Running Races Ahead

NEW YORK — It’s a good time to be in the technical running business.

In a month where retailers are facing what may be the worst holiday season on record, specialty running shops are reporting double- digit sales increases.

“Running is better than a lot [of categories],” said Matt Powell, analyst at Sports- OneSource, adding that the athletic market overall is also faring better than the broader footwear segment.

Running retailers who spoke to Footwear News said they were confi dent that despite the recession, they would still see sales. “We know this is a tough time, and next year is going to be tough, but running is a lot cheaper than therapy,” said Jon Hughes, co-owner of Track Shack in Orlando, Fla.

Gus Perry, co-owner of Salt Lake Running Co., agreed: “When people are short on endorphins, running helps.” But Perry did think they might see spending dip in a down economy. “Runners will push their shoes farther,” he said.

Store owners say they’re being proactive to stay ahead. Sonya Estes and Chris Alderman, co-owners of Runners Roost in Lakewood, Colo., said they were “a little more conservative” about adding new product for the store. And while their business was up for the year in sales, Estes said “people are asking for deals.”

For Dave Sobolink, co-owner of Fit Right Northwest in Portland and Vancouver, Ore., the key will be to manage inventory while still offering something new.

Sobolink said his stores — which had been up 16.8 percent through August and reported 16.8 percent gains again in November after a fl at September and October — would be looking to add new products. “You’ve always got to freshen up,” he said. But he planned to keep a close eye on spending. “We’re defi nitely not going to overextend ourselves.”

Mark Rouse, co-owner of Runner’s High ’n’ Tri in Arlington Heights, Ill., said that despite November sales being up double-digits over 2007, his store was cutting costs and reaching out to the community with more initiatives. “We’re being cautious about futures orders and watching other costs — labor costs, shipping costs,” he said.

Rouse added that the store would be upping its in-store personal appearances and guest speakers, as well as putting more emphasis on its training programs in anticipation of increased discounting in the market. “We’re smaller and we can react differently to different trends and issues, so we just make sure our staff is well trained and doing the things we do best,” Rouse said.

And the channel will get some extra heat with the launch of Under Armour’s running line, which will hit retail in January and will be supported by a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. The line, which will be carried in sporting goods and mall locations, will also target running shops.

Powell noted that the athletic business as a whole would do well to take a look at the specialty running channel. “This is a group of people who are passionate about what they do, and who have an intimate connection with their customers,” he said. “And they’re successful.”

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