Thursday, July 29, 2010

Vibram's Plans for World Domination

The picture is becoming clear. 

You've got to remember: Vibram is in the business of selling soles to shoe manufacturers.  Vibram FiveFingers were a little sideline for them, an experiment, that took off beyond their wildest dreams.

Apparently Wolverine (the company that makes Merrell boots and shoes) is one of their bigger customers. The new Merrell Barefoot line of shoes is being comarketed with Vibrams.

My local outdoor store said Vibram and Merrell are coming together next week to show the new lines: FiveFingers and Barefoot, side by side. A complete solution.

You want toes? Vibram Fivefingers. You want barefoot-style shoes without toes? Merrell Barefoot, with a Vibram sole.

NB Minimus
And now, the last piece of the plan: You want something a little more traditional? New Balance Minimus, with a Vibram sole, and Tony Krupicka's smiling face.

Vibram offered the five finger concept as a sole to all of their existing customers (the shoe manufacturers) and they all turned it down. That freed up Vibram to create it. They won't compete against their shoe manufacturer customers, however, so all the "shoe" versions of Vibram's concept are going to come from traditional shoe makers.

Vibram clearly can't meet the manufacturing requirement for these kinds of shoes.  They're trying hard, but you can only ramp up so fast. Wolverine and New Balance already have the capacity, on the other hand. It's pretty brilliant, I think. A nice win-win situation.
What will be interesting to see is how Vibram will respond to this.  It's pretty clearly a patent violation, IMHO.

UPDATE: Follow-ups here and here.