Where can I subscribe to a running-shoe-replacement service?

A few years back I realized that my knees and ankles were hurting because I’d put too many miles on my running shoes. No permanent injuries resulted, but a friend who outran his shoes wasn’t so lucky, and he’s got back problems for life.

This is a business opportunity. If you’re a runner, spending $100 every six (or even three) months is infinitely preferable to injury. You’d think that shoe sellers would make it easy to do that, but they don’t. I’d happily authorize regular replacements, but nobody’s ever offered me that option.

Partly I guess this is a failure of service-oriented thinking. My local seller thinks service means taking good care of me when I walk in, and he does. But I think service should also mean helping me manage a lifelong shoe-replacement regimen, and that notion seems not to have sunk in.

Of course planned obsolescence also gets in the way. Once I find a shoe I like, I try to stick with it, but the manufacturers won’t let me. The model I know works well usually isn’t available next time around, so I have to try something different. That’d complicate any kind of subscription service.

I can sort of understand the difference between, say, prescription drugs, which are commodities that I can replace on a subscription basis, and running shoes, which are both fashion items and (supposedly) evolving technologies. But for me, and maybe for a lot of people, what I really want is to regard the running shoe as a commodity I can replace on a subscription basis.

I wonder what else belongs in this category: Products that sellers don’t want to commodify, but that if managed this way would produce recurring revenue and create the opportunity for lifelong service relationships.

16 Comments

  1. Jon, this is a great idea. I run and last year bought a nice shiny pair of Asics to replace my tired Saucony shoes.
    It took me a while (okay far too long) to realise that the Asics were causing the pain I was getting in my claves/achilles.
    I switched back to the old Saucony shoes and the pain went away.

    It is an opportunity to provide replacement shoes regularly, say like a subscription service?
    Some “Value add” would be if you have some experts onboard who recommend new models when the manufacturers kill off your favourites.

    I’ll be looking for this servce from now on.
    Lance

  2. I usually buy 2 or 3 pair once I find a shoe I like. It’s a great hedge against model changes which seem to happen so often.

    I also run alternating 2 pair. The shoes have a good chance to dry out from one run to the next which makes them more confortable and they seem to hold up longer although I usually don’t leave in service after 6 months. They make great kick around shoes after that, but I have so many!

  3. Ahem… I suspect that underwear subscribers would latch on to this. Believe it or not (yeah), I have heard women more than once complain that they cannot duplicate size, fit, comfort, etc., in bra products. And I know that when I find underwear I like, the line has invariably disappeared the next time I go back (in a year or so) for replacements.

    Same thing goes perhaps for trousers, where you really like the pocket layout and ergonomics, but fail to duplicate it when you go shopping for a new pair sometime later.

    Funny enough, a student whose thesis committee I was on presented this running shoe subscription idea last year at Art Center of Design in Pasadena, CA. Not sure what became of the idea, but he viewed it as more than homework problem.

  4. There is a cool application on Facebook called Runlicious. It allows you to log your miles – and select which pair of shoes you are using that day (accomodating Larry’s post above). If this app were available for my little running store (www.runningco.com), then I could either send you an alert, email or even a pair of shoes when you got to a limit that you set. This application is one of the reasons we started up Ringside Networks (www.ringsidenetworks.com) – but you’ll have to wait a month to see how that works…

    Bob Bickel

  5. I’ve complained about this myself … I think restaurants call it maintaining a “par value” or something like that. Groceries online is fairly silly, but for things that I replace all the time (razor blades, shampoo, tea, coffee, vitamins, etc.), that’s what I’d want.

    I’ve seen it done for coffee and vitamins. I wonder why Amazon hasn’t done it larger scale.

    By the way, I had IT band problems a couple of years ago and got these: http://www.biocorrect.com/. Changed my life. If you find a reason to come to GR (launch 5/13), you should visit the local MS office and get some biocorrect running orthotics ;-)

    At any time, the guy who makes those recommends 1 of about 3 shoes … the orthotics replace the insoles, so it lessens the differences between models between years, too. I love mine.

  6. I’m a bit conflicted on this one — as your proposition makes a lot of sense. Running shoes are exactly the kind of product that lends itself to subscription. Yet, given production irregularities, running shoes are the type of item that I absolutely must try on before committing, and when it comes time to replacing shoes, I’ve often found that the new year’s version of the same model doesn’t fit as well as the last or vice versa.

    But combine service-oriented updates with the level of no-questions-asked returns policy of an LL Bean would work for the customer. However, given the modest volume of business for most running shoe stores, I’m not sure that they could afford to deliver LL Bean-grade service.

  7. MotionBased also let’s you pick equipment used when you upload… but shoes seem so unique I think these tools should make it explicit: specifically pick your shoes, let you set an expiration number of miles and notify you. I’m just at the point now where I have to try to synthesize miles from Garmin Training Center and Nike+ (for my treadmill runs) to figure out if I’m close to needing shoes or not. I wholeheartedly agree about keeping the shoes current – I had nasty ITBS last year and don’t want to repeat it!

  8. “…I really want is to regard the running shoe as a commodity I can replace on a subscription basis.
    I wonder what else belongs in this category: …”
    Come on Jon, you are sitting in front of one and you work for another. Not that it should be that way. Think about it.

  9. This comment really stuck in my head over the weekend… I re-discovered that the Sport Tracks software lets you enter equipment when you upload from a GPS. They even have the concept of setting “default” equipment, so you don’t have to re-select each time. But since I just discovered this, I would like to go back and reset my last few months of running to use my newly entered equipment, but there doesn’t seem to be a “batch” way to do that (like you can do in iTunes, etc.) :-(

  10. This isn’t a service, but it’s a new product that automatically tells you when to replace your shoes, it’s called the Shoe Odometer. The Shoe Odometer is a small electronic device that attaches to the laces of your shoes. It automatically counts down the percent of remaining wear. You get to adjust the number that it counts down from. It also measures miles, steps and stride rate. The miles function is not a GPS, but it is accurate for your every day training run. I’m a high school running coach that was frustrated that my runners sometimes got hurt from running in shoes that were worn out. I’ve had nothing but great feedback from everyone that has purchased one. We also laser etch your emergency identification info on the side of the SO. I have a lot of info on the website: http://www.shoeodometer.com I’d be glad to answer any of your questions.

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