BY JON BELL
The highest hurdle facing Portland minimalist running shoe company SKORA since it officially brought its first two models to market in February hasn’t been convincing runners of the potential of the new shoes. Instead, it’s been one of simple recognition among retailers in a field dominated by big guns like Vibram FiveFingers and the Nike Free Run.
“The biggest challenge is being recognized by the running specialty market as an option,” says company founder David Sypniewski, who first saw the light with barefoot-style running after an injury about a decade ago. “It’s been finding retailers that are progressive enough to truly carry specialty products.”
The longer — and possibly slower — inroad into the $500 million minimalist-shoe market has simply been to get people to try out a pair of SKORAs, either the BASE, which retails for $110, or the FORM, which uses Pittards leather from England and goes for $185. By late August, SKORAs were available in about 35 specialty running shops across the country and distributed in seven countries, with more outlets coming onboard every week.
“When a runner or a retailer puts them on, they see these are something truly different,” says Sypniewski, 34, who comes from a sales and marketing background.
The other course for Sypniewski, who funded the startup with savings and credit cards until an investor pitched in $900,000 in 2011, is money. He hopes to raise an additional $3 million in the next two years, a decent chunk of which he is optimistic will be confirmed by the end of this year.
SKORA, which employs four people and has six sales reps across the country, will invest future funding widely in marketing and advertising — from magazine ads to event appearances — and retail support. R&D will figure prominently as well, as the company already has two new models ready for 2013 and a trail shoe on the drawing board.
Combined, those efforts, along with a newly launched brand-ambassador program that will support up-and-coming amateur athletes, have Sypniewski fired up about the future.
“We’re still small and scrappy,” Sypniewski says. “It’s early, but it’s exciting.”