Trends & Features

Running has traditionally been an inexpensive pursuit, but things are changing, Fiona Bugler says

Anyone who’s run a marathon in a big city will be familiar with the expo, the shopping experience where all the latest gear and gadgets are on display and where runners can indulge in some retail therapy before picking up their race number.

Running has come a long way in the last 30 years. From a sport largely populated by skinny men wearing their old PE kit, to today’s big business – a travel experience, an adventure, a way to give back through charity and strike things from the bucket list for a growing number of people.

Growing market
Earlier this year Sports Insight reported on the NPD’s online consumer data, made up of a demographically representative sample of the population who record their sports footwear and apparel purchasing. The data revealed that the running market as a whole grew by 13 per cent in 2014, even though the price of shoes had increased (consumers spent £100 million more on running shoes in 2014 than they did in 2010).

So where’s the money coming from? First of all, there are more of us. England Athletics has a target to get 2.4 million people running by 2017. In June 2015 Sport England figures revealed this target was well on the way to being met, with 2.36 million people aged 14 and over taking part in athletics for 30 minutes once a week during the six-month period from October 2014 to March 2015.

Campaigns such as Sport England’s This Girl Can, the popularity of weekly park runs and big city marathons, themed races and even the growth of obstacle racing have all gone a long way to increasing the number of people calling themselves runners.

But it’s not just about the volume. There is also a new breed of high-end runner willing to spend more on their sport. Lex Rees is a consultant at The Altitude Centre, based in the City of London, which opened in 2012.

“It was born from a concept that people were spending more on running,” she says. ‘Cycling was a given and we had watt bikes in place in our centre in South Africa. But adding rows of treadmills was new and put in to cater for a burgeoning market who wanted running to be central.”

The Altitude Centre has 60 members. Many of these are what Rees calls very good amateur athletes who are prepared to invest a little bit more into their training. The centre has an altitude chamber that allows both runners and climbers to train for their challenges in far flung places. It’s also a time efficient way to train. You’ll train 1.5 to two times harder at altitude, so you’ll get all you need in a 30-minute interval class, making it the ideal investment for time poor, cash rich city workers.

Office runners
Running, along with all sport and fitness in general, is being invested in by big corporates, which are signing up their staff to gyms such as City Athletic and The Altitude Centre via Gym Flex, a company that organises gym memberships through company payroll and salary sacrifice schemes.

“The 2008 Dame Carol Black report highlighted how companies need to be more responsible for the health and fitness of their workers,” Rees explains, who used to work in sporting academic research.

Many companies have actively taken on this role. For example, banking and financial services business JPMorgan Chase organisers a worldwide challenge comprising 267,960 participants from 13 countries and 8,071 companies.

Cool running
The Altitude Centre shares its premises with the Run School, Sweat Shop and City Athletic, all of whom cater for the supremely competitive, Type A men and women working in the Square Mile.

“Running is cool now,” Rees says. “It’s normal to see someone, man or woman, in the City with their £120 Nike Flyknits, Lululemon training gear, a Fitbit or Jawbone on their wrist, a Nutribullet green drink in one hand and a yoga mat falling out of their bag.”

Stuart Brooke, owner of high-end apparel brand ashmei, also saw a gap in the running market, which he felt overemphasised volume over quality.

He says: “I didn’t believe all runners were tightfisted or low earners. Our customers are high-end sportswear investors. I didn’t have any stats when I launched the brand, but knew there was a market out there because I am one of those guys. I buy the best there is and know the value of investing in something of higher quality and performance.”

New ways to spend
With new high-end customers and a large volume of novice runners looking for guidance, brands such as Nike expanded its stores and online sales to meet the demand over the last decade. As a result, independent retailers have had to become even more specialised and offer a range of extra services – from running groups to physiotherapy – on their premises.

As well as a bigger, more diverse group of runners and new type of shopping experiences, the range of products available now include expensive wearables. And as the running market has grown, closely linked to the selling and marketing of these gadgets are communities.

Nike has evolved in this market and is phasing out its FuelBand gadget in favour of putting its energy into the Nike+ fitness platform, positioning the service as a mobile app that works with wearables from the likes of Garmin, TomTom, Wahoo Fitness and Netpulse.

Sports Marketing Surveys Inc found that almost 50 per cent of adult runners describe themselves as social runners, so it’s not surprising that brands want to meet them online. The sharing of runs, races, gear and gadgets is central to product sales and marketing campaigns and opens the running consumer’s eyes to a host of products they might not find at their local running shop.

The will to buy is given an extra boost, as runners are a competitive lot. It takes just one person to upload a fast run in their training log, talk about their V02 max as discovered on their Garmin 920X or share their ‘shoe porn’ image of the latest neon trainers they’ve purchased and everyone’s in on the act.

The next generation of runners, like the next generation of spenders, are a more sophisticated bunch. As running marketing campaigns now tap into our social conscience, there’s a new dimension to the already well established giving side of running. And with this new dimension, there’s a load more reasons to run, reasons to get involved and ultimately reasons to spend more money.

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