One of the defining points of outdoor specialty retail is that it is where customers can go to discover what’s truly new. Local shop owners are the ones who often take the risk to bring in a small, start-up brand, differentiating themselves from the big boys. In this reoccurring series, SNEWS will identify and highlight the new kids on the outdoor block vying for a place on those shelves.
When San Diego-based Lalo Tactical Footwear seeks feedback for its boots and athletic shoes, it looks across the bay to Coronado Beach, where U.S. Navy SEALs put the products through a world of hurt.
"Everything we do runs through this filter," said Jay Taylor, Lalo’s CEO. In short, if Lalo’s shoes are good enough for elite Special Forces product testers, Taylor believes they can withstand the rigorous demands for many outdoor and fitness customers, whether on the trail or in the gym.
The Lalo name comes from one of the company’s founders, former SEAL Nathanael "Lalo" Roberti, who while serving, realized that the military boots had much room for improvement, especially in terms of comfort. An abbreviated origin story includes five founders. Some, like Roberti, gave input on the technical needs for a better shoe, while others were veteran shoe designers or marketers. Initial plans to distribute its shoes through Deckers Outdoor Corporation stalled in 2013 due to financing and so the Lalo founders decided to re-acquire the brand license. To help bring the brand to market, they added Taylor as CEO, and Shannon Baker to head media relations, both of the Soze Group. Taylor and Baker met the LALO team while working with Deckers to launch the acclaimed Hoka One One running shoe in the U.S. market.
The goal is to take the military-inspired footwear brand and its lightweight, breathable, and water-resistant athletic shoes beyond its niche roots.
Lalo’s latest “sport” product line, which debuted to the industry at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014, includes two boots and four athletics shoes. The collection is available in men's and women's sizes and comes in military-inspired color schemes, including a "night vision" option to brighten things up with some neon.
The Shadow Amphibian boot (MSRP $350), for example, locks into swim fins, drains water and dries quickly. The Intruder (MSRP $325) excludes the ports. While the boot's swim-fin lock is purely for military use, hunters and hikers will notice a patented flex plate inside the rocker sole, designed to create a smoother, more efficient stride to spring the foot forward.
Those features improve both the shoe’s comfort and performance, especially when carrying a backpack or gear. In Lalo's boots, "you're about 30 percent more efficient when you're under load," Taylor said.
The same feedback that informed Lalo’s boot design went into its shoes. Enter the Recon (MSRP $150), an 8.3-ounce rocker-sole running shoe with ports in the arch to quickly drain water.
"The running shoe specifically, we built with a three-density midsole and outsole to it, so that we know that it replicates a lot of those features you get in the boot without having to put a plate in it," Taylor said. This proprietary EVA sole is denser where it meets the road, softer in the heel for cushioning, and harder in the front sole where the foot hits for a quicker toe-off.
The Grinder (MSRP $130) is the brand’s most street-savvy shoe and designed for more agile workouts. The Bloodbird (MSRP $130) is sturdier, with an eye on the gym and CrossFit crowds. Both shoes generate support from an external arch and a stability wrap across the top of midfoot. They weigh 6.2 ounces and have a 4-mm drop.
All the shoes have protective toecaps made from SuperFabric, a nylon shell reinforced with ceramic beads used by other apparel brands to protect the vulnerable spots in ski, motorcycle, and military apparel. In Baker's own experience, a set of burpees did more damage to the floor than the shoes.
To build on its social media presence among the active lifestyle audience, Lalo Sport sponsors two athletes who train and compete in a several disciplines: extreme surfer and paddleboard racer Dave Kalama and Ironman Chris Lieto.
At Outdoor Retailer, the company's multi-sport approach generated encouraging interest from mom-and-pop running stores and bigger outdoor retailers like REI and Cabela's, Taylor said.
Taylor is also CEO of The Soze Group, a distribution company that will use its existing framework of support services, like distributor outreach and IT, to promote a smooth launch for Lalo.
"No one wants to talk to you when you're a startup unless you've got some history. The Soze Group has a 12-, 13-year history, so it allows a lot of flexibility in terms of vendor relationships," Taylor said.
Lalo intends to ship its initial orders to retailers in January 2015 for a spring launch.
The company has discussed expanding into apparel by fall 2016. It turns out even SEAL candidates aren't exempt from severe chaffing in outdated gear.
Does Lalo have what it takes to make it in your specialty outdoor retail store? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page. Or, email us about another newcomer to the outdoors we should feature here.