After huge success with its runDisney shoes in 2013, New Balance will launch two new models on Jan. 8.
Last month at the pre-race expo for Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando, Fla., a long line of people stretched out of the makeshift store selling official runDisney merchandise.
Although most of the expo shop was filled with colorful runDisney T-shirts, sweatshirts and accessories adorned by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, there was no line for those products. The 75 or so people who could be found waiting in the line at any given time over the course of several hours were there for something else: Disney running shoes.
“I can’t wait to get a pair!” said a giddy woman near the back of the line named Carla, who was wearing a pink Minnie Mouse sweatshirt with a matching pink polka-dotted ribbon in her hair.
The official shoes of the runDisney race series, made by New Balance as part of a new multi-level partnership with Disney, debuted at the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend expo on Jan. 10 and became an instant collector’s item. New Balance sold out of almost every pair of the men’s and women’s red-white-and-yellow Disney-themed stability trainers at each of six remaining runDisney events throughout the rest of the year — including the Wine and Dine Half Marathon that concluded the season on Nov. 8-9.
Throughout the year, some of the colorful kicks could be found selling on eBay for $225 to $450 a pair.
“We were absolutely taken aback with how well the shoes sold,” says Bryan Gothie, senior product manager for running footwear at New Balance. “The Disney people sort of warned us that the Disney crowd might be a little bit different than a typical marathon expo. But the result has been awesome. We were amazed at how well the product resonated, both with runners and with Disney consumers.”
The shoe was modeled off the popular New Balance 860v3 stability trainer and sold for $125 — a $10 premium over the standard 860v3 model available at running stores.
“These shoes can let you experience a little bit of the (Disney) magic and fun when you’re running, and it allows you to show your Disney side, just a little bit.” says Dara Trujillo, manager of Merchandise Synergy, Events and Communication for Disney Theme Parks.
In many ways, New Balance has struck gold on its multi-year strategic partnership with Disney Parks & Resorts, which was announced on Jan. 8. Although the runDisney shoes are only available in limited quantities and don’t rank among New Balance’s best-selling products overall, the partnership has allowed the Boston-based shoe brand to exclusively tap into the growing base of runDisney participants and the fervent fans of all things Disney.
Plus, aside from being the official shoe of the runDisney series, New Balance is also the official athletic shoe of the Walt Disney World Resorts, Disneyland Resorts and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, as well as the official running shoe of Disney Track & Field and the official baseball shoe of Disney Amateur Baseball.
In January, New Balance will launch two 2014 Disney running shoes — a new version of the updated 860v4 stability shoe and a variation of the 890v4 neutral shoe. The men’s 890v4 ($120) will have a Goofy theme and color motif, while the women’s will carry a Cinderella theme. The new 860v4 models ($125) will have a a pink polka-dot Minnie Mouse theme for women and a red, yellow and blue Sorcerer Mickey theme for men. The 860v4 shoe will be available in kids’ sizes ($72) with a Minnie/Mickey theme.
The 2014 shoes will be packaged in a commemorative runDisney box. Race kits with footbeds highlighting each of the seven Disney races, collectible lace charms and a special sticker will be sold separately.
The new shoes will debut at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend expo in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 8–12 and, and as with the 2013 shoes, will only be available at the remaining six runDisney race expos. The shoes will not be sold online, at Disney stores, New Balance stores or specialty running stores.
Meanwhile, initial planning for the 2015 Disney shoes has begun. As with previous models, each will be based on existing in-line New Balance shoes.
“I think the most important thing we want our consumers to know is that we’re taking two of our best shoes in our NBx performance line—our go-to 890 neutral cushioning shoe and our go-to 860 stability shoe—and, yes, we’re creating a special make-up of the shoe for runDisney, but there should be an expectation that they’ll be great shoes because they’re based exactly off the same go-to in-line models available at stores,” says Ali McGuinn, integrated marketing associate for New Balance.
After the somewhat unexpected wild popularity at the first runDisney event last January, New Balance officials scrambled to move up production and re-order additional quantities of the shoes for the remainder of the year. They sold almost completely out of their entire inventory at every runDisney event, a rather uncanny feat when it comes to race expo shoe sales.
Typically a big running shoe company might bring 400 to 1,000 pairs of shoes to a major marathon expo—New York City, Boston or Chicago, for example—where 20,000 or more runners might pass through en route to picking up their race packet. But in those cases, the expectation is that only half of the shoes might sell, because most runners don’t buy shoes at race expos and often the company runs out of specific sizes at its expo booth.
But at the first runDisney event last January, New Balance, which shipped a quantity that was on par with its success at expos in Boston and New York, sold through every pair it hand on hand. (New Balance won’t give out the actual numbers, but a 1,000 pairs is a good guesstimate.) At that event and every subsequent race expo, runners eager to buy Disney shoes lined up and, if they were told their size was no longer available by the time they reached the shoe-fitting area, many bought another size or whatever size was left. New Balance is bringing five times as many shoes to this year’s Walt Disney World Marathon Expo.
“We’ve never seen anything close to that kind of an excitement for a shoe,” says Josh Rowe, who heads up global performance marketing for New Balance. “People stood in line for an hour or more and bought any size that was left, even if it wasn’t close to their size.”
New Balance designed the 2013 in relatively short time window, given that the agreement was just being formulated in the fall of 2012. But for the 2014 models, the New Balance footwear team working on the project was able to visit with Disney product and merchandising teams, as well as gain insights from visiting Disney World. After several rounds of design phases, the shoes were finalized in September.
The New Balance Disney footwear project is the latest example of the small but growing trend of special edition running shoes. Several companies, including New Balance, have launched special editions of shoes for the New York City Marathon and Boston Marathon in recent years. Spira, a small footwear company in El Paso, Texas, has been working on a “Duck Dynasty” collection of running shoes in collaboration with the hit TV show on the A&E Network. ASICS has created shoes to help raise breast cancer awareness and prostate cancer awareness. New Balance has a separate partnership with the Boston Red Sox, but as of yet, there are no plans to launch a Red Sox-themed running shoe.