Brooks is the new number-one in women’s running footwear in 2021. The Seattle-based brand has outpaced Nike
Dan Sheridan, Brooks executive vice president and chief operating officer, says the brand has spent 20 years fixated on one sport: running. “That was pretty unique 20 years ago,” he says. “We saw whitespace in run, more specifically we saw whitespace in performance run.” They’ve never wavered.
Sales figures for the first six months of 2021 show that the Brooks focus is paying off. Brooks has seen 88% growth in women’s performance running in quarter one and helped it to the top spot across the industry, accounting for 58% of Brooks’ total business.
While a wide swath of running brands saw sales increases during the outdoors boon of late 2020 and 2021, Brooks took over the women’s top spot in the industry, says Matt Powell, NPD Group senior industry advisor for sports, and the Ghost 13 and Adrenaline GTS 21 performance running models were top-10 sellers in the first half of the year across athletic shoes.
Sheridan says Brooks is winning the “product war” by creating a high-level shoe. The average selling price of a running shoe is $63, per NPD Group, but Sheridan says Brooks, in 2021, is averaging north of $100 per pair. “This focus,” he says, “on performance run is serving us well.”
The inroads into women’s buying habits come from a multi-channel approach, counter to the big brands focusing on direct-to-consumer channels. Brooks has embraced all stores, many of the same ones now ignored by larger players. By selling through specialty run (Brooks is number-one in that segment), larger stores and their own direct-to-consumer approach, Brooks is available wherever the shopper is researching, whether online or in store.
As women enter the brand through product experience, Sheridan says they are doing so first mainly through footwear and then finding apparel and run bras, an area that Brooks absolutely dominates with over 60% of market share in the run bra segment, to keep them engaged.
Sheridan says that when the pandemic hit and people turned to the outdoors for exercise and activities, the rise in running and walking—he describes walking simply as “slow running”—buoyed the entire industry. “We saw this influx of new and more engaged runners,” he says. “Those people in the sport ran or walked more. What that drove for us was incredible volume in terms of demand and market share and more people than ever found our brand.”
He believes that those new to the sport opted for a performance-level piece of footwear equipment for safety and those stepping up their running frequency “traded up” into more premium products, showed by the fact that Brooks’ core products held their price points across all channels.
The Ghost, Adrenaline and Glycerin models represent the brand’s most-purchased footwear models, all premium designs. The Ghost is the most cushioned product at its price point, Sheridan claims, with a “plush experience underfoot that adapts to your biomechanical needs.” The midsole compound adapts to the pressure to give the proper amount of cushioning to the runner, no matter their size. The Adrenaline adds more stability to the same midsole material and the Glycerin is an elevated cushioning version of the Adrenaline.
Brooks works to keep its silhouettes constant, offering only updates and tweaks that improve the product instead of overhauls that could alienate consumers. “The Adrenaline has been around for 20-plus years, the Ghost for 12,” Sheridan says. “Frequent runners are purchasing them. Once you have a shoe you know works for you, you stay pretty loyal to it. We feel a huge responsibility to deliver franchise styles year after year.”
Using the company’s biomechanics lab at its Seattle headquarters, Brooks is always working to update its research and development, but from a biomechanics point of view, the chassis of a shoe is the same for both men and women. The difference in selling to women really comes across in telling both aspirational and inspirational stories, Sheridan says, attracting women from both camps. He says brand marketing tells “fun stories” that resonate both with the serious runners and those just starting to engage with the sport.
Now that Brooks has reached the top spot in women’s running, it doesn’t want to slow. With 70% of global revenue coming from the U.S., Sheridan says they want to expand in European markets, forecasting a 40% growth this year. Brooks plans to launch in China in 2022. Brooks will also take its success in run bras and expand the brand outside footwear, with additional running apparel equipment for women and men.
Throughout it all, Sheridan says the running-centric attitude persists. “We wake up every day thinking about running,” he says, “which I think is a competitive advantage. We don’t think about any other sport. I love seeing a competitor spending $50 million on a European soccer team because that is $50 million they are not spending on running. I like to joke we are an overnight success in 20 years.”