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The team behind 120-year-old Saucony is no stranger to the competition in the running shoe market. Still. within the last year, as former gym rats took up running and more brands entered the space, they’ve been stepping up their game.

“The running boom is real,” Anne Cavassa, president of Saucony, said on the latest Glossy Podcast. “So we’re making sure that we’re connecting and engaging with consumers where they’re at — about what shoes they need, what their training should look like, what their diet should look like. When it comes to [anything] around the running lifestyle, we’ve been working on it from a communication perspective and from an inspirational perspective.”

At the same time, the brand has continued to roll out innovative launches, including its “most eco-friendly shoe ever,” the Jazz Court RFG sneaker, in March.  

According to Cavassa, being one of 12 brands under the Wolverine Worldwide umbrella enabled Saucony to be “nimble and agile,” which was crucial throughout last year. Access to its “back-of-house systems and resources” proved invaluable, as did learnings from fellow WW brands, including Keds and Sperry, she said. 

“We were able to [compare] what was working and what wasn’t, and … to communicate on how to [best] respond during the crisis,” she said.

Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Innovating on both sustainability and performance
“Innovation is what fuels Saucony and what fuels the industry. And so we have an innovation roadmap. And we have a Human Performance Lab in our building, where we have all the equipment needed to test out our innovations. And from an innovation perspective, we really think about: How do we improve the runner’s experience? And: What are the technologies to do so? And then simultaneously, we’re also pushing ourselves on a sustainability perspective and believing that, if we can reduce our footprint through sustainability and drive improvement in performance in a running shoe, those two things coming together would be an incredible moonshot for us. So we’re absolutely focused on both things. About a year ago, we launched our Endorphin [sneaker] collection: the Endorphin Pro, the Endorphin Speed and the Endorphin Shift. And those have our most advanced midsole technology, as well as Speedroll [technology], which just helps you move forward as you’re running. And we are continuing to ask ourselves: How do we improve that experience? How do we make product lighter? How do we make it faster? How do we make it bouncier? So you’ll see us doing that on the performance side of things. We don’t want to compromise performance, because that’s who we are at the core, but simultaneously, we’re driving our sustainability engine…Every single piece in our apparel line is built from sustainable materials.” 

Fueling a community of runners
“Running communities are important and powerful for people. And so, through the pandemic, what we’ve been talking about is: How do you continue to foster this, for those that have had this physical experience on a regular basis with their local running community? And: How do you bring new people into it during a pandemic, when everything is digital?…We felt like it was also really important to connect with runners and welcome people in, and [the running app] Strava has been our medium…We’re really encouraging people to join the Saucony Run Club through Strava. And we’ve seen tremendous growth there. And it’s really just to connect and engage and continue to motivate people to run…It’s been a really nice way to continue that community connection through the pandemic. And I don’t see that slowing down, actually, as the world opens up…We truly believe in the Roaring Twenties, that everybody’s gonna come out to celebrate. And for us, as a brand, that means coming together and running together. And as a running community, I think it’s the same thing. So we expect the fall marathon season and race season around the globe — knock on wood — to be very strong and very vibrant. And we expect a renaissance of running in-person together.”

Meeting the new e-commerce standards
“[E-commerce] is like running shoes; it’s a constant evolution. We’re [always asking]: How do we improve the consumers’ shopping experience online? We have a really nice platform on our website, but we constantly feel like we can tell better stories and more stories — [we want] to be able to [better] tell a consumer how great every product is and what’s happening with the brand. [The site] is a content engine…We want to inspire and educate on our website, not just sell. That’s really important to us. As retail has been shut down, we’ve pivoted some resources to make sure that the content flow continues. The other thing is this notion of unified commerce. What Covid-19 has shown us is that the consumer is going to shop. The runner, the walker, the lifestyle style seeker — they’re going to shop wherever they’re at, wherever they want to, whatever their medium is. So what we’re really focused on right now is [offering them] a frictionless shopping experience, wherever they’re at. And that is around the globe. So, depending on which country we’re talking about, our e-commerce capabilities and the maturity of our website are different. The maturity of our digital partnerships with retailers is also different. But to be best-in-class around the globe is our ultimate goal.”