Why Is Garmin the Gold Standard in GPS Watches?

My first day on the CES floor, I saw the Garmin booth. I bypassed the various dedicated GPS units, and headed right for the display of Forerunners in all their glory. Along the way, I was stopped by one of Garmin’s reps, and when I explained how excited I was to see their booth because “I love Garmin!”, he laughed and said “You must be a runner, people always say that because of the Forerunner.”

We had a good laugh, and he showed off their various new watches. I was deeply in awe of how much smaller and sleeker each generation seems to get. But after chatting about the Forerunner for a bit and moving on through the floor, it got me thinking: Why do runners love the Forerunner line so much?

There’s no denying that Garmin has a tight hold on the running community. Head to a local race, and note how many synchronized beeps you hear at the start and each mile marker. Or how many runners you see beforehand with one hand over their head or out in front of them to get satellite signal. Chances are, while you might spot the occasional Polar or Nike+, all that beeping and satellite tracking is being done by runners wearing some generation of a Forerunner GPS watch. Major running logs like RunningAhead and Daily Mile can import Garmin watch data, and as much as Nike+, Magellan, Timex, and Suunto have tried, no one can dethrone the Forerunner, warts and all.

Just look anecdotally at those of us at Gear Diary. I have had a Forerunner 410 for a few years, and Mike used a Garmin Forerunner 10 over his Nike+ watch for his marathon after using it for just two days! I have a Garmin because my running buddy has one, and her experience convinced me it was a worthwhile device. The watches are simple to use, but contain more options for data and tracking than any one runner could possibly desire. And increasingly, they are becoming less like enormous GPS units strapped to your wrist and more watch-like and attractive. Even with new threats from smartphone-connected smart watches coming this year, I don’t see Garmin’s foothold being loosened anytime soon.

Garmin has a few advantages that competitors will have a hard time replicating.¬†They’ve been making GPS watches for a very long time, which means they’ve consistently refined their product and proved they can improve and adjust. Because of their longevity in that market, they’ve developed a deep bench of loyal users on running forums, at races, and in retail running stores. I said above that my running buddy uses a Garmin. So do most of my running friends. When Sarah decided to buy me a GPS watch, she asked around and only one word came back: Garmin. When my Garmin has had issues, all it’s taken is a quick email to a friend or a Google search, and I found my fix from community resources before I even had Garmin’s support page loaded all the way. That’s how deep the entrenched community is.

Finally, Garmin knows how much we love them. They do photo shoots with well-known runners, their name is slapped all over races and race promotions, and yes, they know that when someone says “I love Garmin”, it’s not because their Nuvi is so fantastic, it’s because to runners Garmin means one thing and one thing only: a fantastic running watch. As long as the folks at Garmin know and appreciate that, they’ll stay up front in the race for runner’s wallets and loyalty!

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