Shoe retailers have shifted from marketing shoes that are suitable only for walking or running, to shoes that are designed for people who do both activities. The crosstrainer, as these hybrid shoes are called, is designed for the consumer who does not run 100 miles/week but does not want a conservative walking shoe either. Although Nike’s Side One division was unsuccessful with its walk/run shoe, many retailers have found the category to be very good for sales.
It’s been a while since runners learned to share the road with equally determined walkers. Now greater numbers are turning to variations like off-road running, trail-walking and a combination of running and walking. By catering to all their customers, vendors and retailers are setting the pace for the continued health of the running and walking shoe market.
RUN-WALK: TWO-IN-ONE FOR THE ROAD
Run or walk? Walk or run? How about both? Those questions could befuddle indecisive consumers who are also at odds on what shoe to wear.
In these days of niche marketing, athletic footwear vendors have an answer for everything, and for those in-betweeners who walk and run, sometimes during the same workout, that answer is a run-walk shoe. Now a couple of years old, the run-walk category has become more visible on retailers’ shoe walls, and why not?
Though retailers are still unsure about the growth potential of this niche category, they admit there is a segment of the population that doesn’t run 100 miles a week and finds strolling around shopping malls too lightweight. These consumers may not want a teched-up running shoe or the traditional somewhat conservative walker. The in-between solution is either a crosstrainer — or the more definitive run-walker.
Since Nike’s now defunct Side One division launched run-walk a couple years ago, some retailers have been skittish about the category, but others have found it to be a small pot of gold.
“It’s a difficult category to sell,” noted Kim Klassert, buyer for Fast Lady Sports, Bellevue, Wash. “The true walkers are happy with walking shoes right now, and the runners use running shoes. I don’t think consumers trust the [run-walk] category as much.” Klassert stocks Nike’s Air Speed RW, which she said is posting fair sales.
Todd Hinton, manager at Athletic Shoe Market, Peoria, Ill., noted the Air Speed “is doing really well here. It’s a combination shoe. They can walk in it or if they want to pick up the pace, they can run in it. You can’t do that with a plain walking shoe.”
Vendors are positioning run-walk as either a growth category or a niche within its fitness line. “The run-walk concept really struck a chord with consumers when it first came out,” noted Sue Levin, Nike spokesperson.
“It was right for what women were doing at the time in combining running and walking in their workouts,” she said. Nike’s series has grown to five models for spring ’95, including an updated Air Speed ($70) and Air Raceway ($90) along with the Air Current RW, Air Delphina and Runwalk 5K. But don’t expect to see run-walkers being advertised on television yet; like other companies, Nike considers the run-walk category too small to merit serious advertising. However, Nike is using master race walker Therese Iknoian, who teaches a run-walk exercise within her regimen, as an unofficial spokesperson.
Asics Tiger Corp., Fountain Valley, Calif., has also develop a tiered series of run-walkers that offer models for consumers of varying ability levels: the Gel Miata ($50), the Gel Gait Speed ($65), the Gel Tec ($60) and the Gel Gemini ($75).
Avia Group International’s 373 Libre run-walk shoe was among the top three best-selling fitness shoes for fall and Ryka eyes its 650 run-walker ($54.95) as a stable addition to its walking category.
Asics, a newcomer to the market, has used run-walk to bolster its women’s fitness category, an area of focus the past couple of seasons. “It’s becoming more of an important category to us,” said Linda Nielander, the company’s director of women’s fitness. “It makes sense for us to enter the market from a running slant… especially since Nike legitimized the category.”
Laurie Going, Avia’s senior marketing manager, said the category has helped Avia attract a younger consumer. “They don’t want to look like their grandmothers,” she said, noting that run-walk shoes feature more of the zesty colors of running shoes while retaining the cleanness of a walker. Avia is updating the 373 next spring in addition to adding a men’s run-walker.
Vendors appear to have reached a common ground as to how to construct a run-walk shoe. Midsoles are basically thicker than those on walkers but thinner than those on running shoes. The forefoot should be flexible and the stability level should be moderate. Run-walkers also offer more mesh for breathability than walking shoes do. Meanwhile, some manufacturers build their plantar fasciitis shoes on walking lasts, while others use running lasts.
HOT ON THE TRAIL
In tune with the movement from sedans to four-wheel-drives and from touring bicycles to mountain bikes, runners eager for the byways of the outdoors are exploring changes in their equipment. That’s where the trail runner comes in.
With their aggressive outsoles, durable uppers and earthy colors, trail runners have brought a new look to the athletic footwear industry. More important, they target a growing number of runners who are opting for the back-to-nature experience of rustic trails over hard pavement and noisy city streets.
The trend has already taken hold at the grass roots level. On the race circuit, organizers are responding with more cross-country type courses, and events like the Avia Scramble, the Leadville 100 and Pikes Peak Ascent have gained notoriety. Spring ’95 will see the largest number of trail running entries in stores to date.
However, while retailers are buying into the category and are enthusiastic about trail runners’ fashion quotient, some are also wondering whether serious runners will be sold on them, and if the category will grow beyond a small niche market.
Jack Smith of Runner’s Choice, Boulder, Colo., told “Runner’s World” the fastest selling shoe in his store over the past five years has been a trail runner, the Adidas Response Trail. Some dealers consider the trail runner a regional product, while others insist it’s a fashion item.
“It’s a category that might be up and coming but it’s not accepted by serious runners at this point,” said Dave Kazanjian, owner of Whirlaway, a Methuen, Mass., running shop. Nevertheless, Kazanjian plans to double his offerings next year from three to six styles. “It’s going to grow but I don’t think it’s going to be that big,” he added.
Chet James, buyer for Super Jock N’ Jill, Seattle, noted it’s the footwear’s darker colorations rather than the function which are driving sales. “I keep telling the manufacturers to give me darker silhouettes. I don’t care what you call it or how you market it, but give me an existing style and make it darker and I’ll sell it.”
Indeed, an outdoor influence has brought some wildness to running shoe looks. Some retailers said some of the most forward and innovative shoes for bunions in the market are trail runners. Avia Group International has taken, it to the extreme with numbers like the Los Gatos, Ocelot and N’yati, which incorporate everything from animal prints to ankle gaitor collars within their designs.
But, Avia’s product marketing manager Kevin Rhea insists the cosmetics simply enhance the performance aspects of the product. Avia builds its off-road line to withstand the pressures of its Scramble races; an entry blank form for the race warns entrants to anticipate sagebrush, wild boar, boulders, cows, gullies and snakes.
“Retailers are beginning to understand the category more,” said Rhea, adding that Avia will roll out a national ad campaign in ’95 revolving around its off-road category. “Some still say they don’t understand it and ask why we are doing it, but our latest road trip [visiting 27 retailers] was very good. I feel the best I have about the category.”
Other vendors agree the category needs developing. Mike Roche, director of running at Reebok International Ltd., said there is not enough differentiation between trail runners and running shoes; for now, he views trail runners as more of a fashion item.
“Runners are comfortable with the type of footwear they’re used to,” said Roche. “They’re not convinced that there needs to be another segment. I’m hoping they do see a need for another segment,” he said.
John Eberle, director of outdoor marketing for the Rockport Co., which co-sponsors the Leadville, Colo., 100-mile foot race, noted, “A lot of companies are making running shoes and calling them trail running shoes.”
To date, vendors such as Avia, Adidas, Brooks, Nike, Saucony, Asics and Reebok are producing their own versions of trail runners. Compared to running shoes, most trail runners feature more traction and more durable uppers, some with water-resistant materials; snugger toe boxes because of the amount of downhill running involved, and stronger toe bumpers designed to thwart stones and branches.
Meanwhile, fashion styling ranges from traditional to pure outdoor — like the Saucony Jazz Trail, which is one of the brownest entries for next spring. However, not everyone is convinced this earthy styling makes sense.
Ed Wholley of New Balance, Boston, cautions it would be a mistake for manufacturers to create trail runners that stray too far from a running shoe design. “People who run trails are doing just that, they’re running. It’s not a hiking thing,” said Whilley. “Just because a runner is running off road doesn’t mean his biomechanic needs change. [Runners]… want these to look like a running shoe. Look at the activewear they run trail in. It’s not greens and earthy hiking colors, it’s running clothing.”
For now, vendors are expecting sales of trail runners to be strongest in areas like Colorado, the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast, where trails are more accessible. But as Gary Slayton, a marketing manager for Asics, pointed out, runners in places like Washington D.C., are seeking out parks and soft ground to train.
“We see it growing in certain areas,” added Eric Dreyer, product line manager for Brooks Sports Inc., Bothell, Wash. “But there is a greater realization in the running community to get outdoors and escape the pressure of daily life and find a trail to do it on. It’s a significant trend.”
But will trail running footwear be a significant trend? Perhaps Nike’s entry into the category next spring will help. Surprisingly, the company, which is based near some of the country’s best running trails, is just now making its first debut into the category with the $95 Air Rover, slated for January delivery. While the category has yet to prove its staying power, it seems apparent no vendor wants to be caught trailing behind.
RUGGED WALKERS: BROWN AND DIRTY
BOSTON — Walking, a simple exercise but a confusing market, is about to become a little more confusing. With many walking consumers still unsure why they even need a walking shoe, the industry has started pumping out a new subcategory — outdoor walkers.
The aim, of course, is to cash in on the outdoor boom while broadening the walking shoe category beyond its traditional athletically-styled offerings. No, these aren’t hikers; these high arch shoes are marketed for lowimpact workouts on flat terrain. It’s just that the terrain may be a flat dirt path rather than a mall floor. For the most part, many of these rugged looking walkers are simply brown versions of their street counterparts, although some have added benefits such as more durable leather, and a slightly modified outsole for increased traction.
The walking shoe category racked up more than $800 million in wholesale sales in 1993, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). The organization also puts the number of fitness walkers at 31 million.
“People have been talking about getting out of the gym into the outdoor gymnasium for years,” said John Eberle, director of marketing outdoor, at The Rockport Co., Marlboro, Mass. However, while many people have been true to that resolve, the walking shoe industry must now match that commitment by educating outdoor walkers about getting into the proper gear. Head over to the nearest park, said Eberle, and you’ll see people walking on trails wearing everything from canvas cvos to technical hiking boots.
“The category definitely has a lot of potential,” said Laurie Going, senior marketing manager, Avia Group International, Beaverton, Ore. Many customers who are turned off by the look of traditional walking shoes have opted to walk in hikers instead, explained Going. Now, these same customers may be persuaded to try rugged walkers.
“People have a preconceived notion of what walking shoes look like, but this trend [to outdoor] will change that,” Going said.
Like Avia, Nike, Beaverton, Ore., has plans to make a big break into rugged walkers for next fall. “You’re seeing a diversification now in walking-based workouts,” said spokesperson Sue Levin. “Now people are trailwalking, run-walking and mixing up how they take a walk, so the demand calls for new types of footwear to match the activity.”
These trends have given retailers high hopes for the outdoor walking shoe market, but many say they remain skeptical after hearing about new categories in seasons past — from volleyball to run/walk — that haven’t yet met expectations.
“The outdoor consumer is not going to wear those types of shoes. But it could become a fashion thing, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” said Dave Bieker, buyer for Sports Nook, Delran, N.J. “I don’t see walking in general as a viable sku. A good running shoe is usually sufficient.”
However, Dane Heyden, a buyer for the Athlete’s Foot, Grand Junction, Co., believes that, if positioned correctly, rugged walkers can emerge as a viable category. Heyden said he ordered several Reebok skus for next spring.
“Nobody’s going to buy [rugged walkers] and put on a heavy backpack. They are for those who will walk along a canal or paved path. It could be a shoe you could put in both [hiking and walking] categories.” Heyden has ordered several Reebok styles for spring.
Manufacturers say the darker, earthier styles are selling more strongly to men, while women continue to prefer the white athletic styles. In fact, some say that at this time, older men are the target audience. Converse, North Reading, Mass., is introducing a rugged walking shoe aimed at the age 55 and over market.
And Reebok International Ltd., Stoughton, Mass., has introduced the Country Collection, a range of brown shoes targeted at the offtrail walker. “Our country walk collection is positioned to a little older consumer. It’s fitness-oriented, but in an outside setting,” said John Rodgers, director of walking at Reebok.
“As far as technology, comfort is the main thing; they don’t want to be overwhelmed by technology,” said Rodgers. Like Converse, Reebok is counting on its primary rugged walker customer to be an aging male baby boomer, who having given up running, is now learning to walk again.
The running, walking and hiking categories are all in a growth mode, according to market research by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. Combined, the categories represented more than a quarter of total wholesale sales of athletic footwear in 1993. The following charts the wholesale growth of each of these three categories, and their percent of total athletic footwear market share.
Walking, 1989: $490 million, 9 percent; 1992: $725 million, 12 percent; 1993: $800 million, 13 percent
Running, 1989: $725 million, 13 percent; 1992: $625 million, 10 percent; 1993: $650 million, 10 percent
Hiking, 1989: Not Available; 1992: $200 million, 3 percent; 1993: $325 million, 5 percent
The SGMA notes, running and fitness walking are both among the top 10 participation sports. Fitness walking ranked number eight, with 31 million participants, and running number 10, with 30.1 million; they lagged behind sports such as bowling, freshwater fishing, basketball and pocket billiards.