We live in uncertain times.
Those five words seem to be the most uttered phrase of the last year or so.
I read them in the previous issue of Sports Insight, I read them in just about every op-ed column going, and I hear them in meetings every day.
In these days of Brexit and Trump, of unpredictable electorates and political uprisings across Europe and beyond, the macroeconomic situation appears to be less regular than ever and the market could drift in so many different ways, we just don’t know where to turn.
But wasn’t it ever thus?
Even in recent memory we’ve seen rocketing interest rates, the ERM in/out fiasco, war, terrorism, political scandal and just about everything else as well.
As an industry (or individuals), we’re unable to account for these externalities or have any influence on them, so maybe we should just address the issues that we can control, or at least accurately assess?
Let us start with the biggest factor affecting the running market in 2017 (and in reality for several years prior to this too). The consumer is changing.
We have demographic studies to tell us this, but even if we did not, the circumstantial evidence is all around.
Check out your local 10km or even the biggest marathons in the world.
The glass half empty merchants will tell us that standards have dropped inexorably over the years, but those of us with a more upbeat view will argue that numbers of runners overall are significantly up, ParkRun has been born and is thriving beyond measure, charity races are continuing to boom (at least in the UK) and running is cool.
Running shoes are even cool for wearing when you’re not running, just check out the feet next time you’re in a coffee shop for proof.
The new consumer is younger, is not a member of a traditional running club and is way more likely to be female than she ever was.
She wants to look and feel good when she runs, or works out, or does yoga or CrossFit. She is just as likely to Instagram a photo of her workout kit from Starbucks or Strada as she is to post her run to Strava (but most likely, she’ll do both).
As an industry, are we really appealing to these new consumers? Are we creating and marketing shoes, apparel, and accessories for them? Are we making them available in environments which they want to spend time in?
Or are we just doing what we always did and wondering why we’re not even getting what we always got?
Look at the brands who are succeeding.
Running tech, nutrition, high-end apparel that works on the run and in the yoga class. Available in high street establishments like H&M, like Top Shop, even M&S!
Are we doing enough to bring these customers to our independent doors?
Our retail environments can win with the new runner by observing the environments that appeal.
By observing and borrowing from what the fastfashion houses offer.
By applying those high levels of customer service that the new consumer values, and ultimately expects. Running shoes can perform technically and look great.
They can incorporate on-trend fabric and colours. Those options are already out there. Marketing language can be adapted from the male-dominated “more tech than ever before” rhetoric of yesteryear, to explain what that tech does in reality.
Yes, we live in uncertain times, but we can still work with a great deal of confidence in our industry if we collectively flex and adapt to the demands of the new consumer and provide innovative products with compelling stories in welcoming environments.
Running is as popular as ever, and that’s one certainty we should all celebrate.