Puma is known in the United States for its streetwise, hip sneakers. But internationally, the company has a long heritage in performance footwear — and now it wants to put that history onto the feet of U.S. runners.

Puma has sold cutting-edge running shoes in the U.S. before, but the German company never before made a concentrated push, partly because it wanted to fine-tune its shoes first, says Jay Piccola, president of Puma North America. But getting the shoes right is only the beginning. “A great
product is the entrance fee,” he says. “Communicating that product is the next big challenge.”

Puma’s marketing plan is tightly focused on serious runners. A Puma van is touring running events, and the shoes are sold only in 70 stores, mostly running specialty shops.

But high-mileage runners are fanatics about their shoes. Why focus on them, perhaps the hardest sell of all?

Piccola says persuading runners to switch is tough,
but Puma has exceeded its expectations for breaking into specialty shops and attracting attention at marathons. “We’ve had interest from bigger retailers, but we feel that it’s important to go this way,” he explains. “We don’t want to step over that very important runner’s market.”

With such a targeted strategy, it’s likely that Puma will grow at walking, rather than running, speed. That’s fine by Piccola. “We’re not driven by having to make a bunch of numbers,” he says. “We’re prepared to be patient.”