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The State of the Running Shoe Market: December 2011 Running Specialty Sales Data from Leisure Trends

Nike Free Run In addition to being interested in the science of running form and footwear, I also have a bit of an interest in the business side of things – can probably thank my father for that. Thus, I like following the market information provide by sources like SportsOneSource (Matt Powell’s updates are fantastic), Leisure Trends, and Running Insight.

To give you an idea of the current state of the running shoe market, I wanted to first share some data provide by Leisure Trends on Running Specialty Retail Sales for December 2011. LTG reports that December sales at running specialty stores increased by 13% relative to 2010, sparked in part by the warmer than usual weather and less snow across the US compared to 2010. They go on to break down sales of running shoes by category, with comparisons to sales in December 2010:

Road running shoes, 89% of all shoe dollars sold, pulled in $37M, a 19% increase over December 2010. Neutral/cushion shoes did best within the road running category gaining an impressive 35% to total $17M for the month. Both minimalist ($2.8M, +110%) and traditional ($14M, +26%) models contributed to the gains. Stability shoes also did well bringing in nearly $18M (+10%).

Less snow meant cleaner, drier trails this December and that helped trail running shoes to a 67% dollar increase over last year. The category totaled $1.6M as ARSP rose 6% building on the 58% unit jump. While minimalist models drove the growth ($562K, +658%), traditional trail running shoes ($1M, +17%) saw a boost as well.

Not reported in the quoted text above is the fact that motion control shoes are the only category that saw a decline relative to 2010 (-2%). Of note, largest relative increases were in minimalist road shoes (+110%) and minimalist trail shoes (+658%). If my math is correct, these numbers indicate that minimalist shoes were about 16-17% of the running specialty road shoe market in December, and minimalist shoes were about 36% of the trail shoe market in December (note – I’m not exactly sure what LTG includes in the minimalist category).

For another take, here’s what Matt Powell of SportsOneSource and Princeton Analysis had to say in his 4th quarter 2011 sales report:

“Running remained a strong category even as sales improved about +10% in units and dollars.  Nike Running sales grew in the low singles and took 54% share. Reebok Running doubled and share nearly doubled to 11%.  Asics grew in the low singles as share hit 11.5%. New Balance declined in the mid singles while Adidas grew in the high singles.  Under Armour Running doubled and share hit 1.3%.  The Core Running brands (Saucony, Mizuno and Brooks) all had solid performances.

As we have seen for a while Lightweight is now cannibalizing the traditional Running categories.  Stability declined in the high singles and Cushioning in the low singles.  Lightweight Running grew about 75% and represented 30% of all Running shoes sold for the quarter. In Lightweight Nike has a 45% share, Reebok 32%, and Adidas 5%.

Minimalist Running (a subset of Lightweight) grew more than double for the quarter, and represented about 9% of all Running.  Nike has 71% share of minimal driven by the Free franchise.  Vibram, Merrell, New balance, Asics and Saucony each have about a 5% share.”

It should be noted that the above data are from sales at U.S. Sporting Goods, Athletic Footwear and Outdoor specialty retailers, so not quite the same pool as the Running Specialty data provided by LTG (e.g., I doubt Reebok has that big a market share among running specialty…). The Nike Free Run+ was one of the top 5 selling athletic shoes of any type (including basketball shoes) in Q4, and if my students are any evidence, this does not surprise me at all. Comparing these numbers to those from LTG suggests that minimalist might have a bigger market share in running specialty than it does in other sales outlets.

What to make of all of this this? My take would be that the move to lighter shoes and away from more traditional models is continuing (evidenced by the fact that it now represents 1/3 of the running shoe market). As an aside, I asked Matt Powell on Twitter what constitutes lightweight running, and he indicated that the category includes shoes that weigh under 10 oz. Minimalist, which is a subcategory of lightweight, still represents a relatively small percentage of the running shoe market, but it is continuing to grow. I think what we are seeing is a gradual realignment of the shoe market that has been driven by the minimalist movement. Folks who are not keen on running in shoes like a Vibram Fivefingers or Merrell Barefoot are experimenting with lightweight, transitional options like the Nike Free, Saucony Kinvara, Brooks Pure, and so on. And lightweight trail shoes have been red hot for some time.

It will be interesting to see how things shake out going forward, and whether this trend continues. At the very least, I’m feel pretty confident in saying that what we are seeing is not a fad, and does actually represent the new reality of the running footwear market.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Solamente Dave says:

    I find it curious that the Nike Free is the best selling “minimal” shoe. The Free is anything but minimal. I’m sure that these reports use the manufacturer’s own categories. But, this seems like a Civic Si showing up on a report of sports car sales. 

    • Macmhagan says:

      It’s marketing.  Give Nike credit, they were touting the barefoot shoe experience years ago (I owned one of the first pair of Frees). And if you walk into a big running shoe store and ask for minimal they are going to show you the Nike Free first and may not have any of the other options at all.

      • That’s a great point.  It’s definitely true here in Canada where the running room carries the Free and Kinvara’s.  That’s it.

    • So true. I trained for a whole year on the Nike Free 3; 3 pairs all told. All wore out at the heels, no matter how much I tried to mid-foot land(Chi-style). It is a heel land shoe(definitely not minimal drop shoe). But may be a good transition shoe(7mm drop) to lower drop shoes(4mm and  lower). 

    • Here in Europe the Free is rapidly becoming a very popular causal shoe, My 13yo son told me the other day that they were cool… and that he wanted a pair.

      • Pete Larson says:

        If they made it zero drop, I’d buy it for my kids. Thankfully Merrell has done this with the kids Trail Glove.
        Sent from my iPod

    • Lindsay Knake says:

      I wouldn’t call the Free a minimal shoe either, but it is a lot “less” shoe than many running shoes on the market. I bought a pair for comfortable casual wear a year and a half ago, and I did go for a few runs in them to see what they were like. Turns out, I loved how light and flexible they were compared to my Brooks Glycerins. Now I run in two pair of Brooks racing flats and Vibram Five Fingers. The Nike Free, which feel like slippers, served as my “gateway” shoe into a better world. Just like Pete has written on this blog. The Free has a time and a place and I’m really glad I bought them.

  2. But what does it say about running specialty stores if neutral shoes outperform stability ones? More people with a neutral gait and supinators start running than overpronators?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Or simply that the whole fitting process based on pronation control isn’t all that meaningful.

      • Lindsay Knake says:

        I just went on and complained about a ridiculous “5 shoe buying tips” post. I don’t understand how an untrained or barely trained employee at a running store can tell by watching me walk has any basis on telling me what kind of shoe I need. I’d only take advice from an expert who gives sound advice, like yourself.

        In my circles, I’m known as a runner and people often ask me for advice on picking out running shoes. I tell them all the same thing – try on as many brands as you can and as many styles as you can. Run in them, and pick the one that feels best. This might not always work because buying running shoes is a trial and error process. None of this “arch height” BS!

    • Runbirduk says:

      Possibly customers who overpronate very slightly and/or who seem to have more of a midfoot strike are given more options to choose from now that retailers are armed with more knowledge, rather than just shoved into a mild support shoe…. at least in decent specialist shops.
      Or maybe just due to an increase in orthotic sales, ha ha.

  3. Tom Buckner says:

    I like the recent increase because it means more variety, more choice, and more competition in the minimal category.  As long as we continue to see the quality and don’t get mired in cheap knock-offs, I’m happy.  So far I love what has been offered and hope these companies continue to follow the ‘fad’, and eventually it will become as normal as heeled shoes once were.

  4. Macmhagan says:

    Thanks for the post Pete.  Very good information.  At least the Nike Free has a wide toe box and is light – still a heel strikers dream shoe though.

  5. Paul Joyce says:

    Pete, I would be interested in your view as to why minimalist trail shoes appear to be much more popular than their road counterparts. It certainly aligns with my own experience where it’s rare to see minimalist shoes in road running events but at trail running events around twenty per cent of runners wear minimalist trail shoes. At one level this might be a little counter intuitive. Cheers, Paul

    • Pete Larson says:

      I’d concur with your observation re trail vs. road races. Part of it may simply be that trail runners are more likely to have the “simply” type of attitude toward things. There are also a number of prominent trail runners like Tony Krupicka who help design and promote more minimal shoes, so that certainly helps. Also, outdoor stores like REI and EMS tend to stock a lot more minimalist models than would a typical sporting goods store.

      Perhaps most of all though in terms of sales, I think trail runners are less likely to be beginners or fitness joggers, and thus they are probably a lot more likely to be discerning in their shoe tastes. They probably know what they like, and are more aware of what others are wearing. A lot of folks who go into a shoe store, even a running specialty store, are not buying shoes to use for running. Thus, these sales data include sales of a lot of shoe that will never actually be used for their intended purpose. People looking for a pair of “sneakers” are more likely to go with what looks familiar to them.

      • Aaron Mailey says:

        I think as well there are two other reasons: 

        People believe they need more cushioning for roads as they are harder but with trails being a bit softer they are willing to go with less.

        Also, particularly from a technical point of view it helps to have more ground feel on the trail so perhaps more conducive to these shoes.

  6. Adrian Miles says:

    Its certainly picking up steam in australia as well. A few years back it was incredibly hard to find anything much that would be considered minimal – apart from Nike Free’s. Now one of the major shoe retailers sells the NB Minimus range as well as Merrell trail gloves and Vibram Fivefingers. However, I still think its a small segment of the market.

    I’m also interested in seeing whether there will be a corresponding increase or decrease in injury rates over the years.

  7. says:

    I don’t know how you wear out frees.  I have worn pairs for 2200 miles and finally the upper rips.  I think my Run+ and Run+2 will last even longer due to the leather in the upper.  I’ll let you know in awhile once they get to that kind of mileage.  As far as the free being minimal, not really.  It is a very neutral and lightweight shoe with a little less toe drop than an average trainer but not all the way there. 

  8. Fynn Glover says:

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for the great post.

    Do you know where I might find information on the size of the specialty run industry in terms of number of specialty run retailers?

    Many thanks in advance

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