Why Are There So Many Running Shoe Brands?

Photo: Scott Draper

A decade ago, the eight largest running shoe brands ruled the industry. Back then, adidas, ASICS, Brooks, Mizuno, New Balance, Nike, Reebok and Saucony were the primary brands you’d see at running stores, group runs and races. There were a few other smaller companies, but if you were a runner in 2005, you were probably wearing one of these brands.

A huge new surge in running participation, fresh fitness trends, innovative ideas and new technology has led to an explosion in brands. More than 35 shoe manufacturers are selling legit running models in the U.S. this year.

New companies like Altra, Hoka, Newton, Skechers, Topo, Under Armour and Vibram have sprouted, while companies known for outdoor equipment and apparel like  Merrell, Salomon, The North Face and Vasque have tried to take a bigger piece of the trail running pie. At the same time, established overseas brands such as 361° USA (China), Inov-8 (UK), Karhu (Finland), ON (Switzerland), Salming (Sweden) and Scott (Switzerland) have tried to make greater inroads to the U.S. market. Roka, a new brand that makes wetsuits and other triathlon gear, is preparing to launching a line of running shoes in 2016. Meanwhile, trail brands Salomon, Montrail and The North Face have attempted, without much success yet, to venture into the road running market. 

Why so many? The short answer is because running has become increasingly accessible to an ever-growing fitness-conscious  population. From newcomers to longtime runners to CrossFitters, obstacle racers and novelty-run participants, the common denominator is that everyone is wearing (and buying) running shoes. Running shoes have also become the de facto casusal shoe of choice for non-runners.

“Everybody wears running shoes,” says Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running Co. in suburban Chicago. “There are more shoes out there than ever, but there are better shoes now than ever before too.”

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From a business point of view, the relatively low cost of production, ubiquitous mainstream appeal and the high retail markup make it a very attractive sector to be in.

But what’s past is prologue. Numerous brands have come and gone from the U.S. running market in previous decades—including Converse, Diadora, Etonic, Fila, LA Gear and, most recently, K-Swiss and Patagonia—and consolidation could be imminent in the not-so-distant future as smaller brands struggle to hold onto a tiny percentage of market share.

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