How Hoka One One Is Finding Its Stride

Hoka One One is credited with ushering in the trend for super-plush sneakers that appealed to niche audiences such as trail runners and ultra-marathoners.

Now executives at the performance footwear label are workingto grow its market share by investing in elite events, new cushioning technology and more top racers.

Since its 2009 inception, Hoka has enjoyed consistent double-digit sales growth and developed a strong presence in retail with maximum-cushioned running shoes. At the end of 2015, it had an account base of 2,072 doors domestically, and this year it aims to increase that number by 10 percent.

But while the brand has rapidly gained wall space, it’s still a niche player in the category.

According to SportsOneSource, Hoka’s market share improved in 2015, and it was a Top 10 brand across all segments, but it only accounted for a low single-digit portion
of the market.

Hoka One One
A runner hits the streets in Hoka sneakers.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

To further build momentum for the business, Deckers Brands — Hoka’s parent company since 2012 — moved the operation in October to its headquarters in Goleta, Calif., from Richmond, Calif.

“It’s a move that allows us to better leverage key expertise and resources that are available here at the global headquarters,” said Wendy Yang, president of Deckers Brands’ Performance Lifestyle Group, which also includes Sanuk and Teva. Yang said the move also allows Hoka to gain insight and use the expertise of other Deckers companies, including Ugg.

Yang, who joined Deckers in May 2015 to oversee Teva, replaced former Hoka president Jim Van Dine in an interim role in October. The interim tag was removed in January. (Other new faces at the brand include Gretchen Weimer, who came on as VP of product marketing in December, and Lee Cox, who was named director of global marketing in January.)

Since assuming leadership of the brand, Yang has taken steps to bolster Hoka’s presence in target markets such as the triathlon community. The label recently signed on as the official shoe partner of the 2016 Ironman U.S. Series, as well as the 2016 Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon. In addition, Yang said that Hoka plans to recruit more athletes as brand ambassadors and to further engage consumers via social media.

Hoka One One
The men’s Vanquish 2.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

Those marketing efforts could help Hoka overcome certain hesitations among consumers.

“For some shoppers, there’s a barrier to [Hoka’s shoes] because of the way they look,” said Ben Sigle, co-owner of Manhattan, Kansas-based Manhattan Running Co. He noted that the oversized soles that made Hoka popular have hindered it somewhat from gaining mainstream acceptance: “People don’t want to try them on because of how thick the heel looks.”

Sigle said that at Manhattan Running Co., Hoka accounted for 2 percent of sales in 2015, compared with 32 percent for Brooks — a brand that Yang labeled as one of Hoka’s biggest competitors.

However, Sigle believes the brand shouldn’t stray too far from its defining product characteristics.

Hoka One One Speedgoat
Hoka One One Speedgoat.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Hoka One One

“Sometimes what makes you different and special is what gives you your success,” he said. “If you start going along with the other guys, what’s the reason people are going to buy you? It could be your downfall if you do too much of the stuff that’s already being done.”

Fortunately for retailers such as Manhattan Running Co., Yang said Hoka has no desire to deviate from the maximum-cushioned movement it spearheaded.

For fall ’16, Hoka will update the Clifton 3, a neutral road shoe with an improved no-sew SpeedFrame constructed upper. And for the trails, the brand is introducing the Speed Instinct, featuring an early stage meta-rocker and Pro2Lite midsole.

“We’re going to continue doing what we do best, and that is making supportive, comfortable, cushioned shoes that are unbelievably lightweight,” said Yang. “We’re going to strive and innovate with various footwear technologies.”

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