After almost two years of virtual meetings, Zoom calls and socially distanced greetings, the run specialty business finally gathered in one place at The Running Event 2021, held Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at the Austin Convention Center in growing but still-weird Austin, TX. 

Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2021, The Running Event provided run specialty retailers and their brands with the opportunity to chart a course to the future. One of the key messages that came out of TRE was that stores are going to take the lessons learned during the pandemic, adapt them to the new retail reality and move forward.

Simply put, it was good to get together again. Now, if the industry can only get those supply chain issues figured out ...

A Changed Industry

The run specialty business is vastly different than it was the last time it met at The Running Event 2019. Terms that are common place today – curbside pickup, virtual fittings, PPP and, yes, Zoom – were unknown back in those simpler times. But now the running boom brought about by people finding the joys and relative safety of exercise during COVID-19 has allowed the industry to thrive headed into an optimistic new year.

As Christina Henderson, TRE show director and publisher of Running Insight, puts it: “As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of The Running Event this year, we look forward to an even brighter future for the run specialty community that we serve.” 

The celebration kicked off with a keynote presentation by industry guru Parker Karnan, who said that while most projections call for 10-25 percent growth for run specialty in 2022, he definitely comes down on the higher side of the estimates. Price increases that will average eight percent will contribute to this top-line growth, but the continuing running boom – fueled by new runners who don’t necessarily consider themselves runners – will keep the momentum going well into the new year as the supply chain issues hopefully iron out by Q2.

The ‘Non-Runner’ Runner

The “I’m not a runner” customer was a recurrent theme throughout TRE, as most vendors focused new product development on the customer who took up running during the pandemic and plan to keep at it — not necessarily by running a marathon (or any race for that matter), but by maintaining their healthy “non-runner who runs” lifestyle.

As could be expected, there were many highlights to the three days of The Running Event 2021.

Attendees came to the keynote session to hear Karnan’s insights and stayed for the “The Future of Running Is Diverse” panel discussion. It featured such heavy hitters as Fleet Feet’s Joey Pointer (the self-described “white male” on the panel), Pacers Runnings’ Kathy Dalby, Britt Olson of On Running, who made the trip despite being on maternity leave, and Sasha Spencer Atwood, of the World Athletics Championships. Moderated by consultant Skot Welch of Global Bridgebuilders, the session was perhaps the most important – and, for many, uncomfortable – session ever held at TRE. 

The discussion focused on the need for improved diversity efforts within the run specialty industry and how these efforts demand commitment and those “uncomfortable” conversations. The fact that hundreds of people – from retailers and brands alike – attended is testament to how important the session was. Diversity continued to play a central theme during TRE as the Running Industry Diversity Coalition (RIDC) and others focused on this important initiative.

Ongoing concerns about supply chain disruptions no doubt dominated conversations between retailers and their major vendors, from footwear to accessories. The general consensus is that it is something everyone has to live with and as long as the vendors are upfront with the situation – allowing retailers to plan for late or partial shipments – then all parties can cope with this challenge together.

Interestingly, many of the footwear vendors included very vague release dates for early 2022 product. The typical March 1 drop date, for example, often became “Spring 2022.” One vendor even printed its catalog with explanations of which products were in limited supply or will be delayed until mid-to-late 2022. A sure sign of these times. 

One welcome addition to TRE this year was the preponderance of official Happy Hours on the show floor starting at 4 p.m. on the first day of the exhibition. The TRE Happy Hours provided a wonderful exclamation point on a successful first day together.

And even before that, the ice cream truck at UnTapped provided a delicious afternoon snack for hungry attendees.

TRE attendees know they have to get up early to get their daily run in, and so they did in Austin, where the streets and running paths were filled with pre-show runners at organized and informal gatherings.

Highlighting the racing scene once again was the annual Indie 5K, what was billed as the “Too Fast, Too Furious” edition because it took place at the unique Circuit of The Americas venue that normally hosts the United States Grand Prix motorsports race. 

The other highlight was the RIDC CommUnity Run, powered by Saucony, on Wednesday morning that brought together more than 300 industry participants with a host of Austin run clubs. It was quite an event to complement the RIDC’s efforts to educate the industry into long-overdue diversity efforts.

The Running Event 2021 closed with The Best Running Stores celebration. Highlighting the evening was the announcement of Charlotte Running Company as the 2021 Store of the Year. Also receiving special recognition were the three other finalists for the prestigious annual award — Fleet Feet Montclair, John’s Run/Walk and Run Hub Northwest. (See page 37 for more on the Best Running Stores.)

The Best Running Stores evening also featured the presentation of five sponsored industry awards given to well-deserving individuals and stores for efforts that went above and beyond normal retailing in a very challenging year. 

Here’s a recap of the winners:

  • Brooks Run Happy Award: Chelsea Kipp, Mill City Running
  • Saucony Run for Good Award: Bull City Running
  • Skechers Performance Miles of Comfort Award: Run Detroit
  • Impact Award from On: Palmetto Running Company
  • And finally, the most emotional award of the evening – the Ubuntu Award, presented by Balega – went to Bert and Tanya Pictor, the retiring founders of Balega who actually established the award years ago. It was a deserving and heartfelt tribute to two very deserving individuals.