Barb’s Wire: The Wonders of Wellness

With the start of every new year comes a lengthy list of resolutions, from being kinder to saving more money. And one promise always tops the charts: to get in shape. But as the year wears on, the visits to Starbucks tend to increase and the trips to the gym often decrease.

The footwear industry, however, is well positioned to make sure nobody gives up just yet. Retailers can continue to tout the benefits of walking, particularly with a purchase of wellness shoes. There’s plenty of opportunity for marketing the benefits, including increased circulation, better posture and muscle toning.

Stores, for example, can take advantage of various promotional materials, such as in-store videos and instructional DVDs. In a competitive marketplace, brands more than likely will be willing to sponsor a trunk show enabling consumers to learn firsthand about the features and benefits of the shoes. More important, make sure your store is stocked with information that outlines the benefits of walking from experts and organizations such as the American Heart Association and American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit group committed to enriching quality of life through safe and effective exercise and physical activity.

Additionally, consider taking a page from MBT’s marketing initiatives, where fitness walks are an opportune way to bring customers into your store on a regular basis. Local fitness experts likely will be willing to offer their services free of charge in exchange for a potential client pool. And participants might just take a few minutes to check out what’s new in the category and walk away with a pair of shoes.

Anytime the public is encouraged to get up off their couches and get moving, they’re on the road to better health. According to Barry Franklin, director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Exercise Laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., and spokesperson for the American Heart Association, walking is the most popular form of physical conditioning today. “It’s the most accessible and easily regulated exercise,” he said. “Walking offers tolerable work intensity, and it’s associated with fewer muscular, skeletal and orthopedic problems of the lower extremities, compared with jogging and running.” Best of all, he noted, all it requires is a pair of well-fitted shoes appropriate for the activity.

So far, the footwear industry is leading the charge.

Although the popular rocker-bottom styles first launched the category, today there is a wide range of wellness constructions and technologies available, each delivering its own workout experience.

This spring, for instance, NaturalSport by Brown Shoe introduced PowerWalk, a line of rocker-bottom styles that feature Dr. Scholl’s Massaging Gel insoles. While the collection’s features and benefits are outlined in brochures included with each pair, the company also has made sure to highlight walking’s more obvious benefits: “It’s simple, accessible and free,” they write.

Rockport is also joining the wellness club for fall. The company is introducing TruWalk technology, designed to use the human body’s momentum for a more efficient and smoother gait. Based on the principles of the walking motion — strike, roll and flex — the rocker-bottom design allows for a soft strike through the support of Adiprene by Adidas cushioning in the heel and forefoot. Retailing for $90 to $150, the line includes everything from sport to tailored looks for both men and women.

And after largely emerging in the comfort arena — with core brands such as MBT and Ryn and mainstream comfort labels such as Hush Puppies and Clarks — the wellness category is now making its way into the fitness market (though under the “toning” moniker). Reebok already hit stores with EasyTone, and Avia and New Balance will launch collections later this year.

As consumers continue to watch their waistlines — as well as their wallets — the wellness category has even more potential for retailers. Because health club memberships are often pricey, making them prohibitive for many during these tough economic times, the footwear industry can easily turn a pair of wellness shoes into a cost-effective way to get in shape. From Skechers’ popular line of Shape-ups, priced at about $100, to MBT styles in the mid-$200 range, there’s something to fit every budget.

Right now, the timing couldn’t be better for retailers to get serious about the wellness category. As health care remains one of the hottest issues in Washington, D.C., the public is becoming increasingly aware of their own well-being.

So as we enter the next decade, let’s resolve to put on our wellness shoes and go for a walk.

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