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Q4 2017

Accessories to boost running sales

Running accessories like socks, belts, pouches, arm protectors and many others can provide a lucrative additional income for retailers, without having to break the bank when buying stock, reports LINZA DE JAGER

Shoes and clothing remain the big sellers in the running market, but running accessories are gaining space on retail shelves as the demand for them grow — and the number of interesting choices available to runners pique their interest.

Running socks, especially, are becoming must-have items among discerning runners — as can be seen by the growing number of dedicated sock stands at running expos and the number of specialist athletic sock brands entering the local market.

Running socks, by definition, will need to have many technical features, of which moisture management to improve breathability is the most popular among athletes, say local suppliers. This is followed by a request for strategic padding and a snug fit to prevent blisters forming.

Breathability plays a large part in moisture management, so a running sock that does not breath well, will not be pleasant to run in, agrees Alexander Hulley of PUMA SA. “Moisture creates friction and friction causes blisters so it is usually the goal of a runner to keep his feet as dry as possible.”

Breathability is largely achieved through the type of yarn used and the way it is knitted together, adds Keri Sabbata of New Balance.

Happy Socks’ athletic range, for example, contains terrycloth material, which absorbs moisture better than normal socks,” says RJ Prinsloo of local distributor The Kartal Distribution. “This is a great plus when it comes to an athletic sock, as it is very important for runners to ensure that their feet are breathable and not over-sweating.

The terry sole acts as a cushion for the foot and at the same time decreases changes to the foot position during movement, he explains. “This prevents blisters from forming.”

Most local runners still favour ankle length socks, say the distributors, although the “hidden” sock is also popular.

“Ankle length is probably the most popular length, because a good, true, secret sock that doesn’t disappear into your shoe, is always more difficult to find!” explains Sabbata.

In the US, the No Show tab is by far the most popular sock height, explains Linda Corcoran, International Sales Manager of the specialist Feetures technical sock brand, which is now also available in South Africa from SBR Agencies. But, there is also a demand for his brand in quarter and mini crew heights, she adds.

A longer crew sock that sits about mid-way up the calf is a new style trend favoured by some trail runners, adds Hulley.

Sock colours

Lately, more is better when selecting running socks, says Johlette de Jager of Glow Gear, which provides reflective for many running products. "Runners show more sock to expose the bright colours, branding and boldness that are expected from socks lately."

“We have seen a massive growth trend when it comes to a demand for interesting, colourful, combinations in socks over the past year or so,” says Prinsloo, who says their bright socks are especially popular with trail runners.

Neutrals will, however, always be the top sellers, believes Sabatta, although seasonal colours are a fun alternative and offer the option to be matched to a shoe colour.

“Consumers appreciate the ease in purchasing when they coordinate their gear from head to toe,” believes Concoran, who adds that the Feetures product development team follow market trends to deliver the latest colour updates to compliment footwear and apparel.

Compression in socks

Compression socks is of special interest to people running a lot and recovering from injuries. Knee-high compression-based socks are becoming increasingly popular in both road and trail running, especially at marathon or ultra-marathon distances. “There are many scientific studies around the pros and cons of compression during activity but one thing they do well is prevent those small micro-fibre muscle tears caused by the impacts of longer runs,” says Hulley.

Compression also assists with blood flow to prevent cramps and pain, adds Prinsloo. Light compression provided by rib in the leg makes the sock stay comfortably in place during activity, he adds.

The Feetures Elite socks provide patented targeted compression on the inside of the arch, explains Concoran. “It is anatomically designed to conform to your individual foot for unparalleled fit, which results in an enhanced fit and helps reduce the chance of blisters.”

A seamless toe — hand linked so both the inside and outside are completely smooth — eliminates discomfort caused by the traditional toe seams, are other features that make their brand popular, he adds. “High density knitting provides a softer hand and more durable construction, while a Y-heel construction keeps the sock from sliding in the shoe.”

Anti-microbial treatment applied to keep socks fresher and cleaner for longer, is also a consideration for runners when selecting socks, says Sabbata.

Arm protectors

Athletes are becoming more aware that there are other options than wearing full baselayers, which can sometimes feel heavy and constricting, especially on longer runs where you want to open your lungs, says Jean-Claude Roux of Second Skins. “Sun protection has also started to play a massive role in the popularity of arm protectors, as people are much more aware of the dangers of the sun with increasing reports of skin cancer.”

While some runners might initially buy them for sun protection, customers will stay loyal to a brand that offers products that keep them warm, but also offers breathability, he believes.

Sun protection is a very important feature when runners buy arm protectors, agrees De Jager “and a pocket to carry a cell phone or a wallet is valued by most.”

While a pocket might be a useful addition, especially to carry gear on a short run, on a longer run “you want as little as possible weighing you down”, adds Roux.

Most runners are conservative and choose black sleeves, say the suppliers, with white the next most popular choice.

Second Skins, however, found that black is most popular for arm warmers and white for sun protectors. “It might be a case where the public still perceives that black is warm, white is cool, even though they are often the same fabric.”

Arm warmers are convenient as they offer extra insulation if the weather is cool, but it is not cold enough for a jacket, believes Hulley. “Arm protectors that use a thin lyrca material are good for runners with sensitive skin.”

“There is not such a big demand for arm protectors, but they have possibly gained interest as the years go on,” Kgosi says. “Less seasoned runners will purchase or obtain arm protectors from expos, events, etc, but more serious runners more than likely will buy a product they personally prefer.”

Other brands, on the other hand, found that instead of arm protectors, runners rather purchased apparel that provides the necessary support in the cold.

Storing accessories

Running apps and activity trackers have become some of the fastest sellers — and these devices have to be carried. Accessories that can store a phone, key, wallet and other extras, are therefore also becoming popular.

“Our must popular products are the pouches that strap to the arm, although, we have seen strong growth in running belts with water bottles and waist packs, says Kevin de Wet of De Wet Sports.

Most suppliers of these products agree with him. For longer runs a belt with various slots for different items and one or two small water bottles is quite popular, but your average runner prefers a pouch on the upper arm, or a thin belt that can be hidden under the shirt, says Hulley.

It has become increasingly important that these pouches are big enough to fit the modern, bigger, cell phones and that they have clear displays so that the phone can be operated while in the pouch, explains De Wet.

Running belts with slots for specific items, including water bottles, “will be used on the longer distances for gels, etc.” says Tebogo Kgosi of adidas SA. Reflective on running belts, pouches or arm bands are also important for safety reasons, points out Johlette de Jager of Glow Gear, which provides reflective for many running products. She also believes that these accessories in bright, high-visibility colours, are most popular.

Other features that runners ask for in their carrier products are fast-release buckles or velcro fasteners, she adds.

On the other hand, nowadays many running garments have built-in zip pockets and waistband stash/key pockets, which reduces the need for an extra storage accessory, adds Sabbata.

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