoot support or stability.”
He added that it’s “square in the zone” of other outdoor brands’ shoes that are being recommended by podiatrists for people with foot problems.
Although the company is doing well overall, this past year has been tough for the hiking segment, Betty said.
Betty explains the drop-off in business as a result of outdoor enthusiasts and those new to the market who made purchases in 2022 not needing to buy again in 2023.
The other reason is a lot of hikers have moved away from heavier hiking footwear to lighter-weight, low-cut trail shoes.
“More people are realizing the hike for them is a two, three-hour trip at most,” Betty said. “Just being outdoors matters the most. It’s not about how rugged the terrain is.”
Evolving Trail Running
In line with that, Salomon has seen the trail running category evolve. Betty pointed to the Speedcross and XA Pro trail runners as two of Salomon’s shoes that are blurring the lines between hiking and running. Both have been a part of the brand for a while.
“Softer, lighter, modern foams, taller stack, longer travel products,” Betty said.
The company is seeing more success with new designs that Betty sees as more modern silhouettes that are comfort driven. A couple of examples are the Sense Ride and Thundercross trail runners.
Salomon’s response to the evolution in trail running has been the result of listening to their consumers who tell them they want comfort and style but not something that’s overbuilt for their needs, according to Betty.
That influences the way Salomon approaches the features of its footwear. It could be as simple as making a mid-cut shoe into a low-cut shoe.
“It all ties back to what we see the customers wanting, what we see the customers voting for with their wallet,” Betty said.
Salomon’s sportstyle business, defined as outdoor-inspired footwear, has been “on fire,” according to Betty.
Salomon sells these items in multiple tiers, including limited distribution and small-batch runs that are sought after and hard to get.
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The shoes Rihanna wore, for example, were strategically limited in distribution and quantity, with the goal of getting more people to recognize the brand.
“We’re reaching a point where the sportstyle business can put the brand in the consideration set for more consumers,” Betty said.
When a consumer who saw the Super Bowl halftime show wants a running shoe or has decided to take up hiking, they’re now thinking about Salomon.
“We’ve been able to capitalize on what is a strong Salomon catalog of historically great performing franchises in the outdoor space that are now seen as everyday lifestyle products,” Betty said. “It’s been a very strong year for that business for us.”
To be authentic in sportstyle, Salomon continues to progress and innovate, including developing new models, reinterpreting classic styles, or repackaging footwear with different colors and materials.
Betty pointed out that the brand is still doing the same thing in the performance segment.
“You can’t shift all of your resources, all of your bandwidth, all of your attention away from your core in order to service that need,” he said. “If you abandon one to focus on the other, that’s where you run into problems. It’s easy to get caught in that trap.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.