By: Brian Metzler
The running shoe and apparel industry gathered in Austin, Texas, this past week for The Running Event (“TRE”), an annual industry-only trade show where manufacturers show off next year’s gear to representatives from running stores, media and partner organizations.
Here are five key takeaways from this year’s event:
1. Cool New Shoes are Coming
Running shoes are continuing to evolve – for performance, style and innovation. There are a lot of new foams, new uppers and new outsoles coming out, so 2024 will be an exciting year to visit your local running store to search for your next pair of kicks. While many of the next-level shoes are still under embargo – several of which will launch before the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Feb. 3 in Orlando, Florida – there are a few iterations of shoes that will have removable or replaceable midsoles to enhance performance or sustainability. Nike unveiled its Alphafly 3 racing shoes for the first time, about six weeks after Kelvin Kiptum set a new men’s marathon world record (2:00:35) wearing a pair in Chicago. Adidas had its Adidas Evo Pro 1 on display (two months after Tigist Assefa set the new women’s world record of 2:11:53) and said it would continue to produce very small quantities of that shoe in 2024.
Salomon’s new S/Lab Spectur is aimed to be a supershoe marathon racing shoe for runners in the 3- to 6-hour range. Hoka’s Tecton X 3 has an above-the-ankle knit collar inspired by ultrarunning champion Jim Walmsley. What were some of the other interesting shoes? Norda showed off its slip-on Haven trail running shoes, Puma debuted its Fast-R 2 Nitro Elite carbon-fiber race models, Brooks unveiled its light-and-fast Catamount Agil short-distance trail racers, Altra revealed its three-shoe line of Experience models (with a 4mm heel-toe offset), Reebok touted its Float Zig 1 and Scarpa highlighted its Rebelle Run Kalibra Run HT with a BOA closure system.
2. Diversity is On the Rise
The running industry – brands, retail stores, race organizations, etc. – has a long way to go when it comes to diversity. However, at this week’s trade show, there was a much better representation among BIPOC individuals in all aspects of the trade than ever before, ranging from the educational seminars and panel discussions to the after-hours parties. Tommie Runz and Gary Koutsoubos co-hosted the first-ever livestream broadcast from the event, while other highlights of the entire show were the Wednesday morning fun run and Wednesday evening party organized by the Running Industry Diversity Coalition (RIDC). PYNRS apparel brand, started by Boston-based runner and coach Sidney Baptista, was one of several black-owned brands exhibiting gear for the first time. Native Women Running was a partner of the conference for the first time and was on site advocating for native runners, while Jake Fedorowski, executive director of the Queer Running Society, spoke about gender identity and equality on the livestream show. Plus, the keynote address was given by Melissa Gonzalez, a principal at MG2 and founder of the Lionesque Group.
3. Athletes and Influencers are Elemental to Brands
While professional runners are primarily connected to running brands for their running performance, more and more brands are bringing their athlete partnerships to the forefront for storytelling and product development. And that will continue in 2024 because it’s an Olympic year. Those connections bring both star power to a brand’s identity and authenticity to product design. Several elite athletes were visible at the trade show in Austin to lead fun runs, go through product demonstrations, speak on panels and interact with retailers. Among the top stars were Des Linden, Josh Kerr and Nia Akins from Brooks; Rory Linkletter, Natosha Rogers, Fiona O'Keeffe and Molly Seidel from Puma, Zach Friedly, Joe Klecker, Sage Hurta-Klecker from On; Rachel Tomajczyk, Reid Burrows and Mercedes Siegle-Gaither from Merrell; Erin Clark, Tyler Green and Kelvin Kiptum from Nike; and Zach Miller from The North Face. In addition to athletes, many key influencers (including Kofuzi, Laura Green, Tommie Runz and Tina Muir) were also at the show to produce content, share their insights and tricks of their trade and to mingle with brands.
4. Retail Service is Evolving
Most of the seminar sessions of the trade show were geared toward running stores enhancing their service, brand selection, fitting assistance, social media, training programs, merchandising and local events. In her keynote presentation, Gonzalez explored how run and outdoor specialty stores can adapt successful aspects of large retailers – like Target and Amazon – while still being small and hyper local with a focus on actionable customer retention strategies. She also gave tips and ideas for loyalty programs, sustainability messaging, and examples of successful brand partnerships. South Carolina-based Palmetto Running Company was named the 2023 Running Store of the Year for its outstanding service, training groups, fun runs and everyone-is-welcome vibe. It has two shops (in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island) and has the unique task of serving the different needs of a local community of runners and a more touristy population of visiting runners. Palmetto Running Company beat out The Running Lab (Brighton, Mich.) and Mill City Running/Saint City Running (Minneapolis).
5. Pickleball is Booming
Although the trade show was primarily about running and trail running, there was a lot of excitement focused on pickleball, which has been called the fastest growing sport in the United States. There were several free “Why Sell Pickleball?” educational sessions, live demonstrations on a pickleball court set up in the convention center and several brands that were promoting Pickleball shoes and accessories, including Skechers, Reebok, OST1, K-Swiss and Selkirk Sport. Why is there a connection between pickleball and the running retail industry? The biggest growth sector for pickleball is from recreational runners and running stores are always looking for additional non-running fitness items to sell, just as they have done with inline skates, yoga mats, swimming goggles and other fitness trends of the past several decades. If you haven’t started playing pickleball yet, your local running store might be encouraging you to get started in 2024.