By Brian Metzler
The Running Event trade show in Austin, Texas, earlier this month brought together most of the running industry’s suppliers, retailers and distributors for the first time in two years. It was one of the biggest shows in the 15-year history of the event, but it was as if the world had changed since the previous TRE in 2019. Oh, yeah, the world did change, which is why there was a record number of retailers attending the show, smart new education programming and seminars and a flurry of reworked shoe release dates.
“The run specialty community was eager to reconnect, and the energy at The Running Event 2021 was palpable,” TRE executive director Christina Henderson said. Yes, indeed, the stoke was high.
Here are six takeaways from TRE to consider as 2022 grows larger on the horizon line.
1. The retail growth opportunity is enormous
In his keynote address, industry consultant and former running brand executive Parker Karnan spoke about the impacts of Covid-19 and how it changed the scope and opportunity of the running industry. Specifically, he pointed out that there as many as 20 million “new” runners heading into 2022 compared to early 2020, plus about 7 million “lapsed” runners that are back in the game. That group of 27 million newly-engaged runners is larger than the collection of 24 million “existing” runners that had been running consistently heading into 2020. “So now the new runners outnumber the existing runners,” Karnan said. “And that’s significant because they’re buying a lot of shoes and gear and looking for advice and direction.” But, he said, change is needed to meet the new customers where they are instead of assuming they’ll follow the same path and patterns to buy new gear as they always have.
As such, other seminars and breakout sessions highlighted the need to diversify retail staffing, how to attract a wider, more diverse customer base, how running stores should reinvent their shoe walls, how brands can partner with athletes and influencers, the need for retail stores to offer 360-degree omnichannel connections to their audiences and 100 cues from the best practices of running stores that are doing things differently. The bottom line is that the changes brought about by the Covid pandemic have sped up the evolution of many outdated or antiquated aspects of the industry, creating new opportunities for proactive brands and stores while potentially leaving behind those that haven’t reacted accordingly. The future is now and it will continue the fast-track evolution into 2022 and beyond.
2. Brands unveiled next-generation (and more expensive) shoes
Without fail, every brand in attendance at TRE showed off next-generation shoes that included more super-critical foam midsoles, new carbon-fiber plate designs, as well as much thicker midsoles, better-fitting uppers and lighter overall models in every category. And yes, most (but not all) shoes are going up between $5 and $10 apiece, due to additional manufacturing, shipping and distribution costs.
Leading the parade of new shoes are HOKA’s Tecton X, Craft’s CTM Ultra Carbon Trail, Brooks’ Caldera 6, New Balance’s Arc Energy Super Comp Elite v3, ASICS’ Noosa 14, Saucony’s Endorphin Pro 3, On Running’s Cloud Monster, Puma’s Fast-R, Salomon’s Glide Max, Skechers’ Razor Excess 2 and Altra Running’s Mont Blanc. The most notable brands that weren’t at the show were The North Face and Nike. Speaking of Altra, the brand will release a highly anticipated pair of “road racing shoes'' in the spring, but because of a strict embargo, no one is allowed to talk about it or show images or videos of it. But let’s just say that it looks pretty cool.
3. Shoes will be delayed
Without fail, every brand spoke of the challenges of the supply chain delays that have become more and more prevalent since the shutdown of Vietnam factories last summer. The reality is that Vietnam isn’t yet back up to full capacity and the shipping delays are as bad as ever. That’s prompted most brands to significantly change their expected release dates of Spring/Summer 2022 shoes by two to six months, although some brands are taking on the expense of air-freighting key models so they can be at the front end of what could be the biggest consumer buying frenzy the industry has ever seen by late-winter.
Altra is one of the few shoe companies that claimed to be ahead of the game. “A lot of brands are saying their shoes are delayed, but we have inventory,” said Altra co-founder Brian Beckstead, who has worked on strategy and PR since the brand was purchased by VF Corp in 2018. Beckstead said Altra was able to leverage its factory relationships and move a lot of its manufacturing away from Vietnam and back into China at the start of the shutdown. But for the most part, many acknowledged that the running industry will be plagued by manufacturing, shipping and inventory delays for all of 2022 and probably into mid-2023, so creating new distribution strategies and marketing messaging will be keys to success.
4. Upstart Brands Making Traction
There was no bigger news than the report that Kilian Jornet was ending his relationship with Salomon after 18 years together. (Rumors suggest he’s going to help the brand CAMP build new trail running shoes.) If the pandemic paved the way for structural changes in the industry, it also seemed to open the door for newer, smaller and/or resurgent brands and new brands to gain traction, like Speedland, Atreyu Running and Diadora, which turned some heads with new models in Austin, even if they were not officially at the trade show. Rabbit, Tracksmith, Lululemon and Freepeople Movement, among others, are continuing to push more established running brands on the apparel front, just as brands like Coros, Maurten and Goodr have changed the game for established brands that make watches, nutrition and sunglasses. The success of social media marketing — especially via athletes and influencers — will continue to supercharge those smaller/newer brands in 2022.
5. The future of running is socially conscious
If you haven’t yet examined how your business is managing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion or delved into the social impacts of running, you’re off the pace of the lead pack in the industry. Several TRE seminars addressed how gear brands and retail stores could and should focus more on DEI as it relates to hiring, customer engagement and marketing. Former Georgetown athlete Sasha Spencer participated and gave a talk that explained how the new growth in running will come through diversity while Keturah Orji, Nikki Hiltz and Colleen Quigley provided a diverse collection of ideas about the future of track and field from their own unique perspectives. Also, Swiss footwear and apparel brand On announced its first-ever Social Impact Partnerships program, Right to Run. Launching early 2022, the Right to Run panel at #TRE21 featured conversations with partners — Ainsley’s Angels, Equity Design, 48 for Change, Achilles Canada, Colour the Trails, and Back on my Feet — who are aligned with their mission of protecting and preserving runner’s fundamental right to run.
6. Sustainability runs deep
Sustainability is a prominent concern and focus from many brands and has advanced well beyond greenwashing. More and more brands are making sustainable materials and processes commonplace in their manufacturing, so much so that it has become secondary and not even highlighted in marketing messages. But there is still a lot to be done, and that was the topic of a panel discussion with Christian Fyfe (Palmetto Running Company), Ben Cooke (Fleet Feet), and Caspar Coppetti (On Running) that included the announcement of the launch of the Low Impact Alliance. The new grassroots organizations will promote small changes and more responsibility among manufacturers, suppliers and retailers that can collectively make big strides for positive change in the carbon footprint of the running business.