As Running Sales Continue to Sprint Ahead, REI Is Making a Bigger Play for the Category

REI Co-op is amplifying its commitment to building its running category.

The retailer said on Thursday that it is continuing to invest in a multi-year strategy that builds upon recent category growth. According to REI Co-op, customer demand for running and fitness products has doubled since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the retailer aims to meet this demand by broadening its product assortment of the most sought-after running gear, evolving in-store experiences, deepening training for retail product experts, and expanding national and local partnerships.

“REI’s run business has grown more than 65% since 2019,” said Fan Zhou, REI run activity director, in a statement. “As interest and demand for run continues to grow, the co-op is uniquely positioned to serve runners of all skill levels. From those participating in their first marathon or seeking a new solo sport, to seasoned athletes looking to set a new personal best or explore new running routes and terrain, we’re committed to being their partner and one-stop-shop for gear, inspiration, tips, training and more.”

Looking ahead, REI said that the co-op is growing its already broad assortment of technical running gear “to help runners feel supported for extended durations and through any weather condition on either pavement or gravel.” REI said its extensive roster of running brands includes Hoka One One, On Running, Brooks, New Balance, Salomon, and Smartwool.

REI’s in-house product label is also offering new options in 2022, like the Swiftland Running collection. Designed specifically with the runner in mind, this line of apparel, accessories and gear is available in inclusive sizing, and is designed to optimize distraction-free mobility, comfort, and protection from the elements.

The outdoor retailer added that it will complement its broadened product offering with updated in-store and digital experiences. The co-op is piloting new store layouts and deepening staff training to serve as inspiration hubs for all running gear and equipment needs. Customers will find running footwear fit services expanding in all stores and online. The fit service will factor in an assessment of fitness level, customer goals, and where they plan to run to help select the appropriate shoes. Additionally, the co-op is deepening its engagement with local run clubs and is creating more opportunities to connect communities through their passion for the sport, REI said.

According to Matt Powell, senior sports industry advisor at The NPD Group, this is a “good move” for the retailer as growth in the running category is expected to continue in 2022. “The running business is set to outpace the rest of the shoe market in 2022,” Powell told FN on a call on Thursday. “This is due to several factors that have started since the onset of the pandemic. These include the fact that consumers are now more concerned about staying fit and have sought to participate in physical activities that allows them to be socially distant.”

“We will also see more people that want to look like they’re running for health in 2022,” Powell added. “This move will mark the return to performance running shoes as streetwear this year, which is another business driver.”

Powell noted that the performance running shoe category has seen a 19% growth in 2021 and a 26% growth in 2020 compared to respective prior years. Nike, Brooks, Asics, Adidas, and New Balance rank as the top five brands in the category, according to NPD data.

This data aligns with numbers from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), which shows that over 232 million Americans participated in some form of sports or fitness activity in 2021, bringing the inactivity rate down to its lowest recorded level.

The same study also found that half of the runners surveyed also participated in other outdoor activities, like fitness, cycling and camping.

This news comes after REI Co-op announced on Tuesday that it hit $3.7 billion in sales in 2021, marking an increase of 36% over 2020. The retailer said it achieved a net income of $97.7 million in 2021.

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