Climbing footwear is La Sportiva’s rock. But its stellar 2016 season in trail run and hike, which historically have been complementary to its core business, is fueling confidence that it can be a major contender in this competitive landscape.
Sales of trail product helped power a 45 percent year-over-year revenue increase stateside for the Italy-based outfit, according to North American president Jonathan Lantz. Previously, its annual growth rate was between 12 and 17 percent.
Its leading trail runner silhouette was the Bushido for men and women, while in hiking, its top seller was the Nucleo High model, which boasts Gore-Tex Surround waterproofing.
La Sportiva has been in the light-hiking market since the 1990s and in trail run since 2003. But its recent sales bump came as a surprise even to La Sportiva’s executive team, who credit the growth, in part, to CrossFit.
“People get into CrossFit, and their coaches tell them, ‘You need to work on upper body strength; you should go to a climbing gym,’” Lantz explained. “They’ll discover our brand there, buy our climbing shoes and then find out we also make trail running shoes, which are recommended a lot by CrossFit coaches.”
He continued, “So we’ve got [the customer] in the trail running category, we’ve got them in climbing, and then some branch out into that fast hiking world and discover our brand there.”
In addition to CrossFitters, Lantz attributed the brand’s recent successes to the rise of mud and adventure runs.
La Sportiva’s key retail partners are taking notice of the changes. Andrew Dunbar, co-owner of Boulder, Colo.-based Neptune Mountaineering, applauded how the brand has expanded its product breadth.
“There aren’t too many brands that can take the strengths in one category and expand it into a broader category,” he said. “It’s a testament to their designers and design process.” Neptune specializes in climbing footwear, but for spring ’18, Dunbar is most excited about La Sportiva’s TX5 hiking boot, intended for those who are looking for stripped-down weight but need something durable enough to support heavy loads.
According to Lantz, La Sportiva’s spring ’18 season will continue to build on the hike and run categories with new silhouettes for men and women.
Some of its best prospects for the season are the VK trail runner, a lightweight and low-profile look executed with a minimal sticky FriXion rubber outsole; and the Stream GTX hiker, which boasts Gore-Tex Surround technology.
Meanwhile, the brand has also seen growth with its women’s footwear business. Lantz said there used to be a 60-40 divide in sales, with men’s dominating, but in the past two years, that split has all but evened up. With the shift, La Sportiva has strengthened its focus on female customers.
“Women have always been a priority, but now we’ve touched on women’s-specific products that have resonated as far as fit and performance,” Lantz said. La Sportiva’s leading shoe with women is the Bushido trail runner, built for aggressive terrain. But product alone isn’t enough to secure that connection.
The brand will continue to use female ambassadors such as Meredith June Edwards, a mountain endurance athlete, as well as rock climbers Emily Harrington and Paige Claassen, in its social media campaigns.
At the same time, La Sportiva is doubling-down on climbing. “That is our wheelhouse; it is our DNA,” said Lantz. “Speaking to core climbers is easy for us.”
He added that the opportunities in the sport are growing. “We’re starting to see a lot of newer, entry-level people coming in,” Lantz said. “Our biggest challenge is how to get in front of and speak to them. The outreach we see the most success with is on the ground, being in front of the people in gyms and at events.”
Indeed, the Outdoor Industry Alliance reports that climbing is gaining popularity domestically: Roughly 2.8 million people participated in traditional, ice or mountaineering activities last year, a 20.3 percent jump from three years earlier. And participation in sport, indoor and boulder climbing increased 3.4 percent to 4.9 million in 2016.
So far, La Sportiva has been able to dominate the category and aims to continue the trend. According to The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service, the brand has a 57 percent share of the $33 million climbing footwear market.