Interview with Under Armour's Topher Gaylord, Senior VP of Global Footwear

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Under Armour has been trying to break out of the performance running shoe oddysey for a decade. Like the iconic character Oddyseus, Under Armour has faced challenge after challenge, with some of the finest people in the running business trying to help the brand. Like Oddyseus, UA has come close, but coming close means nothing in the shoe business. You either make great shoes, or, you are not a player. There are no participation ribbons in performance running shoes. UA has the infrastructure, size and money to support a strong running performer. They have just not had the product.

IMG_0800.JPGTopher Gaylord with UA's new shoe, Hovr Sonic, photo by RunBlogRun

Part of the problem may have been over enthusiastic management. Running looks fun, and after a while everyone wants to be part of the game. The problem is that just does not work. To make a proper running shoe, to build a running brand, one must have consistently great product, one shoe building on another. I suggest a benign dictatorship or an enlightened monarchy. There must be one person that all answer to, someone who has the final decision. This is not the job for someone with a thin skin. Running requires evolution, but just enough evolvement to keep current customers and make new customers curious. As runners are creatures of both habit and comfort, running footwear has to recognize that.

Biggest mistake running brands make? Taking core and young performance for granted. Young performance are your future, core is your present and future. Every brand has done this, some worse than others. The brands that are kicking butt in perfomance running today; On running, HOKA ONE ONE, New Balance, all do it old school: great product, service, retail channel support, and support of the sport.

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Taylor Gaylord with UA Hovr Phantom, photo by RunBlogRun

The skill set to run a running brand is, well, esoteric. They are not acquired skills. One must have the proverbial fire in the belly to make a running brand work.

The number of people who can do this in the entire world? By this, I mean, make a proper performance running shoe? Hell, they would fit in my fifth grade classroom at Saint Blaise in Bridgeton, Missouri (it was not a big classroom).

A while back, UA hired Mark Sheehan. Sheehan is a shoe dog, who gets it, and knows how to build fine running footwear. In Topher Gaylord, Mark Sheehan has someone who truly appreciates him. Topher Gaylord, the former President of Mountain Hardwear is now Senior VP of Global Footwear, Training, Running, I mean, everything footwear.

Topher gets it. He is a quick study, and he wants to build UA into a footwear power. He realizes that he has to nurture this bandBut the best thing that Topher Gaylord gets is that his main job is letting shoe dogs like Sheehan alone to do his job. Give him the support, the materials and the budget to make the best product one after another. That means protecting the shoe peeps from the well meaning, the over enthusiastic and the plain curious. Topher Gaylord has a tough job.

I like Topher Gaylord. He has immersed himself into the running community, and that means he will hear good and ill on his brand. That is part of that baptism of fire we sometimes discus.

In this wide ranging interview, I gave Topher some typical questions about performance shoe biz. Topher answered them all well, but the difference is that this guy believes it. He wants to make great shoes, and he knows that the human capital is key.

In the interview we spoke on the Hovr Sonic, the next product from Under Armour, to be released in February 2018. Watch for our upcoming reviews of this product.

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