An avid runner who was experiencing problems with his feet, Sean Sullivan started seeing Dr. Andy Pruitt at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Boulder, CO. The conversation quickly shifted from Sullivans problems to the solutions. “We were talking about some of the things they were doing to help people deal with running issues,” says Sullivan. “The idea formed, wouldnt it be amazing if we could take some of these simple fixes and make them available to more people? That was the genesis behind the idea of making an adjustment component system for shoes.”
That idea led to the creation of Somnio, a running footwear brand that is taking customization of running footwear beyond anything currently on the market.
According to Sullivan, the new footwear is based on the relationship between medicine and science. He describes the new companys name, “Latin is the language of science. Somnio means dreams. Running means different things to different people. They dream of running a marathon or getting rid of a nagging injury. We all have our goals and aspirations. I felt like it was a very fitting name for the company.”
From a brand perspective, Somnios point of differentiation comes from the premise that running shoes should adapt to the runner, instead of the runner settling for a close enough fit. Sullivan has created a running shoe that can be customized to fit the individual runner at the store level.
The Somnio system comes with 3 base model shoes (neutral, motion control and stability) for men and women, plus 12 inserts that adapt the shoe to the runners foot based on his arch height, ideal level of cushioning and lower leg alignment.
The Line Up Measuring Device is Somnios patented fitting tool. The biomechanic design is a result of Sullivans partnership with Dr. Pruitt. The runner stands barefoot on the Line Up, and the retailers staff use the adjustable slides to determine which footbed fits the runners arch, which cushion is appropriate for their weight and running surface and which Varus Wedge inserts best align the foot and lower leg.
Defining the target audience for Somnio, Sullivan comments, “We all have our biomechanical inefficiencies that Somnio can help correct. The people Ive seen in our wear tests who have benefited the most from Somnio were people who had a chronic nagging injury problem or who had unique biomechanics. We believe everyone can benefit from Somnio.”
At The Running Revolution in Campbell, CA, owner Tim Schenone says, “I love the concept. Its where that market may be going. We already do individualized shoe fitting here and when Sean showed us the product line it looked like a great opportunity to extend that process and make it even more individualized. The shoe and the tools it comes with will allow us to dial in the support and the feel of the shoe. Thats what excited us.”
Peter Krone, president of MetroSport in El Dorado Hills, CA, was skeptical at first. “Over the last 20 years weve seen a lot of interchangeable, customizable shoes come out, but nothing has ever actually worked,” he says. “This is different and a rather compelling story. With the fit tools that they have it seemed that from our technical selling standpoint, our customers would be receptive to this.”
Sullivan equates the Somnio system to fitting a bicycle. He explains, “Independent bike dealers understand how critical fit is to the sale. Nobody buys a high-end bike without getting a proper fit. Nobody would ever assume that you could just pull a bike off the shelf and it would fit. There are all these parts on a bike that you adjust to get the correct fit to make someone comfortable and efficient on the bike. That analogy is also applicable to runners who have frankly a more complex equation to deal with. They are also doing an activity that is much more prone to injury than riding. I think the analogy really fits.”
Krone sees adding Somnio as a way to reinforce MetroSports reputation as a technical running resource. He says, “The fact that Somnio will only be sold at running specialty is a big plus today, where we have plenty of customers checking things out then going online to purchase shoes. This plays to our strength of technical fitting and customer service.”
Schenone adds, “This is just a natural fit for us. People are used to coming in here to see whats new. As the industry changes they know we will be on top of it.”
Sullivan acknowledges running specialty retailers have more footwear choices than space available on their shoe walls to display the options. “We dont focus on the other guys,” he says. “We have our point of view and we try to explain it as best we can. Once they see the idea in person and have a chance to try on the shoes they usually either commit or say no thanks pretty quick. As a new company, we have to focus on the people who understand what we are doing and are aligned with us in terms of our philosophy about running shoes and fit.”
Launching a new footwear line can be fraught with challenges. In order to avoid missteps, Sullivan extended the development process. “It was important for me to take the time to really do this right. It needed to be right, you dont get a second chance when you are new,” he explains.
Noting the 18-month product development cycle Sullivan experienced earlier in his career, he says the final Somnio product took 3½ years. He says, “First generation products are usually full of issues. I tell people our shoes are more like second or third generation. Our first prototypes were awful. It was surprisingly difficult to figure out the mechanics and construction to make this adjustable system. We made a lot of prototypes and threw away a lot of tooling.”
Wear-testing prototypes identified construction and material details needing to be addressed. Sullivan remarks on the process as following “the mantra of test and refine. In a function-driven product like running shoes, those little details make all the difference. One millimeter this way or that way can make a shoe great – or completely non-functional.”
Sullivan believes that Somnio represents the cutting edge of performance running footwear design. “Our concept is a natural evolution for running shoes,” he says. “I honestly believe that in five years this is how all running shoes will be sold. Im convinced that our competitors will come out with some kind of adaptable or adjustable component system to some degree for all shoes. To me its a natural evolution and it happens in most other consumer products.”
Based on the idea that every runners foot is different, Somnio offers running specialty retailers a customizable
solution to match their customers feet to a unique shoe.