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Footwear Insight Extra Interview with RIA's Terry Schalow

Published on | Josh Gowans | News & Updates

Terry Schalow is the executive director of the Running Industry Association, a non-profit organization whose main mission is to support the brick-and-mortar running retail channel throughout the United States and Canada. We caught up with Schalow to get his insight on the running industry’s health, challenges and resilience.
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What is your assessment of how the running industry has fared during the pandemic?

Remarkably well. At the start of the pandemic, with all the unknowns, around 20 percent of our retailers were seriously concerned about having to close permanently. Several of our smaller brands were also worried about their viability. Flash forward 12 months and we’ve only lost a handful of retail doors, and our brand members are all doing business. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that the run channel would have predicted that. But PPP loans helped, people started running more, and stores figured out now to keep servicing their local customers. All those factors helped insulate the channel.

How have running retailers been able to keep their businesses moving forward in these challenging times?

I have to say what happened over the past year speaks volumes about our retailer’s ability to pivot quickly to meet the challenge that Covid presented. Whether it was curbside or home delivery, on-line fittings, or setting up appointments, people just simply rolled up their sleeve and got after it. And our retailers took advantage of fantastic new e-commerce solutions, which essentially provided the omni-channel solution that had eluded the channel before 2020.

Have RIA members been able to effectively take advantage of government-backed PPP funds to keep their businesses afloat and moving forward?

That’s an emphatic YES! I’m proud to say that over 90 percent of our retailers applied for and received PPP funds. I’ve compared notes with other specialty retail trade groups and that beat the average by a considerable margin.

Economists suggest the worst is behind us and the U.S. economy will continue to expand through the remainder of 2021. How do you think the running community will be able to benefit?

An expanding economy means more jobs, more jobs mean more disposable income, and with higher participation, the running channel should be looking at a very strong year.

What potential pitfalls do you think the running industry needs to avoid?

Keeping a close watch on inventory is always key. That goes both ways by the way. Too little inventory is an issue, and with the supply chain disruptions we’ve been experiencing, there is some concern. But demand is strong, and it bodes well for the year. 

As we proceed during the first month of Q2, what do you think the run retail community should focus on right now?

Embrace all the digital tools out there and share data. There are some amazing tools available to the channel, like e-commerce platforms that open up brand catalogs to retail customers, and digital marketing tools that drive some amazing ROIs. The channel needs to embrace POS data sharing as well. Data informs better inventory decisions and helps brands support their retail accounts to a much higher level. It’s what will keep the channel competitive, and the RIA is working hard to educate our members in to just how important these tools are. 

There are some amazing tools available to the channel, like e-commerce platforms that open up brand catalogs to retail customers, and digital marketing tools that drive some amazing ROIs.

With consumers continuing their migration to the internet during the pandemic, how has the run specialty community responded? Has it done enough?

It’s really not a question of ‘Has it done enough?’ It’s really ‘How does it evolve?’ Brands are going to sell direct to consumer, but platforms that connect those digital sales to retailers are essentially creating a stronger consumer connection and a higher level of service, and the smart brands are taking advantage of that.

What more needs to be done by your retail members? 

Investing in digital tools and embracing data and information sources is going to be a strong direction for our members going forward. 

Do you think there is a new understanding between your retail members and your brand members regarding Direct To Consumer selling by brands?

Retailers understand that brands are going to sell direct. What they want is to partner in that effort. I like to tell brands, ‘Think of each of your retailers as a mini-warehouse for your products.’ There’s an efficiency there and a higher level of customer connection if you do it right, and we have some innovative brands that are figuring out how to effectively include their retail accounts in their DTC efforts. The RIA of course strongly encourages that.

What’s that status of the RIA KICK Show this year? 

Unfortunately, we’ve had to cancel the KICK show again. Mid-May is our window for the buying show format for KICK, and our members won’t be quite ready to meet in person. As we move into summer, we’ll look for other opportunities to serve our members and create connections, so stay tuned! 

What about RIA initiatives in 2021?  Can you provide some details on anything you may be working on?

I’m really proud of what we’ve done to create member connection and provide information. Our member forum has become a fantastic peer-sharing forum. We’ve launched our Brand Showcase, where retailers can easily grab brand content. Our new RIA Connect app allows members to get information, sign up for events, and connect with each other on their mobile devises. We’ve also launched our new RIA Pulse Newsletter, and our Webinar Wednesdays series is getting rave reviews.

How do you see the running market playing out for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022?

I’m happy to say that I see not only a recovery, but growth. I always marvel when so-called industry insiders look at very narrow data sets and claim that run specialty is vulnerable. The fact is the channel remains strong. There is always room for new and innovative products, as well as new and innovative business platforms, and that is providing a lot of momentum for the channel that will serve it well this year and beyond.

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