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Trail and running shoes
February/March 2011

Are running shoes

used for running?

The bulk of running shoes are still bought for leisurewear, but technical running shoes sales are gradually gaining on non-technical sales, mainly due to the good growth in technical trail running sales, reports CARIN HARDISTY

Worldwide retailers sell more shoes in the running category to people who use them for walking around in malls, than to actual runners practicing for the next marathon. This started in the 1980’s with the tracksuit and sneaker fashion trend, and never really went away.

Retailers and running brands benefitted, because there have always been more non-runners than runners shopping for shoes. That is also the reason why the running shoe category is by far the biggest athletic footwear category.

This is now changing.

Figures from the NPD Group, a leading international market research company, show a drop in the sale of running shoes that are used for leisure (as opposed to being used for running) and an increase in the number of running shoes bought to run in. This was reflected in 2009 sales figures from Japan, US and the European Big 5 (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK), while in Canada there was only a slight increase from 2008 in the number of shoes sold for leisure.

SA running shoe sales were showing the same trend during the same period. Figures received from GfK Marketing Services SA* show that non-technical running shoe sales are also taking a small dip in units sold, while technical running is growing.

GfK Marketing track retail sales of SA running shoes under the categories technical trail running, technical road running and non-technical running shoes. For the benefits of comparison, we take it that running shoes that are used for leisurewear fall under the non-technical running shoes category.

Most non-technical shoes are sold in December. In December 2009 non-technical running shoes comprised 72% of all SA running shoe sales. By December 2010 non-technical running shoes dropped to 65% of all SA running shoe sales — quite a drop from December 2007 when non-technical running shoes accounted for 80% of all running shoe sales.

The lowest low for non-technical running was in September 2010 when it contributed 55% of running shoe sales. In other words, nearly half of the running shoes sold in that month were technical.

In 2010, technical road running shoe sales peaked during Q3. During 2009 there was no peak for technical road running shoe sales — only a gradual decline in sales that started in Q1 2009. However, looking at the individual months, September saw a peak in both 2009 and 2010. Was this perhaps due to entries for the Comrades opening in September or because the start of spring means renewed motivation to go outside and run?

While technical trail running and non-technical running shoe sales peaked during both Q4 2009 and Q4 2010, road running shoe sales actually dipped compared to the sales seen earlier in the years.

Trail running growing

Interestingly, technical trail running shoes saw an increase in units sold — confirming the observation of many people in the industry that trail running is growing in popularity. Sales of technical road running shoes were, however, slightly down in 2009.

In 2010 both technical road and non-technical running shoes dropped in units sold when compared to 2009 — but again technical trail running shoes experienced an increase in units sold.

Technical trail running shoe sales are levelling the playing field in terms of the percentage of running shoe sales and in 2010 sold almost the same percentage of units as road running. During 2009 there was still a remarkable gap between technical trail and technical road running shoe sales, but in 2010 the number of road and trail units sold were close to each other.

Over the last few years, technical trail running shoes have gradually been taking up a larger percentage of running shoe sales, and there are no signs indicating that this will stop in the near future.

Lee Besnard, brand manager for Salomon (locally distributed by Trail Terrain Sports), says they have seen a dramatic increase in the popularity of trail running and as a result their sales volume for both running and leisure use have shown tremendous growth.

Salomon is driven by technology and this will always be the focus of our marketing communication to the consumer, says Besnard. Yet, the majority of their sales comes from the leisure market. This, he says, is because trail running is still a niche market in SA. “As trail running participation continues to grow though, the percentage of technical users should increase substantially.”

According to Besnard “trail runners perceive Salomon as the market leader when it comes to offering the best in terms of design, durability and fit, but when it comes to the leisure market, it’s more about the comfort offered by our product as opposed to fashionable styling.”

Non-technical drive sales

Despite the gradual drop in units sold over the past few years, non-technical running shoes continue making up the majority of running shoe sales — both in terms of units as well as in terms of price.

Non-technical sales would therefore continue to be a major contributor to profits and despite the general trend, some brands find that their non-technical running sales are growing.

Zobuzwe Ngobese, PR manager for adidas SA, feels that in SA there has not only been an increase in sales of running shoes, but that at the same time more running shoes are being used for leisure. He attributes this to brands bringing in more colour and funky designs into their running ranges.

“The trend towards a more healthy lifestyle drives both those categories even more. Running is becoming fashionable.”

The adidas brand’s roots and heritage are 100% in performance sport, which Ngobese says gives the brand credibility. However, he adds, the brand also has a history in lifestyle due to their partnerships over the years with athletes who have released their own lifestyle ranges in conjunction with adidas and under the adidas name. Performance and lifestyle can go hand-in-hand, he says.

Adidas experienced growth in shoes bought for leisure as well as those bought for running use, he says. He attributes this to the younger, funkier designs and great colour usage, while the increase in performance footwear sales is due to the consistent investment and continual improvement (fit, technology, cosmetics, etc.) to the shoes.

Hi-Tec’s sales percentage of leisure vs. running shoe sales have stayed roughly the same, says marketing manager Ian Little, who adds that he expects an increase in sales in the leisure market with the launch of their new ranges in 2011/12.

While Hi-Tec is generally considered a technical brand, rather than a fashion brand, they have seen an increase in interest and sales of some of their original shoes — that were originally, and still are, designed for court — now being used as leisure shoes, says Little.

“Our shoes are generally bought on their technical attributes, although we hope to see a shift towards leisure use as our designs are updated and re-engineered during 2011.”

New Balance is known as a technical brand, but their lifestyle range has broadened their market share in the sport style market, says John Andrew, product line manager for New Balance SA. “The decision whether shoes are bought for leisure or sport can change, depending on the fashion of the times.”

K-Swiss running shoes are first and foremost being bought for functional running purposes says Jeremy Nel, marketing manager for K-Swiss (locally distributed by Crown Footwear). However, he adds that due to their visual nature and appeal, consumers are also buying them due to their looks.

In running, K-Swiss is a purely technical brand and they have invested in specific running product and events (e.g. the LA Marathon and the Ironman events). K-Swiss are the official event sponsor for the Ironman running course and the official footwear and apparel provider for a collection of co-branded K-Swiss/Ironman performance and lifestyle footwear and apparel.

The best-sellers

In every range, you have one or two items that outsell its range-mates. We invited the SA distributors of the major running shoe brands to tell retailers about their best-sellers. The distributors of Asics, Brooks, Nike, Olympic, Power, Reebok and Saucony did not make use of the opportunity. The following brands responded:

adidas: For adidas, the Kandia trail is their best-selling entry level technical shoe. It is a functional, well-priced shoe with great colour usage and an aggressive trail outsole — and “one of the shoes that might crossover into lifestyle usage purely because of the great styling” says Ngobese.

Their Supernova Glide, a more top end shoe, is “the workhorse of the road category”. Adidas has updated the shoe with regards to the technology and fit and the instep comfort is great from day one.

On the leisure side, Bounce with its strong urban warrior feel does very well for them.

In the coming months road runners can look forward to the adistar Ride that has been given a make-over. It now features an improved fit and is lighter than ever. “We can already see the sell out in stores,” says Ngobese.

The adistar Raven trail shoe is a new update and a shoe that adidas will be asking runners to test on the Wild Coast Wild Run, which they sponsor. They use the event as a testing ground for a lot of their running products. The Raven has a funky design, a great continental traction outsole and features the top of the adidas performance trail technologies.

Columbia’s Ravenous, Ravenous Stability and Master of Faster Low Omni-Tech are available in both men’s and women’s styles.

The Ravenous Stability — a fast, stable trail runner with pronation control — is designed for aggressive trail runners who want extra off-road stability and features a full-length dual-density Techlite midsole with firmer EVA foam at the midfoot that keeps feet from rolling too far inward or outward at the footstrike. The heel capture system puts softer 3D moulded Techlite material directly against the heel and moves the stabilising heel counter to the outside providing a comfortable, conforming fit. It also features a multi-directional lugged outsole with Omni-Grip rubber for superb traction on wet, muddy or rough terrain.

The Ravenous has similar features to the Ravenous Stability, except for the pronation control. It received the 2010 Trail Runner Editor’s Choice Award.

Master of Faster Low Omni-Tech is a super-lightweight shoe. The design bridges the gap between a running and multi-sport shoe, keeping the runner light on their feet through all kinds of trail conditions. The breathable mesh upper features Omni-Tech waterproof-breathable technology for protection against the elements, welded seams for minimal-yet-strong support and a Techlite collar and tongue for a comfortable fit. A three-part Techlite midsole with multiple density settings provides cushioning and support and a high-traction outsole boasts a built-in independent suspension system for great grip no matter what the surface.

Hi-Tec: Little expects good sales from their Infinity trail shoe. “The Infinity trail shoe has been in use by our brand ambassadors Martin Dreyer, Jeannie Bomford and Bruce Arnett for the last nine months and has performed exceptionally well.”

K-Swiss’ Blade Light Run and Kona, both shoes used for running, do the best for them. Kona is the Ironman shoe and K-Swiss has recently developed a Kona with the SA flag design as its upper. This shoe has been very popular with international Ironman participants as they buy it as memorabilia, says Nel. The next Ironman in SA is during April.

New Balance: “Our best-selling styles in the technical range is the NBx range and this is due to top end product that is sold through selected retail and backed by marketing,” says Andrew.

“Our best-selling non-technical styles are all price driven, but aesthetics can really influence the sales if the colour and style are right.” Their current best-selling model is the MR1080.

Puma predicts their Faas collection, named for the Jamaican word for fast, will be a great seller when it hits stores in April. The collection features BioRide, their biomechanical design technology that provides a naturally responsive ride — helping runners get into their own rhythm for increased speed and performance.

When designing the BioRide technology, Puma studied the movement, foot placement and overall running skills of the fastest athletes affiliated with the brand. They then identified three skills critical for top performance, which they translated into three categories: Rocker, Flex and Groove.

The rocker shape outsole provides smooth touchdown and effortless transition, providing runners with a natural ride and less time on the ground (making for faster runs and faster times). The 360 degree flex grooves, which respond to how the runner’s foot moves, are placed in key areas throughout the shoe, providing a responsive ride. The shoe also has a horizontal groove that runs the lateral side of the shoe, which means that regardless of how a runner’s foot hits the ground, the groove will provide them with natural stability.

Each style in the collection has a number ranging from 100 to 1 000 — the lower numbers have less cushioning and structure and provide a lightweight, fast-paced trainer.

Two highlights from the collection are the Faas 300 and Faas 500.

The Faas 300, available in both men’s and women’s styles, is a lightweight style featuring BioRide technology, minimal cushioning and structure, and no heel counter.

The Faas 500, available for men, has a complimentary balance of added structure and cushioning to provide a comfortable run with improved speed and performance.

Salomon’s best-selling technical consumer style is the XA Pro 3D Ultra, because of its comfort, durability and stability in the most demanding conditions.

Their Speedcross 2 is their best non-technical consumer style. This is because of its aggressive profile and its light weight.

In the new range they are extremely excited about the XR Crossmax, “which combines the best elements of road running shoes — guidance and neutral versions, cushioning and light weight construction — with the attributes one expects from Salomon trail running, like stability, protection, traction and durability,” says Besnard.

He says the XR Crossmax is the ideal shoe for runners that incorporate both paved surfaces and trails in their training programme and describes it as a complete door-to-trail solution.

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