Competition is notoriously fierce in the running category, but in the past five years, Altra has made steady progress, doubling its sales growth each year and signing up roughly 1,500 retail accounts worldwide.
For 2016, the brand, best known for shoes with a foot-shaped toe box and zero drop, aims to expand its retail footprint by at least 150 doors — two-thirds of those outside the U.S.
One of Altra’s newest retail partners is outdoor behemoth REI, which told Footwear News that the brand has received a positive response from customers.
“Our merchandising team listens closely to member feedback when we consider our product inventory,” said Kristin Finton, REI category merchandising manager for running footwear. “In talking with the footwear buyers, our members have been asking for the Altra brand.”
Altra started with REI in May 2015 in four locations, but within weeks expanded to 14. By year’s end, the label was in 34 REI doors. For 2016, Altra is in discussion with the retailer to be in 84 of its doors.
Although Altra’s retail base has grown quickly since launching, it is still a niche player in the market. According to data compiled by SportsOneSource, the brand held less than 1 percent of the performance-running footwear category in 2015.
To bolster growth, brand founder Golden Harper and his team have a number of offerings on tap.
For fall ’16, Altra will introduce the Torin 2.5, an update to its popular neutral-running franchise, and also debut the Lone Peak 3.0 trail-running silhouette. And Harper said he anticipates the max-cushioned Olympus 2.0 trail shoe, featuring a Vibram Megagrip outsole, will be a hit at retail.
The 33-year-old executive predicted that in 2016, cushioned-neutral running and trail-running shoes — the two best categories historically for Altra — will continue to sell well, with the biggest growth coming from the hiking and casual-walking categories.
Another strong area for Altra is its Everyday line, featuring dressier shoes designed to be worn in the office or out on the town.
Harper recalled that the collection came about organically. “It was our most popular request on social media and with our customers,” he said. “We took the Instinct, which is our flagship shoe, put a high-end nubuck upper on it and popped it out there. We’ve never done a dollar of advertising on it, but we’ve sold tens of thousands of pairs.”
From its start, Altra has had its customer in mind. The shoes’ wide toe box and zero drop was designed to help correct runners’ strides and heal ailments associated with the sport. The brand’s healing focus initially led it to connect with atypical retail accounts, specifically sports-medicine clinics.
“Because our shoes have the foot-shaped toe box and balance-level cushioning, doctors saw our shoe as a healing platform, which was our idea in the first place,” Harper recalled. “It started with them coming to us saying, ‘The local running store doesn’t carry the models I want, so can I sell them out of my clinic?’”
Nevertheless, the running business is challenging for a newcomer like Altra, as devout runners are staunchly brand loyal.
“There will always be people who stick with tradition and what they know and like,” said Harper. “They will never even give [Altra] a try. But when we capture people, they stay.”
He added that the running market holds plenty of untapped potential.
“There are a lot of customers we haven’t reached because the per-pair average is huge with our customers,” he said. “It’s not like we have 200,000 people out there with one pair each. It’s more like we have 40,000 people out there with five pairs each.”
To attract more customers, Altra plans to continue to focus on TV advertising and bolster its presence on social media. The brand will also concentrate on running-event sponsorship, an initiative it launched last year, when it signed on as sponsor of the Western States and Hardrock 100-mile endurance runs.