In a no-frills, get-down-to-business event that some attendees said had similarities to the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect Show for outdoor specialty retailers, 24 key running brands and 65 to 70 key U.S. running shop owners and staff convened in Denver last week on the eve of Global Running Day for the inaugural KICK Show from the Running Industry Association. RIA Executive Director Terry Schalow said the organization will assess feedback from all participants before deciding when and where the next KICK Show will take place.
The event’s immediate focus centered on previews of Spring/Summer 2020 product lines, a steady exchange of ideas for the category and the cultivation of stronger connections between senior company executives and store owners. Rebate incentives were offered to attending retailers for writing certain orders during the four-day event.
Broader concerns and issues in the industry were also a talking point. Namely, the need for cohesive strategies by vendors and specialty stores alike. Key among them: increasing store traffic flows in the wake of more options than ever for runners to purchase products and sparking broader consumer interest in the physical activity and athletic shoe silhouette that has historically set the pace for the performance athletic segment.
While still the largest athletic footwear category, wholesale running shoe sales rose a meager 1.6 percent in 2018 to $4.71 billion, according to the 2019 SFIA Manufacturers’ Sales by Category Report, compared to 10 percent annual growth for the Classics/Originals segment, 18 percent expansion for Skate/Surf shoes and a 12.5 percent increase for Casual/Fashion styles to more than $991 million wholesale. Meanwhile, while casual running participation (1-49x annually) has risen more than 3 percent over the last three years to nearly 24.4 million; CORE (50+x annually) dipped 6.4 percent in 2018, according to SFIA data to almost 25.1 million and is down 3.3 percent since 2013. First quarter retail sales of running shoes were down in the mid-single digits, according to NPD Group data.
Nonetheless, KICK attendees were overwhelming positive about running’s future prospects and the show’s ability to wring new strategies out of sessions among its most ardent participants. RIA members voted on what brands they wanted to see at the event, divided into the two-day “Anchor Brand” track and single-day “Growth Brand” track. Participating “Anchor” brands included: ASICS, Brooks, Hoka One One, Mizuno, Nike, New Balance, On, Saucony, Superfeet, Feetures, Altra, Nathan, AfterShokz and 361. The “Growth” participants were: Reebok, Salomon, Vuori, Amphipod, CEP, OS1st, Powerstep, Rabbit, Boco Gear and Craft.
Nike’s participation at the KICK Show rattled some run specialty attendees, most seemingly frustrated by their lack of access to key Swoosh run performance styles for their respective shops. Scott Gravatt, the brand’s running lead, was quick to state the brand’s long history of commitment to the category, current strategy to focus on particular run shops in key markets and appeared keen on soothing the concerns of KICK attendees about the brand’s intentions in running. (Hear more in our Sports Insight Extra podcast)
Brooks Running, despite recent delivery woes out of its new Indiana distribution center, was front and center with attendees on its plans to retain the segment’s top market share position. Brooks CEO Jim Weber, during an opening night panel, told the KICK audience, “If your strategy changes every three months, your customer is never going to figure you out.”
Nathan Hohenstein, co-owner of the Tortoise & Hare shop in Glendale, AZ, said he was having “very productive” meetings and was “very impressed” with the show’s format. Before heading home to a new baby and his store, he said was mostly focused on building a buying strategy for Spring/Summer 2020 orders but would not write any paper in Denver. An associate was staying behind to review “Growth Brand” collections on KICK’s final day.
From a footwear product perspective, new midsole foams offering runners lighter, better rides on their runs was the most prevalent technology on display. Some suggested the continued emergence of more and more new catchy-named materials, including the recently launched FuelCell from New Balance, was partly a response to the ZoomX midsole from Nike, which the company touts as a “magically energetic, lightweight foam” (first used in the Zoom VaporFly 4%) that offers more cushioning without the weight and delivers 85 percent energy return. The bottom line — these newly developed foams are being touted as protecting the runner longer with more durable cushioning.
“The end consumer is always looking for innovation in his or her running experience and optimum performance,” suggested Ike Alvear, head of sales and markets for 361.
Among key brand developments at KICK:
• 361, which has seen considerable market growth in the Southeast, particularly in Northern Florida, is adding tech reps in that region and So. California as it hopes to more than double its run specialty account base of 180. The brand is introducing QuickSpring Foam, described as a lighter, faster rebounding product made of EVA and rubber that will supplement its QuickFoam tech. It is also introducing Spire 4, its most cushioned shoe to date, in Spring 2020 along with the Pacer ST speed trainer.
• Saucony, aiming to rebound from some quality control issues with new products and a new global brand platform in Run for Good, has a new midsole technology called PowerRun Plus that is beaded TPU foam and is said to be 25 percent lighter than its EverRun. A new Triumph (Nov. 1 intro date at $150 retail) will feature PowerRun Plus and the new Guide ($120 retail) will utilize another new midsole, PowerRun Foam, that offers added “bounciness.” The brand is also introducing a lower profile, versatile shoe in the updated Freedom ($150) designed for lateral motions, including OrangeTheory clases.
• ON is introducing an updated CloudFlow and an all-day, casual shoe in the Cloud High for Spring 2020.
• Mizuno, under a small running team led by VP of Running Chuck Couch, is pulling back from mainstream retailers such as DSW to focus primarily on run specialty. Under its “Reach Beyond” global brand message, the Japanese brand has a new TPU/PU foam dubbed “XPOP” in its Wave Sky WaveKnit 3 that it says offers improved cushioning, higher energy return and improved midsole durability. The brand’s Wave Inspire 16 is slated to debut in mid-Jan. 2020. The Wave Horizon 4 ( $160 retail) and women’s Wave Knit 2 ($180 retail) each debut in Mar. 2020.
• Altra continues to undergo major changes under its new ownership in VF Corp., but brand president Todd Dalhausser says it hasn’t stopped Altra from moving ahead and securing 22 percent topline growth in North America in 2018. Besides shoring up operational efficiencies under VFC, Altra has undergone operating system and distribution center changes ahead of its corporate relocation to Denver.