Why The Running Event Is Welcoming New Brands and Embracing the Outdoors

The trade show landscape has been in flux for some time, but for The Running Event (TRE), its focus is on expansion to serve the booming athletic and outdoor industries.

Last November, in its return to in-person events, TRE reported a slight dip in exhibitors, but record high attendance for retailers and media. Headed into its upcoming show this month in Austin, Texas, executive director Christina Henderson said participation has rebounded on all fronts. For example, the show expects a 25% increase in retailer representatives this year, up from 1,020 in 2021. Henderson also said 285 exhibiting brands have signed on so far — compared with 190 in 2021 — and that number could reach nearly 300 by the time of the event.

“Exhibitors last year said they’re watching budgets, watching contracts. For 2022, we have already sold more space on the floor than ever before,” she said. “Brands are coming back, and we have brands that haven’t been to The Running Event in many years — or ever.”

First-time exhibitors at the show include Saysh and Norda.

Also, TRE has recently expanded the markets it serves. In May, it revealed Switchback, an outdoor-focused area within the exhibit hall that will debut this month. Brands showing there include Merrell, Danner and Keen.

Here, Henderson shares insights on Switchback and future changes to the trade show.

As a running industry trade show, why choose to now include the outdoor market?

Christina Henderson: “It’s a natural progression. We, as industry people, see the running industry and outdoor industry as two separate things, but that line is becoming blurrier, especially with consumers. Our running consumer going into a run specialty store is no longer just running on roads. They are running on trails, up mountains, they’re hiking, they’re camping — and they’re buying all the gear. We don’t want to be the next Outdoor Retailer. They have their space. Our specialty is specialty retail. We have focused on run specialty, providing them this space, support and education, and we can do the same for outdoor specialty.”

What plans are in place to secure and retain outdoor brands and retailers?

CH: “We launched a scholarship program. Switchback exhibitors who come in year one can nominate stores that we will personally invite to attend, waiving registration fees. We want to work with these brands to get the people they want to see in attendance. We have a team member whose role is to identify the VIP outdoor specialty retailers based on feedback from brands and build relationships with them. I know most TRE attendees by name. I can call them on the phone. That’s what makes this so special, and we want to give that same service and feeling to the outdoor industry.”

Is TRE’s November timing still ideal for brands and retailers to conduct business?

CH: “It used to be perfectly aligned with the buying season, but the season has moved up. We’re hearing it’s a little earlier, but the timing still works with some brands. Some brands still write orders, some use TRE as a connection point, a marketing effort to follow up the selling — it’s mixed. These are our dates, but if we change them, it will be slightly sooner. Brands say it could be helpful in terms of buying.”

Is a date shift in the works?

CH: “It’s always in the conversation, but we are keeping our same dates for 2023. We are looking into possibilities for 2024. We meet with an advisory group of brands and key retailers to have these discussions. If a decision was made, it would be with their buy-in. If we were to do it, it would be mid-November, prior to Thanksgiving but after the marathon season. These brands do the marathons in the fall, they’re putting on Turkey Trots around Thanksgiving and then there’s Small Business Saturday. We must make sure the timing will continue to work.”

Why is TRE still important for the running industry?

CH: “Run specialty retailers, they have a couple of small events, but this is the big event. The education piece has become an important part where everyone gets to gather and learn from each other. Your running store in Charlotte doesn’t compete with your running store in Brooklyn, so they get in the room and say, ‘How do you handle this?’ We learned during the pandemic that you don’t get that connection digitally. And you have all the brands in one place to meet with. The value is high for attendees.”

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