Run Industry Focuses on the Future
The running industry, true to form, is taking an optimistic look at 2022.
Coming off a year fueled by consumer demand and impacted by supply chain issues, the running industry, true to form, is focused firmly on the future as 2022 approaches. This positive energy was evident from conversations we had with attendees at Runchella, the Running Industry Association-hosted event where more than 100 running store owners and employees and 70 brand execs gathered in Denver in September.
The three-day Runchella event, dubbed a “Social Symposium,” was designed as a way for the industry to get together, listen, learn, and look ahead.
“The spirit of Runchella is all about the industry getting together after 18 months apart — to reconnect, learn a little bit and enjoy each other in a social setting. That spirit is alive and well,” Terry Schalow, RIA executive director, told us. “From the opening session here, the energy level was so high. People were so happy to see each other —the spirit of this group is fantastic.”
A future-forward focus emerged as discussions at the event revolved around key topics such as dealing with supply chain issues; collaborating with peers; and looking at the future of running retail, particularly as it relates to omnichannel, online selling and retail technology.
RIA board president Kathy Dalby, CEO of Pacers Running, told us, “The big topics for RIA retailers are of course things like supply chain, labor issues, omnichannel — all of those things. And COVID is a backdrop to everything we are operating under.”
Dalby noted, “We do so much sharing of information as peers — being a forum for people to engage and share has been great.”
One key development for many specialty retailers over the past two years has been a stronger focus on their online businesses. Those who already had an online presence, now have a stronger one. Those retailers who didn’t dabble online before, now certainly do. The next step is for these retailers to take that to the next level.
Among all the focuses for 2022, of course, the biggie for retailers and brands revolves around how to handle the volatile supply chain situation.
Dan Schade, On’s national sales director, USA, told us that having brands and retailers together at Runchella sharing ideas about those issues was invaluable. “You can really feel the difference when everyone is in the same room,” he said. “There is a lot happening in the marketplace and in this channel and we all need to work together. Whether it is getting through some supply chain issues and demand fluctuations or focusing on the growth of sport, it takes a lot of collaboration.”
At her stores, Dalby said that dealing with inventory challenges is made easier by carrying a variety of other offerings. “We are not brand specific,” she says. “We can be brand agnostic. Performance footwear in general is really good. There are still great shoes and great products available that are interesting and exciting. And in 2022 we might see a reemergence of some brands who have had some good product but just haven’t had a lot of buzz.”
Looking ahead, RIA board member Joe Toth, VP sales, Saucony, says that the past two years have set the channel up for the future. “COVID proved how resilient and dynamic this entire channel can be,” he says. “There is a desire amongst those in the running channel to never just stay the same. Nobody wants it to be ‘the same as it is always.’ Instead, it’s about ‘what can we do to evolve? How can we learn from each other?’”
News of Note: Fleet Feet Acquires JackRabbit
In a newsflash “heard round the run industry,” Fleet Feet announced in early November that it has agreed to acquire JackRabbit, the second-largest running specialty retailer in the U.S., from affiliates of CriticalPoint Capital. The transaction, expected to close in early December, includes all JackRabbit locations across 15 states and its jackrabbit.com e-commerce business.
It is the latest strategic investment Fleet Feet has made in its brick-and-mortar footprint this year. Over the past 10 months, Fleet Feet has acquired four franchise locations as a part of its succession plan for retiring owners; acquired FITNiche, the Central Florida run shop with three locations; and, opened five new stores with an additional two stores planned to open by the end of the year.
At the end of 2021, Fleet Feet will have 156 franchise-owned locations and 94 company-owned locations.
Fleet Feet, which says its sales are up more than 30% year-over-year, plans to incorporate its fit id 3D foot scanning outfitting experience into all locations by the end of Q1 2022. Digitally, jackrabbit.com will redirect to fleetfeet.com as soon as the transaction finalizes in early December. Long-term, Fleet Feet will transition all JackRabbit branding to Fleet Feet by the end of 2022.