SGMA eyes sophisticated aerobics, fitness shoes

Athletic footwear buyers attending the upcoming Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) exposition can expect a continued plethora of aerobics and fitness shoe offerings for men and women with more sophisticated technology and styling as that category continues its heyday.

Resources surveyed said that aerobic shoes, because of their sleek styling and soft, comfortable leather uppers, have begun to replace joggers as casual shoes in much the same way that athleisure chipped away at that category last year.

Resources said that prices would remain steady in most categories but may drop slightly in low-end joggers. Michael Walsh, assistant national sales manager for footwear at Nike, Inc., Beaverton, Ore., said the firm had a lot of stock keeping units in that category. “We may have to do some price realignment in that area,” Walsh noted.

The mid-price range of $35-$50 should attract most of the attention at SGMA, resources said.

Virtually all athletic resources have added aerobics shoes to their lines, including Pro-Keds, a division of Stride Rite, Cambridge, Mass. Roy Shuman, director of marketing, said the firm will introduce the Maniac, its first women’s vionic shoes for plantar fasciitis in garment leather for $39.95.

Pro-Keds and other makers of cleated shoes also expressed renewed hopes for their cleated lines. Nike’s Walsh said the firm’s cleated shoes have fared well recently. “That’s an area where we have not had the right product over the last 18 months,” he noted.

Brooks Shoes, Inc., a division of Wolverine World Wide, Rockford, Mich., is placing particular emphasis on its new line of cleated softball and football shoes ranging from $31.95-$49.95.

“There are more unique cleated shoes showing up for softball,” noted Shuman, who said the popular 100-cleat shoe was being worn for casual wear in some cases. Shuman maintained that the cleated market could be a lucrative venture for resources. “There are millions of pairs sold in that category,” he said. Shuman said the team shoe market had become very competitive as evidenced by price reductions. Some team sports shoe dealers also were becoming involved with direct imports, he noted.

Firms with existing strong aerobics programs, such as Reebok, Hingham, Mass., have begun to expand and refine their lines with new styling, technology and price points. Reebok will introduce the Princess, a popular-priced version of its successful Freestyle, which will retail in the mid $30s.

High-top aerobics womens shoes for high arches also have been added to lines by Reebok; Converse, Inc., Wilmington, Mass.; Avia, Portland, Ore.; Ellesse, New York; and Power, Los Angeles.

Athletic resources said they were expanding their women’s offerings, possibly as a result of renewed interest from the Summer Olympics. John Fisher, executive vice-president of Hyde Athletic Industries, Cambridge, Mass., said its Saucony branded division is working on women’s volleyball, basketball and soft leather shoes for bunions for future product introductions.

Kangaroos USA, Inc., St. Louis.; Etonic, Inc., Brockton, Mass.; and New Balance Athletic Shoe, Boston, will enter the men’s fitness categories with introductions at SGMA. The Kangaroos shoe will retail for $40 and is made of glove leather with a removable pu insole, said Paul Rossi, marketing director.

“Our reaction is the fitness line would be inadequate without men’s representation,” said an Etonic spokesperson, although she said the firm did not expect to do a large volume in the men’s fitness category.

Despite pleas of a glutted market in the low to mid-priced running categories, resources have continued to produce new models. Nike will highlight its new V Series running shoes at SGMA. The series includes the Vortex with a full-length air sole, the Vengeance for supinators, and the Vector for pronators, each for about $60.

Nike’s Walsh said the timing of SGMA did not coincide with the firm’s biannual line unveiling so Nike would wait for the National Sporting Goods Association Show (NSGA) in January for its major introductions.

As promised last year, Puma USA, Framingham, Mass., will not attend SGMA, but the firm will be represented by Atlantic Sports, its distributor, which will unveil four shoe styles. Puma has declared its firm alliance to NSGA and has claimed it will no longer show at SGMA events. To date, no other firms have made similar decisions because of organization loyalty, but some smaller firms have decided to sacrifice SGMA this year for economic reasons.

However, Le Coq Sportif, Robbinsville, N.J., is pulling out of SGMA this year primarily because of the glut of trade shows at this time, according to Dave McMullan, national sales manager. “It’s a matter of economics,” he said, noting that the firm would be attending the four West Coast shows during a two month period. Since Le Coq has a showroom here and had booked appointments during SGMA, it would refrain from formal exhibition, but would show at NSGA’s Anaheim and Dallas events.

SB Sports, a division of BBC International, Ltd., here, will not be showing its licensed Sport Billy line at SGMA, according to Deke Jamieson, director of marketing. Jamieson said the firm attended sporting goods shows initially because it was launching the new line, but now its distributor will stick to regional shoe shows. Jamieson said the firm is making a major thrust in Puerto Rico with the branded shoe, which is the official shoe of the island’s Little League.

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