Guest post By Stefan Albinsson, The Running Swede
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with one of the top creative minds behind Salming Running and its recent entry into the U.S. market, Thomas Nord. Thomas is head of marketing and design at Salming Sports AB in Gothenburg, Sweden – and, not to mention, a fellow ’running Swede’. From the influence of Salming’s Swedish roots to its ’no nonsense’ and ’Rule of 5’ shoe design philosophies, read on for an inside look at this unique brand, which, at its core is anything but your average running apparel company.
How did you first get involved with Salming?
It was back in 1997 and I was working at a design agency when we were asked to participate in the development of Salming Hockey in terms of product design and marketing strategy. That was my first encounter with the Swedish brand. The persona behind the brand, Börje Salming, was a very familiar national hero that paved the way for Europeans in the National Hockey League. Starting to work with the Salming brand was indeed exciting and an honor at the same time. The brand became part of my customer base until I joined the company, and what was to become Salming Sports in 2000.
Speaking of Börje Salming, Salming’s namesake, how is he involved in the company and shoe design?
Börje is still involved in the brand and has a small stake in the company. He’s not involved in the daily operations of the business or in the product development process but is informed and on the top level. It’s also interesting to note that Börje has run several marathons himself and his daughter, Bianca Salming, is a number one Swedish junior heptathlon athlete.
Your background is in design – is that right?
My background is as a trained art director. But with that I soon felt the limitations of specializing in only one area like advertising and not being part of the complete creative process in terms of developing a product, conceptualizing all the technologies that went into a specific product in order to explain the customer benefits, launching it to the market, getting the consumer feedback etc. As a consultant, you are quite often stuck on the sidelines. You provide guidelines and recommendations but you never really get to execute and take full responsibility for the products development process, at least not from my position there and then. So when my then customer and now friend and partner, CEO Tomas Solin gave me an offer I simply couldn’t refuse, the choice was easy. And to be honest, I never looked back.
For a country as small as Sweden, a lot of creative artists and initiatives come from there. (Salming, Craft, Volvo, Saab and many others in the music and fashion industries.) Why do you think Sweden is so successful?
That’s a good question. First of all, we’re a fairly small country in terms of people living here and speaking Swedish. We are dependent on our export business. We’ve been traveling the world since the Vikings, basically. So when it comes to accepting our place in the world, so to speak, I think it has really set our country’s mindset in terms of being open-minded – which, in itself, is the foundation for creativity. An open mind not only has to do with how you approach and embrace different cultures, but it also puts you in a position that allows you to embrace new technology. Sweden has a great history of skilled engineers and entrepreneurship combined. And essentially I think that has to do with the way we have set up the system in combination with the mindset I mentioned above. There are probably hundreds of more reasons that are valid explanations but these are the ones top of mind for me.
As a native Swede, I’m proud to see the Swedish flag on Salming’s design. Was it always obvious to incorporate Swedish colors and the flag on Salming products?
Actually no, this is one of the benefits of working with some 60 countries around the globe and getting their feedback on a daily basis. We had been quite good at explaining the brand values and the customer benefits of our range. The Swedish background and emphasizing that, though, had not really been executed due to us being Swedish and blind to that fact I guess. But we quickly realized that it was a natural and obvious part of our story and made sure that, starting with the second running collection, we featured the Swedish flag’s blue and yellow.
We’ve talked a bit about the Salming brand and Salming Sports, but how did Salming Running get its start? And how were the natural running and ”no nonsense” running ideas born?
The idea to add running as a product area was conceived back in 2010, a couple of years after we decided to focus on indoor sports in general, and squash, handball and floorball shoes in particular. The success and momentum of our indoor shoe business sparked the idea of looking more closely into running and we started out by digging into available research. Since running is an injury prone activity mainly due to its repetitive pattern – with loading forces from 2.5 to 4 times your body weight (depending on speed) – 40 to 65 percent of all runners suffer at least one injury per year. In addition to these compelling facts and what we found out from reading the research, it was our conclusion that the running shoe industry was out of sync with research and science, focusing on foot-landing as a singular explanation to everything. Hence, there was a footwear technology shift in the making – unnatural versus natural running shoes based on running form and a new holistic approach. Or as we chose to call it: an old, outdated approach versus a new full body running holistic approach. In terms of inspiration along the way, I also have to thank Chris McDougall for writing the book ”Born to Run,” providing some great inspiration, as well as Niobe Thompson’s film ”The Perfect Runner.” The latter we had the pleasure to use and push during our launch season in 2014.
Can you explain more about the ’Rule of 5’ – that Salming shoes should be light, flexible, flat, thin and comfortable?
The Rule of 5™ is basically what steers us in the shoe design process. It’s firmly based on our running gospel, the Salming Running Wheel™, which has the Pelvis as the hub and center and then five spokes: posture, lean, arms, cadence, and foot landing. From that, the Rule of 5™ derives the five cornerstones – light, flexible, flat, proprioception (thin) and anatomical fit (comfortable):
Light as in light-weight and improving running efficiency; enabling you to have time to complete the run cycle and land with your foot underneath the center of gravity.
Flexible as in imitating the foot flexibility in order to mimic the barefoot running technique – Salming Torsional Guidance System 62%/75°.
Flat as in low heel to toe drop facilitates correct foot landing, becoming more naturally balanced with gravity.
Proprioception as in improved sensory feedback from feet to the brain. If the midsole is too thick the sensory feedback gets distorted.
Anatomical fit as in roomy toe box and basically the foot is able to function exactly as nature intended it to.
Salming Running is one of the few brands that offers more than just shoes. Salming tries to educate the customer/runner, and has a running academy, runlab, etc. Why is that philosophy so important?
Our passion is to help people run better. This could be faster and injury-free or to simply enjoy running more. We care about the runners we sell our products to. That’s why it’s crucial for us to explain our story and philosophy, especially when we believe that we have something unique to offer the runner that sets us apart from the competition. When we say ”no nonsense products for no nonsense people” we have to be totally honest and clear about what it is we refer to – the educational part is all about that.
What is the biggest challenge as a Salming running shoe designer?
As a designer, you have many challenges. But I think it comes down to creating that deep inward feeling – a visceral reaction – to seduce the runner. It’s creating that must-have-feeling and, at the same time, educating the runner about no nonsense customer benefits that are put into it. If we can achieve that and also make the athlete feel safer, empowered and faster, then we’ve come a long way.
Are you a runner yourself, and if so how would you describe yourself as a runner?
I’m only a recreational runner. What I bring to the table is the design and communication perspective that’s where I would like to think I excel, the professional athlete perspective is provided by our Salming ambassadors, our constant dialogue, and their ongoing feedback.
Salming is not just running shoes. Salming has racquetball, floorball and handball under its umbrella. How much much of a difference is it from a designers point of view to design shoes for different sports?
From a designers perspective, the process is quite similar no matter what sport or area you get into you gotta dig in and get to know about the specific needs of that particular sport. The close dialogue with the athletes and ambassadors, the feedback etc – the process is very similar and at the end of the day, they expect nothing but the best to support them when they need it the most, no matter if it is Running or Squash for example.
How do you follow current trends in the running industry? In your opinion, what is the next trend we will see? And how do your designs adapt to changes in the industry?
More and more runners will see the value in investing in their running form through a Full Body Running Analysis (Salming RunLAB™). And a full body running analysis does make a difference, the same way you go to your golf pro or tennis pro, you won’t hesitate to call your running coach at your local running analysis center.
We follow new trends closely. But we do believe that we’re currently on the right track. We see signs of confirmation of our approach in industry sources, like the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) April 2014 paper on selecting running shoes. Other big running specialist brands have now started to follow our path as well.That combination makes us very confident. We might be small, but we’re quite certain with our approach.
As a designer, you have to follow and examine the trends. It doesn’t mean that you have to embrace and apply them, but rather examine them with Salming glasses on – how does this effect us? Can we benefit from it? Is it No Nonsense? Does it fit with Salming’s running philosophy? These types of questions. What we do follow closely is the scientific research that is updated and publicly displayed. If that changes we need to change or revise our way of thinking; so far, we have not had to.
In terms of following trends in the industry, yes we do. That information is available on the web and at the retailers. In addition to that, we attend running events and tradeshows – we travel a lot.
Miles is a bit different from Salming’s other shoes. It offers more cushion and “more shoe.” Will we see more shoes from Salming in the future going in that direction?
Yes, Miles is the most cushioned running shoe we’ve made so far but it is still within the framework of Salming’s running philosophy being responsive, light weight and low drop (4mm). I can’t tell you more at this stage but the Salming range will expand in 2017 in a similar way to what it did this spring.
Will Distance, Speed and Race – the original Salming shoes – get updates for 2017?
Again Spring 2017 is not for public display yet but we are always working on improving our models. I can say this much: we will still have Distance, Speed and Race in our range in 2017 – although they will be updated.
With Salming entering the U.S. market, what are the biggest challenges?
Initially, the biggest challenge is, of course, brand awareness. First, we’ll get advocates from the early adopters, then reach more and more target groups. We’re building long-term momentum through word of mouth from satisfied runners.
What’s the next step for Salming Running? Salming has recently entered the trail running scene and released Miles 2016. Can you tell us more about that?
There’s more to come I can promise you that. The addition of Miles and Elements has been a success for us. The praise on running and triathlon blogs has been very positive. For spring 2017 we’ve got some more news. I can’t tell you more about that right now for obvious reasons but there’s one new model that very well might be a so-called ’tipping point’ for Salming Running. Let’s see what the future brings.