Shoe company puts pedal to the metal again
By Kevin Mio,
June 5, 2014
The Piloti shoe brand was once popular among driving and racing enthusiasts for years and was once worn by such drivers as Jacques Villeneuve and Ron Fellows, before the company fell on hard times. It will begin to rise from the ashes at this year’s Canadian Grand Prix, having been snapped up by Canadian Tire.
Photo courtesy of Piloti
The Piloti name was popular among driving and racing enthusiasts for years, but a sluggish U.S. economy early this decade doomed the shoemaker, ultimately forcing it to shut down in 2012.
But the brand, which was once worn by drivers like Jacques Villeneuve and Ron Fellows, will begin to rise from the ashes this weekend in Montreal. The shoemaker, which is now in Canadian hands after being started in California in 1999, will be present during the Crescent St. festivities surrounding Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.
“It had got into trouble in 2012 and we knew it had done very well prior to that and we were tipped off a little bit about the brand and the following (it had),” said Andrew Davies, president of the Piloti brand and vice-president of automotive at Canadian Tire, the company that snapped up the shoemaker.
“It didn’t make sense to leave it dormant for long. When we heard about it, I think, quite honestly we were one of the only companies interested in an automotive brand like that,” Davies said, adding that as they took over the business, people from around the world started inquiring as to where and when they would be able to get new Piloti shoes.
Davies says the brand is being relaunched this summer on an international scale, but it will be stronger than in the past.
“A number of the existing people who like the brand will be picking it up again,” he said. “But, obviously, with a stable company like Canadian Tire behind me, a lot of other customers feel comfortable distributing and buying into the brand.”
Distribution will begin in Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia, but don’t expect to see these shoes in chain stores or in Canadian Tire outlets, Davies said. The shoes will be sold at racetracks around the country and in specialty stores only, as well as being available online.
“This season, we will be launching with the bestsellers of the past,” he said, like the Prototipo model, which is part of their casual lineup.
What made Piloti a favourite with enthusiasts, though, was its performance line.
“We will also be continuing with the racing FIA approved shoe,” Davies said. “We aren’t deviating at all from the true heritage of (the brand).”
So, what makes a Piloti shoe special?
“The Piloti brand has a worldwide patent for the sole,” Davies said. “It’s called roll-heel technology.
“That is what differentiates it from other racing shoes on the market. It’s one the reasons drivers liked it all along — is that it really aids in heel-toe shifting. It actually lets your foot (move) more naturally because your heel is round. Well the sole on this shoe is round like your heel.”
But the company is also expanding the lineup to include a luxury shoe.
“It would still share the patent sole technology, but now would be on a shoe you could wear every day, including in the office or out at night,” Davies said.
Pricing for the shoes will begin around $120 and will reach as high as $450, Davies said.
Davies admits the ultimate goal would be to get Formula One drivers to use the Piloti shoe, but he knows that is an uphill battle.
“It certainly, out of the gate, is not going to be easy (convincing F1 drivers to use their shoes),” he said.
Drivers like Villeneuve, Fellows, Scott Dickson, Patrick Dempsey and Robbie Gordon are among some of past drivers who were wearing the shoes without compensation, Davies said.
“They truly felt they were the best shoe and wanted to wear them,” he added. “If the drivers really like the shoe and they believe they are more comfortable than other shoes, then that is where we would like to start.”
Davies said the plan is to start at the grassroots level, adding that the company does have contacts with existing drivers and teams.
“The focus will probably be more Canadian, out of the gate,” he said.
Visitors to Crescent St. this weekend will get a chance to win pairs of Piloti shoes, as well as be entered into a grand prize that consists of a two-day experience at the Bob Bondurant racing school in Arizona.
Visitors to the Piloti booth will be able to take part in race challenges on a PS4 system, three participants at a time, and experience how the Piloti shoes feel while making pedal transitions. The fastest time in each session will win a cap, while the fastest driver of the day will win a prize pack that includes a shirt and shoes.