Boomers vs. Current Shoe Trends in Running

By John, Foot Tools Owner

The running shoe industry is a multi-billion dollar market.  There has been a proliferation of retailers entering the Canadian running shoe market; John Stanton of The Running Room got in early on the boom and a few chains have come and gone.  Now there are big chains such as Foot Locker and Sports Check/Canadian Tire that carry higher end runners than they did a decade ago.  The popular Mountain Equipment Co-op is expanding into the running shoe market.  Independent stores like Foot Tools are popping up all over the place.  And you have orthopedic and chiropractic centres entering the game.  Yes, it is a saturated market with a lot of choices for the consumer.  It is the perfect condition for “pricing wars” and you are starting to see it with more to come.  The big chains have constant discounts such as ‘buy one get second for 50% off’ and other various specials.  Most of the independents are matching or beating the discounts offered by the box stores.  This has set up a buyers market.  Then there are those that choose to purchase in the “good old” USA.  Not much Canadian retailers can do about that.  Unfortunately, Canada does not have the population to match the American prices.  More demand equals more supply; more supply equals lower prices.

What has driven the running boom?  Who else but the Baby Boomer.   Your typical baby boomer (but not all!) puts on a little weight or gets bored and decide to take up running.  He or she may do a couple 5 km runs, and the next thing you know, this person is training for a marathon.  A baby boomer’s ambition usually always exceeds his/her talent.  And the shoe manufacturers, knowing their markets, have designed shoes for this market.  Heavy clunky shoes like the Brooks Beast, Saucony Grid Stabil, Asics Gel Foundation, and etc. are all examples of this.  Over the years shoes got heavier, more structured and controlling, in an attempt to get the big, slow runner through the marathon.

Always moving forward and towards new markets, the running shoe manufacturers are getting concerned.  The “boomers” are not going to be around forever.  What is going to happen when boomers start taking up ballroom dancing and recreational tennis?  The younger generation may do the odd 1/2 marathon or full.  But once they check that off their list, they go for another challenge like a triathlon, trail running, or obstacle course races.  The thing is, they are not going to burn through rubber like the die-hard boomers.  They aren’t to interested in 2.5 hour training runs.  They get bored easily.  And they do not like heavy, clunky, shoes.

Young people are having a bigger influence with shoe manufacturers.  The new shoes are lighter and less structured with a lower heel profile.  Saucony has come out with the Mirage and Kinvara, about 3-4 ounces lighter plus they have a heel profile 4mm lower than traditional shoes.  They have also introduced the Hattori, a shoe weighing about 4 oz, which provides a natural feel with a zero differential heel to toe.  Who’s buying this stuff?  The young people are using it for their more intense training.  Young people have learned to train the whole system – strength, core, and flexibility.  Meanwhile, the boomers are still out there running and are still influential.  It will be interesting to see how manufacturers will scramble to meet the needs of the younger running generation, once the boomers have moved on.

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