Sell More Running Shoes That Fit Customers Properly

Bolster your running shoe sales by building a staff trained to properly fit your customers.

Sell More Running Shoes That Fit Customers Properly

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From children to senior citizens, the running trend that started in the 1970s, then waned through the ’80s and ’90s is back, bigger and better than ever.

About 60 million Americans enjoy running, jogging or trail running each year, making the recreational pursuit one of the most popular of all outdoor activities. And there’s little wonder why. Few kinds of exercise are more efficient for burning calories, while also providing participants the opportunity to spend time outside.

While running isn’t a gear-intensive pastime, everyone who participates needs one essential item: a good pair of running shoes. With the average life of quality running shoes being about 300 to 500 miles, most runners will go through at least two pairs a year. And hardcore runners who put in a lot of miles wear their shoes out much more quickly, meaning they need to purchase several pairs a year.

Consequently, if you sell recreational equipment and gear, the running shoes segment represents a profit center that you should not ignore. In fact, if you or an employee or two get educated on running shoes and how to fit them correctly to an individual runner’s foot mechanics and running style, you might be able to steal some of the running shoe business away from that trendy local running shop down the street.

Shoe Construction

For starters, before you can be successful at selling running shoes, you need to know a little about their construction. Here’s a quick primer.

The upper of a shoe is basically everything above the sole that secures the shoe to the foot. Uppers are typically made from leather or manmade fabrics and are either sewn or glued to the midsole. Parts of the upper you might hear mentioned include the saddle, which is the reinforced area around the instep that holds the shoe securely in place, and the toe box, which includes all of the upper from the front of the eyelets to the tip of the toe. The toe box is often capped with a reinforced toe bumper.

The midsole is the layer pressed between the upper and the outsole. Most midsoles are made of ethyl vinyl acetate. Since the cushioning and stability devices are embedded within the insole, it is the most important part of the shoe in terms of stability and cushioning. The outsole is where the rubber literally meets the road. It is typically made from rubber or foam compounds placed in strategic areas to increase wear life or enhance bounce or flexibility.

While not technically a part of the running shoe, heel-toe drop is important to understand and is determined by two of the shoe parts. Heel-toe drop is basically the difference in height between the runner’s heel and the ball of his or her foot when standing in the shoe. Changing the amount of drop distributes force differently on the feet and legs, so is often considered when fitting running shoes.

About The Midsole

As mentioned earlier, the midsole is the most important part of the shoe. That’s because it incorporates the shoe’s cushioning and stability, which is critical to good shoe fit and running enjoyment.

Of course, cushioning is important because runners land on their feet over and over and over. A shoe with no cushioning built in won’t be comfortable enough to allow most people to enjoy running. The cushioning in most running shoes comes from EVA in the midsoles, although some shoe makers use encapsulated air, gel or other proprietary cushioning systems.

The stability built into the midsole often consists of a medial post, which is a design within the midsole that is firmer than the remainder of the midsole. Medial posts are usually made of firmer EVA than the rest of the midsole, hence the term dual-density EVA.

Shoes that use larger, denser medial posts are typically the most stable shoes and are called motion-control shoes. They are also heavier, stiffer and many runners don’t like to run in them because they don’t feel “fast.” At the other end of the spectrum are running shoe models that have no medial post or curved last. These shoes, called neutral shoes, are lighter and much more flexible.

In between these two extremes are shoes known as stability shoes. The most frequently purchased shoes today, stability shoes provide more support and stability than neutral shoes, but are still lighter and more flexible than motion-control shoes.

A very popular running shoe segment that retailers shouldn’t overlook — the trail-running shoe — is more specialized for trail applications. Since trail running shoes are designed for off-road routes with rocks, roots and other obstacles, they have aggressive tread and are fortified to offer extra stability and support.  

All About Pronation

All of that information about shoe structure and stability is related to the issue of pronation, which is the inward movement of the foot as it rolls to optimally distribute the force of impact on the ground when a person runs. It is sometimes described as the degree to which the arch of your foot collapses upon impact.

Pronation is very important to shock absorption because it helps runners to push off evenly from the ball of the foot at the end of the gait cycle.

For runners who have neutral pronation, the foot “rolls” inward about 15 percent on the stride, comes into complete contact with the ground and sufficiently supports a runners’ weight without any problems.

For runners exhibiting overpronation, the outside of the heel makes the initial contact with the ground, but the foot rolls inward more than 15 percent. Consequently, the ankle and foot can’t stabilize the body properly, so shock isn’t absorbed as efficiently. Along with causing foot discomfort and problems, overpronating also causes extra stress and tightness to the muscles.

The word used for those who under pronate is supination, which is exhibited when a runner’s foot rolls inward after landing, but the inward movement occurs at less than 15 percent (less roll than for neutral pronators). For those who supinate, forces of impact are concentrated on the outside of the foot and not distributed efficiently. When pushing off, most of the work is done by the smaller toes on the outside of the foot, sometimes leading to iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.

A good running shoe salesman can watch a person run for just a few minutes, either outdoors or on a treadmill, and know the level of pronation that person exhibits. In fact, most can look at a runner’s last pair of shoes and determine whether they are neutral, overpronate or supinate by the wear on the outsole. Shoes used by neutral pronators will typically show a wear pattern centralized to the ball of the foot and a small portion of the heel. Overpronators are defined by wear patterns along the inside edge of the shoe, while shoes of runners who supinate will show wear along the outer edge.

All this is important because the types of shoes discussed earlier are designed for different runners depending largely on their level of pronation. Neutral shoes can work for mild pronators but are best for neutral runners or those who tend to supinate. Stability shoes are good for runners who exhibit mild to moderate overpronation. Motion-control shoes, with their stiffer heels and more structure in the midsole, are best for runners who exhibit moderate to severe overpronation.

Finding an Expert

If all this information sounds like too much trouble to add to your current workload, perhaps you have a sales employee or two who could put some time into learning about running shoes in order to build expertise among your staff. You might even have a salesperson who loves running and would love to learn more about selling running shoes.

There are also other ways to find an employee or two who can jumpstart your running shoe sales nearly immediately. One is to lure an employee away from your local running store. Many such employees are young people working at the store as a second job or as college income, and a little bit of extra money might coax them to make a move to your establishment, where they can use their expertise to build your store a good reputation with runners. That might cost you a little more money than hiring a typical new salesperson, but the return could be substantial if your store becomes known to runners.

Another way to build running-oriented staff is to find a young person, likely a college student, who ran cross country in high school and is still very involved in running. One who is currently running races locally and regionally would be best. He or she will already know a lot about shoe styles, stability issues and pronation. A person with that knowledge who loves talking to people could start moving your business toward being one that is known for catering to runners and meeting their shoe-fitting needs. 

Give Them a Good Fit

Having a salesman who knows everything in the world about running shoes doesn’t do customers any good if they don’t get a good fit. A properly fit running shoe should feel snug in the heel and midfoot, but leave a little wiggle room in the toes.

When a customer is standing, check for proper length and width by pressing your thumb down next to the ball of the customer’s foot and around his or her toes. A good fit will allow for half to a full thumb’s width of space.

Also hold the back of the shoe down and have the customer try to raise his or her heel. There should be little or no movement if the shoe fits properly and is laced and tied snuggly.

Don't Forget Walking Shoes

While running is very popular and running shoe sales are booming, walking is actually the most popular form of exercise. In fact, research shows that about six out of 10 adults walk for exercise at least once week. Compared to running, walking yields many of the same benefits, while being easier on the participant’s hips, knees, ankles and feet.

Many companies make specialized walking shoes to cater to this large market. And while avid walkers don’t go through as many shoes in a year as really hardcore runners do, most need a couple of new pairs annually.

When gearing up to sell more running shoes this year, give some thought to walking shoes, too. The clientele might be a little different, but their credit is likely just as good.


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