On Sept. 23, Fleet Feet in Fayetteville, NC, took to Instagram and posted a photo of nine large brown boxes filling its backroom — a three box-by-three box makeshift wall rising some five feet above the ground. The accompanying message reflected present-day realities blanketing the run specialty marketplace.
“We got our shipment today. Maybe the shoes you’ve been waiting for so long are in one of those boxes,” the store beamed.
Indeed, large shipments of footwear, apparel and other goodies landing at run specialty store doors are worth celebrating these days as the global supply chain continues to be battered by challenges from accessing raw materials to last-mile delivery. Some call it a “Big” (capital “B”) problem; others label it an all-out crisis. Whatever verbiage one might apply to the situation, it’s an undeniably pesky issue for both running vendors and retailers.
After all, Mark Jimenez of Las Vegas-based Red Rock Running Company reminds, “We can’t sell what we don’t have.”
The Supply Chain Conundrum
The supply chain functions much like the human body: a complex system that works beautifully behind the scenes until it doesn’t, at which time stress and frustration mount over a breakdown.
And these days, the supply chain is a mushrooming mess of entanglements and gridlock unable to rise from COVID’s early 2020 knockdown.
On October 3, Bloomberg noted the still-worsening situation: “Early in , the hope was that the bottlenecks that gummed up the global supply chain in 2020 would be mostly cleared by now. They’ve actually only gotten worse.”
Broken links throughout the supply chain have hit nearly every sector of the American economy and ignited boiling tension between supply and demand that has impacted brands, retailers and consumers alike.
Factory shutdowns have strangled production. Vietnam-based facilities creating Mizuno footwear idled for more than 60 days in mid-2021 while apparel company Janji’s production hubs in Ho Chi Minh City sat dark from June 2021 through the end of September.
“We had product mostly done, but we couldn’t even get workers in there to ship it out,” Janji co-founder Dave Spandorfer says. “It was like being paralyzed.”
At the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA, which together handle about 40 percent of the nation’s imported goods, a cluttered mess of 70 cargo ships awaited landfall in mid-September. The backup on the water spurred many bringing in overseas goods – from toys and furniture to, yes, running footwear – to investigate (and subsequently clutter) secondary ports like ones in Galveston, TX, and Savannah, GA. Others pursued air freight, a costly bandage solution that is now seeing its own hefty backups and price increases.
And even once products touch the Lower 48, companies face problems getting the goods into their warehouses and then efficiently redistributing items to retail shops across the U.S. given trucker shortages and other logjams.
“Gone are the good ol’ days when the PO comes in and you ship it out,” says Tim Urbine, the director of running at Mizuno. “It’s just not that smooth anymore.”
Immediate Responses From Brands, Retailers
Best they can, running brands and retailers have responded to the situation with an earnest, can-do spirit.
Most vendors have embraced transparency with retailers, noting present realities and detailing their immediate steps. Urbine says run shops have been “phenomenal at adjusting to this information and controlling the controllables.”
Andy Remley, the co-owner of DNA Athletics in Plainfield, IL, hesitates to estimate the number of emails he’s received from brand executives and reps addressing supply chain disruptions. He’s especially appreciated the brands who have responded to the unpredictability by only showing product 30 days out on their B2B websites.
“I prefer honesty and transparency because that’s what I’m relaying to my customers,” Remley says.
Jimenez, meanwhile, requested weekly status updates on orders from key vendor reps, an admittedly big ask but one that informed his planning. Typically carrying about six weeks of inventory, Jimenez says Red Rock stores now hold four months of goods. Though such investments have pushed Jimenez to the edge of his financial comfort zone, he sees it as a necessary step given present conditions.
“It’s a bet that there might not be as much available down the line,” Jimenez says, adding that most, though not all, brands have been open to reworking terms with Red Rock.
Remley, too, has tried to bulk up DNA’s inventory. He’s ordered older versions of key footwear models, loaded up on styles similar to his best sellers and checked vendor sites multiple times each week to secure top models as they become available.
“It’s a constant juggling act,” Remley says.
That’s why the arrival of large boxes packed with footwear have inspired run shops like Fleet Feet Fayetteville to rejoice on social media. In this era of supply chain chaos, the arrival of fresh inventory inspires Christmas morning-like giddiness.
It’s today’s reality and likely tomorrow’s, too, as there exists widespread consensus among industry insiders that supply chain turmoil will persist into the second half of 2022.
“The game is just beginning here,” Mizuno’s Urbine says. “The number of feet hasn’t changed, but the number of models coming in has.”
Plotting a Path Forward
So, what are running brands and run retailers to do?
The Running Event’s three days offer retailers and vendors an opportunity to connect face-to-face to hear each other out and craft a plan of attack. And from there, retailers and brands can work to address oncoming challenges with consistent communication and sound strategy while balancing some tough decisions with hearty doses of empathy.
Eager to sell their product and drive healthy businesses, many running brands continue developing and executing plans to overcome the supply chain shenanigans that have flipped shipments, just-in-time inventory and other common practices on their respective heads.
Mizuno, for instance, continues staffing up its distribution center to get product in and out the door as quickly as possible. Urbine says brand leadership also engages in a consistent cycle of “decision-making and re-evaluating.”
At Janji, Spandorfer and his leadership team have been “working to create a lot of buffer.” That includes planning and producing further ahead and broadening the company’s supply chain to include additional production facilities.
“These issues might get better, but they’re not going away,” Spandorfer says. “We need to have more consistent inventory shipments, work with more partners and work through more scenarios.”
And brand leaders acknowledge tough decisions lie ahead. Numerous brands, in fact, have already communicated wholesale and MSRP increases to retail accounts while product samples and release date delays could become commonplace despite brands’ best-laid plans.
“We’re in uncharted territory here,” Spandorfer admits.
Run Shops Forge Ahead
Just as brands continue responding to supply chain disruptions, running retailers are similarly looking to evolve and adapt.
Remley sees future orders becoming more crucial given their predictability, while he and DNA co-owner Dave Johnson have been constantly evaluating what products they need and when.
“I’m sick of all the at-once ordering and I’d like the peace of mind of knowing we have product coming in,” Remley says, adding his belief that brands “prioritize” future orders.
At Red Rock, Jimenez says he will continue shopping and getting as much as he can to ensure his two – soon to be three – stores are appropriately stocked. He understands the brands are doing their best and hopes they remain committed to open communication with their retail accounts.
“I can plan so long as they let me know,” Jimenez says.
Some run shops are also making sure that transparent communication flows to customers as well, so many of whom see the impact of supply chain issues themselves when they pass a car dealership or visit a local restaurant.
In an Oct. 14 letter to customers noting stubborn “supply chain disruptions,” Gazelle Sports CEO Jen Brummitt said her company had “taken great care” to ensure its five Michigan-based stores were well stocked for holiday shopping, though she cautioned “that might not last all season.”
“We’ve joined the chorus of other businesses to encourage you to shop local, shop early and shop with kindness,” Brummitt wrote.
For the run specialty marketplace that has already withstood so many COVID-era challenges – mandated store shutdowns, economic uncertainties and empty race calendars among them – supply chain upheaval represents the latest obstacle. The bright side: brands and retailers alike know the tremors will settle – eventually.
“This isn’t forever,” Remley says. “It’s just the battle we have to fight right now.”