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Aug 16, 2017

Confidence is returning but stay passionate to flourish

Jonathan Midwood, Up and Running general manager, examines the running market

It is no surprise to hear that the specialist running market since about 2008 has been somewhat volatile. After all, many retailers from across the retail sector have been subject to poor sales, stilted growth and in some cases contraction of their estate.

Due to the rippling effect of the recession and the deep influence it had on people’s available spending power, sales in specialist retail especially have been unreliable and in some cases catastrophic.

The tightening of people’s purse strings and the relentless cost of living freeze meant that items that were once freely purchased as a means to ‘do something healthy’ became items on the ‘not really essential’ list. The squeeze on cash didn’t only affect the buying public, it ran through the whole supply chain. The lack of cash exchange both up and down the supply chain became something that was passed back and forth like an over-used running sock. More often than not, the retailer had to take the full force of this ‘squeeze’ as it got passed down from the manufacture in the form of price increases. As any retailer knows margin is really for sanity while turnover is often for vanity and the SRP’s increased had to be passed on. This invariably resulted in less footfall and, as a result, less sales from the regular customer base.

In the past few years there have been casualties that have seen good companies disappear off the specialist running landscape. Brands with strong and respected heritages, wiped out and their particular brand message and ethos scored out of the history books, like carvings on a derelict temple. However, the clearing of the retail landscape can provide opportunities for new growth and re-development.

In the last 36 months there has definitely been more confidence in the market place. The volatility of pricing has changed and there appears to be a settling of SRP’s which has allowed the retailer to sell with more confidence.

Products that were ‘stripped back’ in terms of their construction and materials are now becoming plusher. This results in further confidence that what is being sold is worth what the SRP states it should be held out for. Products are now being sold as a premium product and as a result any consumer coming into the market place is more prepared to spend.

This positive trend builds not only customer confidence, but perhaps more importantly, retailer confidence. Something that for a long time would appear to be illusive. There is also blossoming opportunity for financial and brand growth if the retailer is prepared to widen their horizons and not just sit back reminiscing over the “good old days”.

Specialist retail, if it is to survive the next recession, has to evolve and change, taking in new trends and customers.

The ‘new runner’ that is out there pounding the street, treadmill and trail, is very different to the person who came across the threshold ten, even five, years ago.

The retailer of today has to be willing to engage with the customer base on their terms, assume an understanding of their needs and speak in their language. Information is now rife, so a specialist retailer needs to focus on customer service, social media ‘chatter’ and one-toone engagement but by listening to what is being needed. Retail can no longer dictate. On top of that the old adage of ‘stack it high and sell it cheap’ seems to only satisfy a small part of the buying public. Retailers, if they are not careful, can find themselves caught up in the mire of delivering low customer service, failing to satisfy customer expectation and do all of it with cheap presentation. Low margin can’t sustain retailers for long and today’s customer needs to feel that you care and can give them what they need.

If you pitch yourself as a budget retailer it is very difficult to move your way up to be a premium brand. This is what the customer demands and more importantly deserves.

So in summary, retail has certainly been turbulent. However, put in place a passionate and considerate company focused on today’s runner (or whatever your customer base is), provide excellent product selection chosen with an objective head and deliver it through exemplary customer service, specialist retail will not only survive, but it will flourish.

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