Filmmaker Spike Lee created a character for a film, Mars Blackmon, who famously said in a Nike TV commercial, “It’s gotta be the shoes!” This, of course, comes as no surprise to the shoe fitters, footwear buyers and store owners of running specialty. They cater every day to a throng of runners who recognize the benefits of running shoes and acknowledge the expertise of this group of specialized experts, ensuring that the best equipment is paired with each runner.
Conversations with key retailers put the focus on brands and styles that provide the performance that all runners are looking for. So we asked three key questions about the new crop of shoes that the major running brands are rolling out. All of the usual players are present and accounted for, but there were surprises as well — one in particular is Karhu, which has an exclusive deal with Fleet Feet, making it an attractive option for those stores, and return business from those runners who have had success with the brand.
Further, recovery has revealed itself to be a category of interest to today’s runners and the savvy owners, buyers, and sales people have focused on its benefits to keep runners running.
What are three new shoes that you are excited about?
John Rogers, Fleet Feet Maine, Portland, ME
In no particular order...
• Brooks Glycerin 20 with the midsole integration of DNA Loft v 3 technology, elevates the Glycerin further from the Ghost and performs really well.
• On Running Cloud Monster elevates the CloudTec platform and should position On Running to make some noise in the Oversize Max Cushioning category.
• Diadora Equipe Atomo, Made In Italy versus Asia, puts a premium price on the Max cushion category, but the shoe performs well with Diadora’s DD Anima Foam technology.
I’m excited about these three shoes because they are all Max cushion shoes at 10 ounces or lighter and all have a smooth transition from initial ground contact to toe off. This should help the Max cushion category continue to grow, but with Max designed shoes that are quick, responsive and perform well.
David ‘Boots’ Boutillier, Fleet Feet Rochester, Rochester, NY
What excites me most will be whatever new shoe can arrive to my stores on time and complete. Saucony’s updated Endorphin line holds a lot of promise on what were already great models.
Kris Hartner, Naperville Running Company, Naperville, IL
• Nike Next Nature — Using Zoom X foam and a high level of recycled content, without adding a price penalty. In fact it’s $20 less than the Peg Turbo, which is the slot it fills — impressive.
• On Cloud Monster — We’ve been waiting (actually begging) for a Max cushion shoe from On and we think this could be the ticket. Such a strong and hot brand, with great fit, we just need a bottom unit that matches up with what our customers want most — plush, responsive cushioning.
Kyle Brady, Footwear Buyer, Naperville Running Company
• Brooks Glycerin 20 — Adding Nitro-infused foam that was used in the bottom unit of the Aurora is a great addition.
• New Balance 880 and 1080 — Highly anticipated updates to two of our top-selling styles. The staff is excited for the freshening.
• ASICS Cumulus 24 — Adding forefoot Blast+ foam, which has been doing really well in the Nimbus 24 and 2000 v10.
Chris Farley, Pacers Running, Arlington, VA
Brooks Ghost 14 — The best-selling shoe in our space and it is now carbon neutral.
Saucony Guide 15 — Lightest most cushioned Guide.
Hoka Arahi 6 — Plush and supportive, the most “runnable Hoka” I’ve worn.
Jake Crowe, Playmakers, Okemos, MI
Hoka Mach 5, Topo Ultrafly 4, Brooks Glycerin 20
Bob Coll, Eugene Running Company, Eugene, OR
With our heavy Nike slant we’re introducing their Next Nature shoes this year and I have big expectations.
Which brands do you see making the most impact currently?
John Rogers: Brooks and Hoka represent about 58 percent of our footwear business. Hoka continues to be a highly requested brand by consumers, either through the medical community or word of mouth. They are essentially tied for the number one position with Brooks and would be a clear number one without some of the supply chain issues that have affected them. Brooks continues to be a consistent choice with consumers as well. New Balance is a solid number three, as supply chain issues have hurt them the most. Altra has been our fastest-growing brand and On Running continues to be sought after by consumers for their unique styling and Swiss engineering.
‘Boots’ Boutillier: Impact to my bottom line is number one. Karhu, Diadora and Hoka lead here for me. Impact of driving new customers in my doors is Hoka and On. Impact of creating energy in my communities — Hoka, Karhu, Diadora
Chris Farley: Brooks leads the way in our space. Always looking at everything – and I mean everything – they do from a runner’s lens. Hoka has the most incredible rise in the history of our business. Bigger than what barefoot shoes did and Hoka has staying power.
Which brands are your up-and-comers?
John Rogers: ASICS and Saucony seem to be having some resurgence due to product improvements that have our associates more confident with their brand. Altra, with the zero drop story, and our in house brand, Karhu. Finally, Birkenstock has been a nice addition within the recovery category with their clean distribution and support story differentiation.
‘Boots’ Boutillier: We finally brought in Topo, as I finally feel their best shoes are positioned where I need them to be – good plush ride, 5mm drop – and they are off to a great start and at strong margins.
A 200-year-old brand can be an up and comer, right? Birkenstock, if I can get momentum going, will be huge as it brings new customers to my stores or add-on sales that don’t cannibalize current offerings.
Chris Farley: Sound-running — a brand that produces best in the world track meets and now is producing apparel. The apparel is unique in that it is Athlete Sizing, not specifically men’s and women’s sizes.
Deckers X Lab is a really interesting brand that is growing in our “comfort” footwear space. They have a founder (Jean Luc Diard, from Hoka) who has done it before and I wouldn’t doubt he could do it again.
Jake Crowe: Up-and-comers that will grow the most precent for us this year — On and Topo.
Kris Hartner: If this hits well, On will also fit into the up-and-comer category. Upping our commitment to recovery footwear with our Birkenstock Pop-Up Shop and Ooofos Shop-In-Shop.
The running shoe business continues to grow, as running is still one of the best fitness activities for overall health and fitness. The popularity of the Boston Marathon, as witnessed last month, did not lose a step post-pandemic, and that daily run that has maintained a level of sanity during COVID’s surges has enlisted a new crop of runners. It’s gotta be the shoes!