Shop Talk
Saint City Running, Saint Paul, MN.
With 2024 fast approaching, we reached out to specialty running retailers for input on their business challenges over the past year, what products, categories or brands they are excited about bringing in, and what their hopes are for 2024.

At the same time, we examined responses to the latest Running Industry Association Retailer Survey to get a handle on key industry trends.

The direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategies of running shoe brands emerged as a key issue in both the RIA survey and in our conversations with retailers. Some 48 percent of respondents to the RIA’s questions said they take a brand’s DTC policy into account but that it does not change how much product is ordered from the brand. Another 32 percent of respondents told the trade group they sell products no matter what brands do in the DTC channel while 18 percent admitted that every brand’s DTC policy is considered during the assortment planning process.

Trey Vernon, owner of the Manhattan (KS) Running Company, Nicholas Stanko from the Ann Arbor Running Company, and Justin Craig from RUNdetroit, shared their thoughts on the DTC issue with us.

“One hope that I haven’t let go of yet is that one day all run specialty brands will decide to only sell products for full price online,” opined Stanko. “DTC is here to stay and if we can level the playing field a little so stores don’t have to compete on price, everyone will win.”

Vernon concurred with a wish that someday run specialty shops and vendors “can come together” and find common ground on the DTC issue.

“We’re feeling the pinch of brands’ DTC marketing efforts, but maybe not in the typical ways,” offered Craig, pointing to a rise in the practice of showrooming by customers. He alluded to medical professionals who might come into the store looking for a specific brand. “Having conversations with these customers has had mixed results as far as converting them to a brick-and-mortar sale,” he noted, adding that many of those specific customers aren’t interested in brands that are not trending like On or Hoka are.

Specialty service at Manhattan Running Company, Manhattan, KS.

Strong Products & Categories

Some 56 percent of respondents to the RIA survey estimated that footwear would be their fastest-growing segment in 2023, ahead of both accessories (30%) and apparel (14%). And 56 percent also told the trade group that they expected Q3 and Q4 sales combined to be “flat to up 10 percent” for the six months.

In response to runstyle’s question about new brands or product categories, both Vernon and Brian Nasuta at Charm City Run expressed excitement to us about bringing Puma’s range of performance running shoes to their customers.

And Jeff Metzdorff at Mill City Running in Minneapolis told us: “New brands are going to enter the apparel space at run specialty and bring much needed energy to the category. We’ll see some product that makes running seem cool again, similarly to what Rapha did for cycling.”

Stanko, whose Ann Arbor Running Company (AARC) is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2024, intends to continue the three-door chain’s ongoing search for products that it can brand as exclusive AARC gear.

“The more products that we can carry that you can only find at our shop, the better,” he suggested. “Just the other day, I found a new casual apparel company that we can brand with our logo that looks to be promising.”

Charm City Run has seven stores in Maryland and one in Delaware.

Hopes for the Year Ahead

Both Metzdorff and Craig offered up advice for their peers and the running industry as a whole as they race forward into 2024.

“This industry is still dominated by independently owned shops and we’re much better together than we are apart,” Metzdorff said. “Connecting, sharing knowledge, and encouraging respectful dialogue within the industry is something so simple that we often forget it’s there for the taking.”

As for his wishes for the running industry, Craig suggested, “Have fun, sell shoes, enjoy running more often, and drink good beer. My biggest hope would be more open and real conversations between brand’s sales and marketing teams and local run shops before they bring a program to market. There are a lot of ideas coming out of conference rooms that don’t align with the goals of local run shops.”

In his own business, Craig is aiming to continue turning challenges into bright spots with a new store location. “Our landlord decided not to renew our lease,” he explained. “This created a challenge in finding a new location that met our needs. It’s also been a major bright spot. We’re moving to a much bigger location where we’ll be on a busy corner with great visibility. We’re taking the lessons we’ve learned about running retail for the past 10 years and building this new space to better suit our needs now and for many, many years to come.”