By Ken Larscheid, Running Lab Store Founder
One example among many is that since 2020, the “keep specialty special” mantra is becoming less important to brands. There is no such thing as true “specialty only” models anymore, MAP protection is a continuous moving target depending on the brand, and specialty-only colors are becoming increasingly rare. If anything, the opposite has occurred, with the choice of exclusive colors on D2C sites exploding the last few years. Even the term “specialty” is becoming a gray area, as some brands define stores like REI as specialty.
How do we move forward from here?
I believe it is pivotal that it starts with brands respecting the hard work specialty running stores put in to support their brand partners. I will speak directly to our brands at this point: Run specialty validates your brand and the products you create. Many of you were built at run specialty stores through this validation. As a store owner I have encouraged my staff to stick with the brands we believe in – even when we were only selling two to three pairs a month – because we saw the differentiator these brands brought to the market. We saw the potential of these brands, and we told the story to our customers. Now we sell 200+ pairs a month for those same brands, yet we have never felt more left behind. Our key pain point: Brand partners are making decisions without asking first, “How does this effect the retailer?”
So I ask our brand partners: How do we get back to specialty having some of its own product that we are proud to validate and say, “Yep, you can only learn about it and see it here.” How do we launch products together again, and stick to MAP policies and timelines that were agreed upon? How do we create a better system where retailers and brands talk to each other so we can help customers quickly and efficiently? Remember the Omni-channel buzz word of 2019? Where did that go? We need that innovation.
Brands have supported run specialty in many ways and have over-invested in run specialty compared to other channels. Discounts, shipping and marketing support are all things we know we are lucky to have. The issue is that these investments are quickly damaged when distribution strategies hurt the retailers that brands have invested in.
I understand the growth with run specialty retailers may take longer, but the experience the customer has with that product will never be better. This creates advocates and fans of brands. No other strategy can compete with that! Run specialty is how so many brands have grown into incredible stakeholders in this industry. All we are asking brand partners to do is keep this in mind as we navigate this growing market where brands and independents exist as retailers together.
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