What will 2009 Bring?

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The picture above was taken on my iphone on one of my morning walks in the compound where we stayed outside of Beijing, during the Beijing Olympics. The first couple of times, I noticed the three Buddhas: See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil. Then, I noticed the gnome. It was probably on the third walk by the house that I noticed my friend, the gnome.

Gnomes are part of Northern European folklore and to see it in Beijing put a smile on my face.

Now what does this have to do with my blog today? Read on, gentle readers....

We are in a a) economic downturn, b) recession, or c) depression, d) none of the above.

I am not sure what to call it, but the global village has gotten smaller, as the financial idiots, in any language, come home to roost, begging for bail outs. As most people worry about their jobs, their investments, their retirements, their homes, how they are going to support their families, we have more similarities than differences.

I remember walking one hot and humid evening in Beijing, around the Guo Lu, or the Drum Tower. The hutongs, which are small alley ways that wind through Beijing, were full of families having meals, playing cards, kids sleeping as many people were shopping in the tiny fruit stands, shops around the Tower. Across from the Drum Tower was a well lit area where a few dozen people were playing badmitton. What got me was that people were close, having fun, laughing, talking, young and old, Chinese, non-Chinese, and I felt really good.

As James O'Brien, Pat Butcher and I were looking for dinner that night in Beijing, I noticed a very small shop selling running shoes, trail shoes and Columbia jackets and shorts. The young proprietor was British, and he was telling another English speaker how much he liked living in Beijing. Running shoes in Beijing?

I have to admit that I did not see many runners in Beijing, or outside of Beijing where I was staying. Running is really a middle class pursuit, as is fitness. Most people in Beijing, while they would admit to be doing a bit better economically, were not worried about their fitness level. Normal life keeps them in decent shape, well, except for all of the smoking. (If one watched late night Chinese TV, the infomercials on insoles, fitness equipment were much more fun than the base American versions).

In the rest of the world, running is one of those pursuits that come as the middle class grows, the economy grows and people worry about how they look. In the US,
as the economy gets worse, running, walking and fitness are few of the things that people will keep doing. Reasoning? It is one of the few things that one can control
in their lives, and running shoes will be purchased, but other things will be held off-socks, insoles, shorts, performance shirts.

In speaking to a few dozen local running stores, I am hearing that sales were good over Christmas, and that they expect the strong brands to stay strong.

The astute brand manager stays focused, and uses the downturn to build relationships with the local running store owner by supporting local opportunities
to build the businesss-advertising, sponsorships, print and web promotions.

The astute store manager works on their websites, ties in with local running clubs, magazines, web sites, and makes sure that their vendors support them in such times.

Consumers get spooked watching CNN, as there is a story every few minutes, they find another scary story about the economy. The key for vendor and local running store managers is to keep the lines of communication open between consumer, running store and vendor.

An example of good communication and good use of marketing is the program that State Farm Insurance is using on cable TV. They note that the company started in 1931, just before the great Depression, and how State Farm had helped consumers through twelve recessions. Good copy, nice reassuring message--the commercial was comfort food for the economically weary.

In the gas crisis of the late seventies, Nike had a great commercial with a guy running in front of a closed gas station. It was the same type of message that State Farm is using now.

When I hear about brands cutting back on travel, perks, etc, I always hope that they are putting the money into marketing-it is the smart thing to do, but it takes more than smarts, it takes real focus.

No one knows how the economy is going to go. I believe that we have a tough two years in front of us, but I also believe that running will grow, in footwear sales. Accessory companies that promote their product, that do what footwear companies do, promoting the local dealers, will see some growth, but also see more support from the local running store.

It is also a time when great stores will grow, and mediocre stores will close. The same with brands-great footwear will grow, mediocre footwear will be in Marshalls.

I have to admit that I have only launched magazines in recession years. Not really sure that I planned it that way, but if you can make it then, you can make it anytime.

Good luck and I would love to hear your comments!

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