2016 Winter OR Diaries: An early breakfast, an early Winter OR, by Larry Eder

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IMG_0595.JPGAnna Cavassa, SVP, Customer Experience, Dan Sheridan, SVP, North America, Jim Weber, photo by Larry Eder

The Winter OR has come much earlier this year, to the frustration of many. But, early or not, the Winter OR is a good indication of how 2016 will be seen.

Right now, a bit of nervousness for many.

In light of that nervousness, some good indications as well.

Day One of the Winter OR started with the Brooks Financial breakfast. This is one of my favorite events at the OR. Jim Weber started doing this event about four to five years ago. It was a time for Weber, President of Brooks Running, to speak to many of the media on numbers for Brooks, general comments on business, but most importantly, controlling the narrative of the brand.

In 2015, Jim Weber spoke a bit, then let Dan Sheridan, SVP of North America, speak on the financials and the business, and Anna Cavassa, speaking on how Brooks will communicate with the community.

In a year when running shoe sales over $100 has dropped 19 percent, per NPD, Brooks increased their lead in performance running to 28 percent, up 1.5 percent.

Brooks has extended their contract with the RNR Race series from Competitor Group. This event series (numbering in the seventies), has provided Brooks options to reach out to a more casual running user.

Some key moments for me:

Jim Weber responding to my query on Brooks starting a training shoe program, reaching to more casual user. Weber did not rule it out, but felt that many would be interested in their product line now.

Dan Sheridan speaking about 2016 being a year of investment. Brooks did not reach 2015 goals and they see 2016 as being a tough year again, but with some important opportunities.

Anna Cavassa understands that Brooks needs to control their narrative and really get the story out about the brand. The experiential opportunities at RNR events, the opportunities at the upcoming Olympic Trials, the opportunities to use Brooks Beasts and Hansons Brooks DP athletes all show that Ms. Cavassa realizes the enormity of the opportunity for Brooks.

Most importantly, Brooks needs to continue their customer service, their sales support and rep services, and their consistently strong product.

Brooks is indicative of the running industry. Right now, Brooks, Saucony, ASICS, New Balance are battling at the top of the performance running foodchain. Brands like HOKA ONE ONE are continuing their growth, but are being closely watched as their change in leadership and return to mothership's (Deckers) offices in Santa Barbara. ASICs is on the upswing with Gene McCarthy, new president, pushing the brand to battle its competition once again.

Under Armour's strength is obvious, but their running success looks to be still in the future. Nike is the $35-$50 billion brand that dominates the world sports footwear scene. adidas, the second largest global footwear brand, with strong product, but underwhelming success in North America.

Hot brands? Saucony and New Balance. Saucony seems to be on a nice long growing path. Their long time president, Richie Woodworth, has moved to a larger position at Wolverine, the parent company. Many are curious as Wolverine will name new president of Saucony. Woodworth was one of longest term presidents of a brand in my recollection. His successor will be closely watched.

New Balance is firing on all cylinders. The Fresh Foam was one of the first signs last year that the brand was getting the space back in performance running. Now, some of my toughest retail contacts are raving about NB new product and interest from the consumer.

Mizuno, the sleeping giant, had challenges with product that they have overcome. Their biggest problem is that Mizuno does not really support its product, and retailers wonder what is going on. Retailers want to feel loved, and when they do not see promotions for the brands that they are basing their futures on, they get miffed.

Skechers is using apps, sponsorship of LA Marathon and interest with Meb Keflezighi and Kara Goucher to keep their brand in the eyesight of American consumers. Their GoWalk shoe is huge, their GoRun product line continues to improve as the brand stays tenacious.

How to communicate about your brand?

Look at the leaders. ASICS, Brooks, New Balance, who use events, social, digital and yes, core running print to reach to their consumer and show support to retailers.

HOKA ONE ONE has probably been the best model. A brand purchased by Deckers in 2012, they have continued to be hot in 2015. Their local presense supported by being in most key regional running titles, and most key national running titles, HOKA ONE ONE built into events and key running groups, building a strong presense in 2015. Their support of coaching clinics, support of coaching groups, grass roots events in road running and trail running, is what I call " old school".

Even with digital communications (quite important), social communications (daily reinforcent) and print enthusiasts involvement reinforces messaging. Missing one of those media platforms seems to hurt a brand if the competition is there. Then, a vacuum has been created. Be assured, some brands get it, some do not.

And something about public relations and communications. This is key as well. The brands that get coverage in our pubs and websites are the ones with PR teams that get product to editors, reach out to see our needs, and also provide access to key brand ambassadors and brand teams. Well written press releases, lo res photos, follow up all matter. Do not waste an editor's time, but also, take some time to understand the needs of key media.

But retailers see it all.

Years ago, Gary Goettleman of Ryan's Sports in Santa Clara, California told me what was most important about a brand getting on a store wall: will they sell? will it put the store in a unique position? will it help pay the rent?

Footwear is sold one pair at a time. Same rule for apparel. We forget that, but it is a mantra.

In a year that has started rough, with the Chinese economy in a free fall, and the US stock market falling dramatically, some of the publicly traded companies in our sport are hurting.

The brands with consistently strong product, and that support their product and their retailers, especially in times like 2016, will be the victors. I am seeing some brands just changing to change. A silly approach to business.

I believe that this could be a remarkable year for running. Races continue to grow. Our partner, the Road Runners Clubs of America, insured 9000 plus races in 2015, with just south of 4.7 million finishers in 2015!

Brooks is a fine example of how staying focused on a goal is so important. In 2001, Brooks pulled away from a key retailer, loosing about ten million dollars in business, to focus on RSG. Their decision, now sixteen years later, is seen as brilliant. Then, they were considered, well, pretty risky.

Who will be the next brand success story?

That is what I am here to find out.

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