In what may seem to some to be an atypical performance running retail environment, the 102-year-old chain has nearly tripled its dollar volume in performance running shoes over the last two years and has subsequently earmarked 38 stores, or nearly 30 percent of its fleet, for dedicated running departments with customized assortments for the particular market’s consumers. Many of Tradehome’s running customers may not even describe themselves as “core runners,” and include plenty of new runners such as first-time 5K participants — but many of them don’t blink at paying $150 for a pair of technical running kicks. Tradehome’s run-focused doors are in all corners of the chain’s retail footprint ranging from Albuquerque, NM to Chattanooga, TN and the category’s dollar growth is impressive, considering performance running was barely on the chain’s radar five years ago.
“Running became one our biggest ‘pull the rope’ categories with the emergence of On and Hoka. We were onto those brands early on,” says Justin Kehrwald, president and CEO of Tradehome, which is an employee stock-owned business. Kehrwald has plenty to say about the running category and the brands Tradehome does business with on a regular basis. He continues to challenge his buying team to find newness and new brands to add to its running assortments.
The breakthrough for Tradehome with the running category occurred between Summer 2020 and Spring 2021 with brands that were able to manufacture products and fulfill orders despite industrywide supply chain woes. The banner’s customers were introduced to “new” running brands while other retailers were clamoring to get product from other vendors.
“You know, there’s not a Fleet Feet everywhere, and gosh, there’s not a Naperville Running Company in every suburb. These guys are the best. But we’ve found that we can really fill consumer needs for running in specific communities,” Kehrwald notes.
The retailer shares its full range of run customers with the likes of Apple, American Eagle, and Victoria’s Secret, but to-date has focused on “an ankle down approach” and avoided entering the apparel segment. Beyond shoes, through its performance fitting process, the product focus is on insoles and orthotics using Aetrex’s Albert scanning technology, after-sport footwear from Oofos and technical running socks.
Tradehome doesn’t have a chainwide planogram for its doors, nor does it try and simulate running assortments that a big box or mall-based retailer might offer down the street in one of its dedicated run markets. Instead, the chain utilizes the expertise of its head buyer, two dedicated athletic buyers and input from its in-house computer team that uses algorithms to create heat maps and size ranges for different regions of the country.
Market-specific assortments emerge from this effort, making brands such as Altra, Mizuno, Saucony, and Brooks more vital in some Tradehome markets than others. A one-time strong relationship with Asics has returned on a smaller level. And the retailer currently does more business than ever with New Balance, but most of it is lifestyle-focused rather than technical running product. Puma and Diadora are seen by the retailer as two brands on the rise in running to keep an eye on.
Kehrwald heaps his most brand praise on On and Hoka, which helped ignite the chain’s course into running. “Hoka’s never been more relevant and they’re doing a really good job on both sides of performance and fashion.” Meanwhile, On’s Cloudmonster at $169.99 is one of the chain’s top-selling styles today.
Maintaining price integrity for the running shoe brands it carries is vitally important to the chain’s strategy. And understanding what women want from their gear is also key.
“The female customer cares a little bit more about accents so that a shoe is going to work well with the colors of the season,” offers Kehrwald. That demand has Tradehome making sure that it has multiple color options available in the most relevant running styles.