Why Nike Barefoot Running Shoes Are Crushing the Competition

How one sports manufacturer is capitalizing on the latest running trend and doing laps around its competitors

Jul 7, 2014 at 10:11AM

While standing at the starting line of the Tar Heel Ten Miler in Chapel Hill, I found my tightly laced, arch supported, custom orthotic running shoes next to the barely there, glove-like Vibram FiveFinger shoes of the runner beside me. I was still staring at his strange looking feet when the starting gun turned the stationary crowd into a charging herd. My neighbor took off in effortless stride. I watched him disappear into a faster pack of runners, wondering if he and his fellow minimalist runners were onto something.

In 2005, Vibram, an Italian shoe sole manufacturer, introduced its now popular FiveFinger running shoe – if it can even be called a shoe. It's simply a flexible, plastic sole with a Velcro strap that has individual spots for each toe. It's closer to glove than a shoe. Originally for boating, FiveFingers offer the barefoot feel with protection against sharp objects and abrasive ground.

M

Vibrams Five Fingers Source: Vibrams

The shoes gained popularity with runners around the same time Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run, was published in 2009. McDougall takes readers into the Copper Canyons, exploring the incredible runners of Mexico's elusive Tarahumara and the super athletes who dare to venture deep into the most perilous terrain in North America to run with them. The Tarahumara run hundreds of miles through valleys and over cliffs wearing nothing but thin leather sandals. And somehow, they have low injury rates compared to their asphalt running, high tech shoe wearing counterparts. No Air-Max or Asics Gel needed. This tribe, completely separated from modern sportswear technology, run on the feet they were born with and on the ground that's always been beneath them.

As the Tarahumaras' story spread through popular culture, more and more runners began to kick off their shoes or slim down their footwear. Advocates claimed stronger foot muscles, fewer injuries, faster speeds, and increased endurance. Vibram FiveFinger sales skyrocketed and the rest of the sports industry raced to the minimalist running sector, a sector that grew 303% from 2010-2012. But now, only one manufacturer is increasing its sales and keeping the minimalist running trend growing.

Nike's (NYSE:NKE) early response to the minimalist trend came around 2007 with the introduction of the Nike Free and its accompanying slogan, "Run Barefoot." In the last few months, the updated Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit, a hybrid between barefoot and minimalist shoes with little arch support and a flexible sole, came to market. It does not have individual toe sectioning as the FiveFingers, but its knit upper layer fits snugly on the top of the foot like a sock.


 Nike Free

The Nike Free FlyKnit Source: Nike

With the Nike Free, Nike is leading sales in the minimalist running category. Minimalist sales increased 30% in 2013, an increase, according to SportOneSource, that can be solely attributed to the Nike Free and the Nike Flex, another of Nike's minimalist running options. Nike controls a whopping 92% of the minimalist market.  Vibrams may have been a first mover, but Nike is now the only one with growing sales.

While Nike is taking more market share, Adidas' (NASDAQOTH:ADDYY) run has been much less successful. Adidas came out with the ADIpure training shoe, a FiveFinger look-alike that is marketed specifically for cross training and not long distance running. Consumer reports of increased injuries and stress fractures related to Vibram's FiveFingers have called into question the benefits of the shoes and ones like it. A few weeks ago, Vibram settled a $3.75 million class action lawsuit for false advertising . The scientific research as to whether barefoot running and minimalist shoes actually reduce injuries and increase endurance is inconclusive, and if runners fail to slowly acclimate to running with less footwear, injuries are all but guaranteed.


 Adidasadipuretrainer
 

Adidas' ADIPure Training Shoe Source: Adidas 

Nike's strong brand image is definitely a factor in its domination of the market. Consumers are more likely to feel comfortable trying a Nike minimalist shoe, trusting in the swoosh that's been on their shoes for years rather than risking an injury with the trendy but odd looking Vibram FiveFingers or Adidas' toed gloves. The Nike shoes look, well, like shoes.

Your mom probably had shoes on your feet before you were walking. Carpet loving, arch supported feet can't become the toughened trail runners of the Tarahumara overnight. However, after a proper acclimation period, many decide they were born wearing shoes better than anything to come out of a Nike factory. It may seem counterintuitive that shoe manufacturers could actually capitalize on bare feet, but we've worn shoes our entire lives and will continue to. Consumers will see changes in form and design, selling points that Nike has mastered as their lighter, thinner, more flexible models hit shelves. Vibram did the barefoot trend first and Adidas tried to compete, but Nike did it best, squashing the competition with its "traditional enough for the mainstream" barefoot shoe. 

 

 

Leaked: This coming device has every company salivating
The best investors consistently reap gigantic profits by recognizing true potential earlier and more accurately than anyone else. Let me cut right to the chase. There is a product in development that will revolutionize not just how we buy goods, but potentially how we interact with the companies we love on a daily basis. Analysts are already licking their chops at the sales potential. In order to outsmart Wall Street and realize multi-bagger returns, you will need The Motley Fool’s new free report on the dream-team responsible for this game-changing blockbuster. CLICK HERE NOW.

Caroline Lowery has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.


Compare Brokers