Recent statistics about running from the Sports & Fitness Association’s annual State of the Industry Report published earlier this year are both promising and provide some reason for concern. Running or jogging was the fifth-largest activity undertaken by Americans (ages 6+) in 2022 with more than 47.8 million participants. That is a solid base to pull in customers from. But on the downside, year-over-year running/jogging participation fell by 2.4 percent, according to the research report. Nonetheless, there is more positive news and potential for the industry in the months and years ahead—trail running is the 11th fastest-growing sports/activity since 2019 with a participation increase of 20.5 percent over three years.
Runstyle reached out to several run specialty retailers across the U.S., many of whom were engaged in the seasonal transition from summer to autumn merchandise assortments and marketing missions, with three questions about key products, trends, or categories they excited about, the current inventory availability climate and “What makes them smile when they come into their store every day?” Here’s some of what they had to say.
What are you particularly excited or optimistic about from a business standpoint?
Brittany Katz, owner and operator of Terra Running Company in Cleveland, TN is excited about her store’s growth in the nutrition category.
“We have focused on adding an assortment of types of nutrition, brands, and ingredients and we have seen an uptick in customers trying new things,” she said. “They come in multiple times a month to stock up and we make sure there is always something new for them to try. We have restocked Huma, added Power Bar and Untapped, added a few brands’ hydro-gel versions and increased our assortment of Skratch Labs.”
At Ted’s Shoe & Sports in downtown Keene, NH, owner Ted McGreer is “keenly” fond of a new brand being sold in the store.
“I’m particularly excited about our partnership with Sky Manufacturing,” McGreer offers. “These folks have changed the game with attractive, yet incredibly technical apparel and they custom brand each item with our own brand… Sky essentially private labels every possible running-specific style we ask for. There’s been huge power in having our own apparel and sock brand, and they are a real asset to run specialty retailers.”
Maggie King, assistant manager at Charlotte Running Company in North Carolina and Phillip Howe, the owner of Howe2Run in Savannah, GA continue to see strength and vitality from some major brands whose products and innovations are resonating with running consumers.
“We are very excited about three products on the footwear side,” says Howe. The brands behind those products — Nike, Puma, and Diadora — have regional sales and tech reps “who are working very hard to service run specialty…and their technology and foams are getting excellent reviews from the run community here,” he offers after lauding the three brands for their engagement with his store via events, races, demo, and group runs.
“Brands are understanding what customers are looking for in terms of cushioning and aesthetics,” opines King. “It’s exciting to be proud of the product in the backroom having full confidence that brands are offering fantastic products to our customers.”
Trail running and hiking are being embraced by more customers at Runners Roost in Lake-wood, CO, where president and founder Sonya Estes is also excited by major shoe updates from Asics and “great growth” from both Hoka and On that have customers asking what all the buzz is about as new styles are introduced.
“For our customer, being on the trails and in the outdoors is a lifestyle,” remarks Estes. “The Nike trail collection is making some awesome product on the footwear and apparel side that allows us to stand out as a specialty retailer and have an educated conversation with our customers in helping them find the right gear for their outdoor needs.”
What about current product availability and shortages?
Most surveyed retailers told us that their product availability situation is better than a year-ago or “solid” in Howe’s case, including improved vendor shipping times and a now “seamless” operation in getting “at once” and “drop ship” orders out in a timely fashion.
But Charlotte Running’s King said her store’s product availability today “ebbs and flows weekly,” particularly when it comes to obtaining footwear styles in certain colors. “Popular styles from Hoka are becoming increasingly harder to get, whereas from On things (delivery times) just keep getting better.”
McGreer commented that his New Hampshire store is starting to see some shortages from key players that may last until early Spring 2024. “Many of us way overbought in early Spring 2023, which essentially caused a good number of cancellations,” he notes. “I’m not sure our vendors planned for such a significant uptick in Q2 demand, and my assumption is they held back some POs for goods based upon their own inventory positions.”
At Runners Roost, Estes is complimentary of brands such as Brooks, Saucony, Asics, New Balance, Hoka, and Nike for continuing to make “great products.” She stresses that having color options is key for her customers. And she says her running apparel business remains a “bit of a challenge” despite exceptional growth from Vuori.
“We find that currently function is winning out and people want bottoms with pockets and crossover pieces that are not just run-specific,” she adds. “Our customers workout, take kids to school, go shopping, and sometimes work in our apparel so it needs to meet several standards and look good.”
What makes you smile every day when you arrive at your store?
The answers here were varied. Howe’s smile comes from his four years in business; the 250+ members of his store’s walk, walk/run, run, fitness and veterans’ community; and from the store’s ability to thrive after a fire destroyed its original location followed by the pandemic during its first two years in operation.
Katz smiles about Terra’s ability to implement fun, innovative ideas for her small, one-door operation. “We are able to be agile and flexible to meet the needs of our customers,” she suggests. “We wanted to drive first-time traffic to the store this summer by targeting new runners.
“We came up with a new Runner Starter Pack free to first-time customers who got fit and purchased shoes from us. It included samples of some of our favorite items for new runners—Nuun, Body Glide, a store sticker, a pair of socks, and a copy of Martinus Evans’ book “Slow AF Run Club.” I was proud of our ability to come up with an exciting way to entice new runners to visit the store and support them in their running journey.”
Katz is currently working on a new concept for Terra, a shoe purchasing subscription service.
King finds joy in Charlotte Running’s opportunity to “serve customers and find solutions for whatever problems they are having or experiences with moving their bodies that they are looking to improve,” adding, “We get the chance to play a much bigger role in members of our community’s lives, much more than just providing them with shoes.”
McGreer’s smile-inducing element is likely felt by many of his colleagues in the U.S. retail run specialty business from coast-to-coast today.
“We get to work in such a healthy environment. Our staff is so loyal to our industry,” he notes. “They get their runs in before work and bring those happy endorphins in with them every day. We have customers from every walk of life, [including] medical referrals. Helping someone alleviate pain associated with an injury is such a great cause for celebration.”