Thursday, June 24, 2010

Montrail and Merrell

I just spent a couple days in Portland seeing some lines and attending a buying show. My trip started off with a beautful run in Forest Park. If I had to live in a heavily populated area again, I think being close to those trails would sure ease the pain.

Next was a visit with the product crew at Montrail. This brand has been a bit of an enigma for me ever since they were acquired by Columbia (OK, even before they were acquired by Columbia). Montrail to this day has some cache as a trail brand despite the fact that they really haven't put out anything all that spectacular for some time. Some would say they never have, but shoes like the Vitesse, Leona Divide and Hardrock were at least so unique and loved enough by some to make Montrail legitimate. The thing Montrail always did was sponsor trail runs and ultra runners before that was popular, thus they will forever be dear to some hearts. So, we've carried Montrail for 14 years but the last 3 have been mighty lean. They're starting to have a little success with a couple shoes but generally, they suffer by comparison to the other trail shoes out there. I wanted to go and meet with them for a couple reasons: 1. They have a tremendous product team in place with lots of guys who really understand the running market and have been involved in executing some great shoes with other companies. 2. So far, I haven't seen that team putting out the caliber of product I would expect.

Well, I found out that there are some shoes coming. Those hoping this will be the Montrail of old can forget about it. These guys don't plan to make any ultra stout, borderline bricks anymore. However, they do have some pretty runable shoes coming for Spring 2011. The new Fairhaven isn't necessarily going to wow anyone but is probably the best fitting, most approachable product from Montrail in years. The upper fits extremely well and the ride is simple and good. This is a fairly typical stability shoe but the ride is really balanced and they didn't mess too much with the midsole/outsole so it seems to transition really well. The Rogue Racer is a shoe they've been working pretty closely with Max King on and it's good (not great). It fits like a track spike and has a simple, fairly low profile platform that again, transitions pretty well. My only complaint is that the platform doesn't marry the upper all that well. It probably should be a little more flexible and pliable. Still, this is a worthy addition. All in all, I'm encouraged that Montrail is heading in the right direction. I'd love to think they could be a viable brand for us again.

Moving on to the show wasn't quite as much fun. It was less running product and more casual brands. Little did I realize I was in for a surprise. I've been wondering who would take a more conventional approach to what Fivefingers has started (ie. make a regular looking shoe that is ultra minimalist). I know Inov-8 has some great product for Spring 2011 but was surpised to find that Merrell is right in the mix. There's a backstory here. Merrell is one of the brands that Vibram approached to manage/distribute FiveFingers but they said no (along with several other companies). Well, Vibram has gone back to them and contributed their minimalist expertise to help Merrell execute some great looking product for Spring 2011. The key product is a seriously minimalist active/running shoe with a great fit and decent look. This product just makes a lot of sense and I can't wait to have it in the shop (See Photo of Men's and Women's style). They're also making a Men's casual/leather style and a women's Mary Jane that are great in different ways. They'll be a nice option for those seeking that minimalist lifestyle who don't want to have to talk about their shoes everytime they go to the grocery store. It was a good trip, I love new product and am glad to see that some new (old) players might soon be in the mix. Cheers-Teague