Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Balance--Harrisburg; Part One

ORN:(Saturday)    11.6 miles, 2:04:45, R2/W1, 10:46/mile
An ongoing professional and personal interest of mine for the past decade is understanding the fundamental shift in business communication as a result of the Web.  This prompted me to start a blog in 2002, read a lot on the subject and to attempt to see the impact on my company. 
Central to this whole matter is a concept called "permission marketing".  Traditional marketing is called "interruption marketing."  You watch a TV program, a commercial interrupts the program, you watch the commercial, and then go back to the program.  It is so "normal" we've quit noticing the interruptions.  Permission marketing, on the other hand, asks you if you are interested in a good or service and asks "permission" to connect with you.  The Internet has enabled this in a whole new way; if you've ever done a Google search and noticed ads that seem to relate to your search on the sidebar, you've seen this.  If you've ever "opted in" for email updates from a company, you've participated. Blogs are a key part of this strategy, in the thinking that if regular folks talk about a product, it has more relevance than if marketers do.  Seth Godin is a prominent writer on the subject and has helped me understand it better.
I explain this to describe my interest when a digital marketing representative of New Balance of Harrisburg, PA emailed me a month ago.  Her offer was fascinating; if I'd post a link on my blog to their store, she'd send me a free pair of NB shoes to evaluate.  We corresponded a bit on the offer.  I explained I was a committed Brooks shoe guy and I have a high standard of running shoe stores, due to my excellent experience at Naperville Running Company.  I'd write just what I thought about the NB shoes, good or bad.  She said that was OK, so I agreed on the deal.  I posted the link on April 7, to her specs (thus the typo...they wanted it to say "mens" not "men's" ...all to do with search engine optimization ).  And I started my observation and evaluation.
The first problem was which shoes to request.  I know virtually nothing about NB shoes...the last pair of NB running shoes I wore was in South Africa in1980 for my first ever marathon.  My calves ached for 3 weeks after that race and I assume NBs are a lot better now.  So, I asked the rep to put me in contact with someone at their store who could recommend the best NB running shoe for me.  I gave her the data on my current Brooks Beast size, my age, height, mileage, overproation issues.  You tell me, I asked, which of your shoes would be best?
That was two weeks ago.
She tried to get someone from the shoe side of the store to respond.  No one did.  She asked me to email their sales folks with the same question.  I did.  No response.  Finally, she sent me the link to some NB USA shoe analysis pages for overpronators.  Figuring I was pretty much on my own, I set out to find the best shoe myself yesterday, with no real knowledge base.  It was a bit circuitous.  NB has lots of shoe models.  Lots of places sell NB shoes.  Reviews existed but not on all models.  I found a couple of pairs that seemed to mimic the Brooks Beast well.  But the Harrisburg store didn't have those models.  Round and round I went late Saturday afternoon, spending over an hour trying to settle on the right model, by myself.  My wife told me we had about 3 minutes until supper, and I decided I had spent enough time already.  
I ordered a pair of size 12 New Balance 1123 shoes and then sat down to delicious beef enchiladas. 
Their web site worked perfectly.  The coupon code the rep gave me worked perfectly.  I have a free pair of shoes coming my way this week, with a UPS tracking number arriving today.
Those you who know me will accurately predict "this all got me thinking".  Just what is important for a company selling running shoes?  Is it the shoe?  Or is it the contact, the advice, the service? 
Seth Godin makes the point, repeatedly, that the Web has made "commodities" out of almost anything we want to buy now.  I can do a Google Shopping search and find 20+ sources for the identical shoe.  If I am only shopping on the web, why would I choose one store over the other if not based on price?  To make yourself remarkable, to rise above mere "commodity", you have to do something the Web can't do...which is listen, respond and make a solution truly delightful for the end user.  
I entered into this agreement to see if this store could do this.  So far, no dice.  I have a pair of shoes coming my way I think ought to be OK, but I really don't know.  
Contrast this with a question I posed in this blog post last November...check out the very first comment.  The owner of Naperville Running Company somehow read my post, popped in, answered my question about shoes and offered to help me find a pair of discontinued Brooks Beasts.  He did, I ordered, I paid, I promote their store here.  I actually wore the pair he found in my long run yesterday.
Godin also points out with the ubiquity of the Web anyone can comment on customer service.  Very little happens in private.  
Like this post. 
Thanks for listening.  I'll keep you posted as the story continues.


IronWaddler said...

I was in Naperville running last weekend. They were great and actually put me in my first pair of New Balance!

Wes said...

I hope your experiment gos well. I've enjoyed my 723s I ordered from NB, and am currently swapping them out between my Zoots and Mizunos. So far, so good.

John said...

Great analysis, Joe, and perfectly tied in to your ideas on marketing. I hope the new shoes are worth the hassle you had to go through to get them!

I've worn NB shoes for the past year, and they seem to work well for me.. I use the 1224s now, since they discontinued the 1223 model. No problems, yet.

BTW, the November blog post link brings us to the New Balance Google search again.. no big deal, just thought I'd mention it. I went to the link "manually," though, and I remember that comment from Kris.. good to know they followed through!!

Darrell said...

There is something to be said for the human touch aspect of sales and marketing, but the internet has flourished in part (in my opinion) because people are tired of being "sold" something and the abundance of information out there makes it easier to make decisions without having to justify the choices to another live body. That being said, the death of customer service, is a sad thing.

Good luck with the new shoes. I used NB 7XX's a couple of years ago. They worked out well. I just remember them being stiffer than my trusted Brooks Trance.

Bob A said...

Interesting post, Joe. I'll be interested in your experience with NB's. I used NB's for about a year and my experience with the NB store in Greenville, SC was excellent. They matched me with a shoe and when that shoe turned out to be defective (I think the whole line was defective), the gave me full credit against another pair -- full credit even though they had sold me the original pair with a 10% discount and I told them that.

David said...

I have the same offer from NB Harrisburg but have not taken them up on it. I am a devoted fan of the Asics line. They just fit my arch best.
I am dismayed that nobody gave you the customer support I would ask for myself, since I have no idea what NB product correlates to my Kayanos.
I suppose the proof will be in the pudding of your own search.

David said...

P.S. I tried a 4/1 run/walk yesterday to see how it felt. I have issues. Come read and comment. Thanks.

Backofpack said...

Interesting Joe. I had the same offer and turned them down. Two reasons - first, once I find a good shoe I hate to mess with it. I'm afraid it'll cause some pain that will mess up my running. Second, she didn't jsut want a post, she wanted me to keep the NB logo/promotion on my sidebar for a year. I don't want to do that - my blog is for me, not for advertising. All that said, I'll be very interested to see how it all shakes out for you!

Mir said...

I had that offer too and just figured it would be too much of a hassle! Very interesting story of your experience. That's pretty disappointing about their customer service, or should I say, their lack of customer service. Ouch. That certainly doesn't reflect well on New Balance.

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