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Social running | Gear to use | Retail news
May 2015

Kitting out the

social runner

Social runners, or people who run for fun, is by far the largest and most diverse running segment a retailer can sell to. Experts advise that kitting out the social runner is more of a science, instead of a one directional right—or—wrong, good—or—bad decision. NELLE DU TOIT CLAASSEN spoke to a few industry members

First time runners, seasoned runners who started again after a long break, sportsmen/women from other disciplines who use running to cross train and fitness junkies who run for cardio can all be combined into the social, not-so-seriously-elite, or run for fun category.

This huge segment of the running market is of prime importance to a retailer, not only because they will feature high among the half a million South African buyers of non-technical running shoes per year. But, also because by recommending the right gear, a retailer can help a fun runner become a serious runner … or put him off for life.

The number of park run participants and events give an indication of the massive size of the social runner market. So far 126 889 South African runners from 868 clubs have registered for 3 309 events in 53 locations across South Africa. Sponsored by adidas, runners simply have to register on the park run website to join a free 5km running event in their area on a weekend morning.

Social runners are spoilt for choice when it comes to event participation. The majority of major running events nowadays boast a shorter run on the same day as the big long distance event is held, attracting runners from various fitness categories.

Colour runs, night runs, park runs, food runs (rewarded with tasty food after the run), wine runs and dress-up runs all form part of running events that the run for fun runner can participate in, all in the name of fun.

However one wants to classify the run for fun runner, when it comes to their equipment, experts advise that there’s no hard-or-fast rule that can be applied to the overall majority.

These days runners are so bombarded with conflicting advice from health advisors, running club mates and online articles that many have no idea what they really should be looking out for prior to entering the shop.

It often comes down to the retailer to convince a fun-runner to take a reasonable approach to running and, with that, a reasonable approach to the gear that they may need along the way.

There are a few things a retailer can determine from the start.

“Body shape plays a big role in getting the right shoe on the right runner, as the biomechanics and weight of the individual are critical factors to know when fitting the right shoe,” says Paul Copson of Brand ID, distributor of Mizuno. “Get this wrong and the overall experience for the new social runner can be a negative one, potentially putting him off running.”

Footwear advice

One of the items that the runner will most undoubtedly get emotionally attached to, if it lifts and supports their experience, are their running shoes.

Asking the runner what their goals are — what distances they’d like to attempt and what they are currently reaching gives insight into the habits and needs of the specific runner.

A retailer can then determine the technicality of the shoe. “Most shoes are technical enough to support the social runner, but it all depends on what distance they are running to determine how technical the shoe should be,” John Andrews of New Balance SA advises.

“I am of the opinion that the shoe does not have to be highly spec’d,” says Brian Pollock, marketing and sales director of Jordan & Co. Their Olympic running shoes sell especially well among social runners, as they have all the necessary technologies for a comfortable 5-10km run, but not all the extras a Comrades runner would require.

Many customers will steer clear of shoes they that they would not want to be seen in. “Looks are everything and social runners want a versatile shoe for different activities,” Andrews continues. “We’re definitely selling more shoes with great styling and colour with a move to lighter semi-minimalistic shoes.”

“There has been an increase in runners wearing shoes with fashionable colours, especially female runners,” Pollock says. “Female runners will most likely go for your pinks and purple cosmetics on shoes. Men are more likely to go for lime and neon’s and sunshine yellows.”

Copson warns however, “it is important to know that if the shoe is wrong and the customer is buying it purely on looks/aesthetics they will quickly return the shoe when things go wrong and they will blame the brand as well as the retailer for letting them buy it in the first place!”

Keeping in mind that many social runners may use the same footwear for running and gym, etc.

“These queries need to be uncovered when selling the shoes and making sure that the customer is purchasing the footwear for the correct activity,” says James Mullen, head of performance Puma SA. “Ideally one would advise a cross trainer rather than a running shoe if they are predominantly using it for gym activities.”

“Explain that a running shoe is designed for running — forward motion activities and not side to side motion gym work ideally, but a bit of cross training is part of a runner’s life and a good running shoe should be adaptive for use in gym too,” Copson adds.

Inspire trust

Inspiring trust in a customer is a salesperson’s most valuable trait. “Price is important for the social runner, however, if the individual is 100% confident in the information they have received they are less worried about the price and more concerned about getting the right footwear for their needs,” Copson observed.

Warn your customer that “trying to buy on the cheap could lead to your customer spending the money that he saved on doctor’s bills and injury rehabilitation,” advises Jackie Moore of Salomon.

“Runners’ feet are the most important things when running, if they are not comfortable then they will simply hate what they are doing. I advise customers to seek the right shoe, then find a way to get it.”

The most important aspect of the shoe?

Keep it comfortable. “From our research and feedback, we have found that we need to keep the design of the shoe as simple as possible, so major qualities of the shoe includes being comfortable and providing sufficient support,” adds Mullen.

“If the customer needs a certain amount of technicality in order to achieve comfort, then so be it,” Moore continues. “An example of this would be whether or not a customer needs a guidance shoe. If they do, then they will need the technology of a medial post or support.”

“There are always trends and social runners are no different to others,” Moore explains. “They want to have the latest toys and are often an easier target when it comes to selling because they are naïve and a little uneducated. The term all the gear and no idea really does apply here.”

“Social runners want to have everything on hand as novices are generally more susceptible to purchasing these items before the more accomplished runner,” Copson adds.

Mullen explains that the “majority of runners are looking for high energy return footwear — shoes that are light and comfortable from the first time you slip them on.” Bright colours play a huge role as well.

Apparel and accessories

Now, more than ever, it is trendy to live an active lifestyle and, for many, running is one of the most economic means to keep fit and healthy. As it doesn’t cost much (a pair of running shoes and some running gear) it’s relatively easy to invite active friends out for a run, increasing the pool of new social runners. A sport that’s become attractive for the younger generation undoubtedly needs to be visually attractive.

“Colour and aesthetics play a big role when purchasing a garment, as social runners want to look the part and stand out from the crowd, and make sure that the apparel matches the footwear,” Mullen explains.

“They are prepared to pay a bit more for apparel as long as they know they are paying for quality and that it looks good.” If a new runner is starting to get serious about the sport, chances are good that the runner will either run in the early morning or late afternoon at some point. This means that reflective wear will be a important.

“More and more brands are incorporating some or other amount of reflective strips into both footwear and apparel as part of the design,” Moore explains. “We need to make sure that runners are safe and thus need to take responsibility for what we make.”

Along with a good wardrobe, accessories play a role as well — headwear (such as a visor or cap), eyewear, cell phone pouches, armbands and key holders can all help to make the life of the social runner more comfortable and trendy.

Depending on the distances the runner may want to attempt, hydration could also be important. A new runner may not yet know how often they need to drink water or how their body responds to energizing drinks, etc.

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