Running has accelerated at a relentless pace over the past two years, and the path to success has been as open as the roads where people clock up their miles.

Since the beginning of the running boom created by the pandemic, category executives have been open about the many ways they have leaned into the business. But as consumer lifestyles shift again in 2022, they must embrace new strategies to engage athletes of all types.

Below, market experts identify four opportunities that running brands will need to capitalize on to cross the finish line before the competition.

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POSITION RUNNING SHOES AS STREETWEAR

Performance running shoes have been out of fashion for a while, but insiders suggest that’s about to change.

“There are more people running, more people wearing running shoes, and people are going to want to look like the next trend. When a fashion element comes into play, it changes the dynamic dramatically,” Matt said. Powell, Senior Sports Industry Advisor at The NPD Group Inc. “There are a lot of people who want to look like a runner, but not a hard-core runner. We’re going to see people who want to wear running shoes. running like casual shoes.

Wendy Yang, president of the performance and lifestyle group at Deckers Brands, also thinks the performance run will be embraced for style and thinks Hoka One One is well positioned to capitalize.

“Running shoes represent the largest segment of the performance category. While consumers wear them to help them perform, they also buy them for the look and feel of them,” Yang said. “At Hoka, we call the intersection of performance and lifestyle athletics. We’ve built this segment authentically to Hoka, taking some of our most popular performance franchises, such as Bondi and Mafate, and dressing them in interesting materials, with color blocking and finishes that set the benchmark. for trendy consumers. .”

She noted that the adoption of Hoka shoes in the streetwear space provides the brand with a key opportunity to expand its fan base.

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As fashion trends begin to shift towards running, Powell believes brands need to adjust their approach to product delivery to meet demand.

“The way performance running shoes are traditionally brought to market is that brands release last year’s model during the summer and reintroduce new styles in the fall,” Powell said. “If we see the business becoming more fashionable [play], the demands for novelty are great. There will have to be a constant introduction of new products, new colors, new materials, perhaps bringing back dormant styles. The versions will be smaller and faster.

According to Powell, the athlete getting started in running will drive this trend, forcing a shift in market mindset.

“The new runner doesn’t think about shoes like the old runner did. They want shoes that look cool, they also want shoes that are versatile, that they can wear for more than just running,” Powell said. “New customers are going to buy shoes in a different way, and that will force the market to react.”

The industry insider thinks two brands are well positioned to lead this trend: Puma and On.

“Puma came out with a new running line 18 months ago that looked trendy from the start. They were able to marry performance and fashion in one shoe,” Powell said. non-runners, and their products lend themselves to fashion. It has visible technology, people immediately recognize that it is an On shoe and they have opened their distribution to fashion retailers. It positions them well.

And with the recent introduction of Lululemon’s first running sneaker, the category could see a further uptick in demand among casual wearers.


Runners in the Puma Velocity Nitro 2.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Puma

FOCUS ON RECOVERY

One of the biggest opportunities for the racing market, according to space players, is also one of the most obvious: post-race recovery.

“Most running stores have started playing this game a little bit. If they haven’t, they should,” said Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running Co, based in Washington. ‘Illinois.

The store owner said the concept of recovery within the specialty shopping channel took off 15 years ago with nutrition and then evolved into products such as compression socks and garments, tools such as the Hyperice suite and more. The shoe part, according to Hartner, gained momentum with the introduction of Oofos in 2011.

Hartner told FN he saw the opportunity there and was the first specialty store in the United States to carry the brand. And in April 2020, it also made the decision to stock comfort favorite Birkenstock again.

“For some stores, this combination of having both Oofos and Birkenstock — very cleanly distributed products that are hard to get, they’re not everywhere — is a no-brainer,” Hartner explained.

He said Naperville Running Co. will invest even more in post-race recovery this month. The brand has transformed its Annex door into a Birkenstock pop-up store, which will remain open until June, and will launch an Oofos shop-in-shop in its South store.

While Oofos has been clear and consistent in its focus on recovery since its inception, Birkenstock is a relative newcomer to athletics retail channels. In January 2021, the company tapped industry veteran Jim Van Dine, former Hoka chairman and co-founder of Ahnu, to bolster its presence on the specialty channel.

“The intention is to further emphasize the orthopedic benefit of [Birkenstock] as opposed to the casual fashion look. It’s at the heart and soul of what Birkenstock is,” Van Dine told FN. “That’s how it started over 200 years ago in Germany, that’s how it was introduced in the United States almost 60 years ago, but the fashion success has overwhelmed [that aspect of the brand].”

Van Dine, who will join Birkenstock as athletic and outdoor category director in April, said he had landed 50 to 60 new accounts on the channel – starting with Naperville Running Co. – and had 10 to 20. more in his queue. The goal, Van Dine said, is 160 doors a year from now.


Naperville Running Co. Birkenstock

A look inside the Birkenstock pop-up at the door of the Naperville Running Co. annex, which will remain open until June.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Naperville Running Co.

FOCUS ON THE TRAIL

Run attendance and visits to outdoor spaces increased as COVID-19 swept the country two years ago, so it’s only fitting that trail running – a marriage of the two activities – has become a bigger priority. for sneaker brands.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2022 Topline Participation Report, 12.5 million people hit the trails for a run in 2021, a 5.6% increase from the 11.9 million people who engaged in the activity in 2020 and a 13.9% increase from the 11 million people. in 2019.

At The Running Event in Austin, Texas last December, industry giants such as Altra, Speedland and La Sportiva unveiled their upcoming styles for Fall 22, and the most compelling selections were in trail space.

One of the most eye-catching looks on the show came from Hoka with the Tecton X, its first trail shoe with a carbon plate which will arrive in May. Hoka’s focus on category and intent to lead the competition is intentional, according to Yang.

“Hoka was born in the Alps, and because of that, we will always consider trail running a core part of our DNA,” she said. “That’s why we offer a range of trail and hiking products for all consumers, whether they are just starting out on their trail journey or competing on the trails of Chamonix. [France].”

The focus on trail running came to fruition further in October 2021, when the brand signed a multi-year partnership to become the first premier global partner of the UTMB World Series in Chamonix. The partnership extends to 2023 and there are options to extend it to 2024 and beyond.


Altra Mont Blanc

Altra Mont-Blanc.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Altra

COMMUNICATE YOUR VISION

Dan Fitzgerald, co-owner of Heartbreak Hill Running Co., believes the biggest market opportunity is simply, “Tell me why I should care about you.”

He continued, “The world is flat in terms of making good shoes. There are tons of companies out there doing great work, and because there’s a lot of good stuff out there, what’s the differentiator? »

Yang agreed and pointed to the goal as a worthy differentiator. “The next generation of consumers aren’t buying based on product or price alone, but on how a brand’s values ​​align with their own. Feeling ethically satisfied with a purchase is more important than ever before,” she explained.

This “prove your worth” mindset, according to Fitzgerald, is also essential for retailers.

“Why would you come to a store? Why would you hear about a boutique? You can’t just talk about GAIT scanning, it can’t just be about free scans. What will actually connect? Fitzgerald explained. “If we can’t tell great stories, connect with great moments, and infuse our brand into it and make it powerful and fun, then we’re failures.”

For Heartbreak Hill, this was evident in its house-brand internationalist race kit which was released on the eve of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The retailer has created a bold look fusing several very different inspirations, including the rebellious attitude Fitzgerald fell in love with during his time in the surf industry and Yves Saint Laurent’s famous Piet Mondrian-inspired cocktail dress from 1965 As for colors, Heartbreak tied to the Olympic rings — blue, yellow, black, green and red.

This combination of high ideals and high fashion, coupled with a desire to celebrate sports, is what Heartbreak consumers are looking for, Fitzgerald said.

“In its execution, in terms of the vision for the brand and how it looked and released on the eve of Beijing, it came together in a powerfully authentic way, although, if you take one of those elements alone, that sounds crazy,” he explained.

Looking ahead, the retailer said Heartbreak Hill will tell a story through its private label for the Boston Marathon focusing on modern medicine and the city’s place in innovation in this space. Additionally, the retailer will carry the story by working to highlight the stories of caregivers.


Heartbreak Hill Running Co. Internationalist Kit

The Heartbreak Hill Running Co.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Heartbreak Hill Running Co.

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