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In the Race for Performance Running, This Brand Could Soon Overtake Nike in the Women’s Market

When it comes to the women’s performance running shoe market, the familiar phrase “It’s lonely at the top” isn’t necessarily true.

The NPD Group Inc. senior industry adviser Matt Powell revealed on Twitter today that Brooks has the potential to pass Nike as the No. 1 women’s performance running shoe brand. Speaking with FN this afternoon, the industry insider stated Brooks was positioned at No. 2 last year in the category behind Nike, with sales up about a third. Nike sales, on the other hand, were down roughly 20%.

Powell said if this trajectory continues, Brooks will pass Nike in the women’s performance running shoe category.

“[Brooks is] focused on the female consumer, they realize the opportunity there,” Powell told FN. “And as many of the performance running brands that are in run specialty know, the women’s business in the channel is equal to or greater than the men’s business. [Brooks has] had a lot of experience about building her up, and it’s paying off for them now.”

For Powell, the reason why Brooks continues to gain ground on the competition is simple. “It’s about product she likes to run in and feels comfortable with. Many brands still develop product men first. Brooks has been much more focused on products that are appropriate for both genders.” Powell explained.

Women of Brooks
A group of employees dubbed “Women of Brooks” for a spring ’18 campaign.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Brooks

The recent ascent of Brooks comes as no surprise to the brand’s retail partners.

“Bottom line with Brooks, they just fit well, and that’s for men and women. Many years ago, they started making shoes that were just as comfortable the moment you put your foot into them in the store as they were at mile 100,” Genie Beaver, owner of West Stride in Atlanta told FN. “And amazingly enough, we sold the same shoe to the woman who walks 25 miles a week in the pandemic and the woman who runs 80 miles a week training.”

She continued, “They’ve also done a great job just with colors and style. Generally speaking, the shoes look good and they appeal to a broad base of women. Between the fact that they look good, they feel good and they’ve got options that are just over $100 so they’re not the most expensive brand on the wall, there’s not much reason for it not to be No. 1.”

Additionally, Nike’s recent focus on the pinnacle runner has allowed for Brooks to gain ground.

“Some of the new Nike shoes that are really built for performance, they don’t appeal to women that aren’t training for a marathon or training to run really fast,” Beaver said. “And the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of women who said, ‘It’s too narrow for me in the arch’ or ‘It feels a little unusual in the heel.’ We’ve just had a little bit more of that lately.”

To keep gaining ground on Nike, Powell believes Brooks doesn’t need to change much.

“It’s really continuing along the same path that they’ve been on. They just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing and making great products for her, making sure they’re in the right retailers to reach her,” Powell said, adding shoe chains and moderate department stores such as DSW and Famous Footwear as ideal target retailers.

And Beaver agrees.

“What they’re doing is a great recipe for success, and that’s providing a shoe that fits well and performs over time, and also fits a broad array of women,” Beaver said. “The second thing they’re doing is making the shoes look good, that’s important to most female consumers. And the third thing is they’re getting [West Stride] what we want when we want it, which is a lot easier said than done, especially in today’s environment.”

frontline workers, healthcare workers, trying out shoes, new outdoor shoes
EMT and firefighter Maria Pichowsky spends her time off hiking with her two dogs. Pichowsky wears Brooks’ Divide trail running shoe.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Maria Pichowsky

Although the women’s performance running shoe market is a specific demographic, Powell believes the segment is an important one to lead. He said run is the second largest category in athletic footwear and he believes performance running is poised to come back as fashion for the first time in eight years.

And if Nike wants to continue to dominate the athletic market as a whole, he believes the company should pay close attention to what Brooks is doing.

“Nike wants to try to maintain No. 1 share in every category they play. And as I’ve said so many times, the women’s business is our greatest failure and our greatest opportunity,” Powell said. “Now that we’re in this new world where the consumer is going to be even more focused on healthy lifestyle than they were pre-COVID, this is the absolute opportune time to get the female shopper buying from these athletic brands.”

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