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Hip to Be Fit

Retailers are racing to outfit consumers on their quests for better lifestyles

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As I write this letter on a balmy fall afternoon in Cincinnati, three coworkers of mine are sitting in the lunchroom discussing the merits of running or walking a 5K. It’s certainly the best time of year around here to be out and about, exercising without the near-suffocating humidity of the summer or the drenching rains of spring.

These three women wouldn’t call themselves hard-core runners, but they’ve partaken in their share of for-a-good-cause races. They might even consider a longer one, if they can reschedule Saturday morning training laps at a more reasonable hour.

They won’t be hitting the track or gym alone. Sales at running specialty retailers jumped 7 percent in

August, driven by a 9 percent rise in footwear sales and a 3 percent increase in accessory sales, reports Leisure Trends Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based consumer research firm. Footwear purchases alone represent 73 percent of all business in this sector. That’s a lot of high-tech, fashion-savvy sneakers hitting the pavement.

Attribute the rising interest – and growing retail sales – to a nationwide push for healthier lifestyles or a desire to get out there and just do it, but the athletic wear industry is going strong. Retailers aren’t just resting on their, ahem, butts, either. Designed to fit different personalities and fitness levels, an array of concepts are being introduced.

Athleta and Lululemon shops are popping up across the country, outfitting fashionable yogis and outdoor types with uber cool (and uber pricey) gear. Next spring, Macy’s and The Finish Line Inc. will begin opening Finish Line-branded athletic footwear shops in more than 450 Macy’s department stores and online. Nike is finding success with its Factory Stores, which offer discounted brand items within the environs of a LEED-friendly store environment.

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And there’s also Reebok. I remember wanting a pair of high-top Reeboks in the 1980s, when the brand was at the height of its popularity. Now Reebok, set on reinvention, is tapping into the spreading of CrossFit boxes throughout the country to open co-branded Reebok CrossFit stores. The first U.S. location in New York houses a store and a below-ground box. (See VMSD’s trend report on athletic footwear retailing starting on page 24.) Reebok wanted a new brand concept nobody else was using, and that took them away from team sports and toward this new workout trend “It fit into our new brand messaging, becoming the fitness and training brand,” says Peter Quagge, Reebok’s manager of environmental design.
It’s also a great example of keeping your game fresh.
 

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