Fleet Feet CEO Joey Pointer on Fending Off Nordstrom, the 2024 Paris Olympics and New Stores

If things go according to plan, 2024 could be a statement year for Fleet Feet.

After ending 2023 with a 5 percent comp store sales increase year-over-year, Fleet Feet chief executive officer Joey Pointer told FN growth expectations are the same for 2024. At that point, the North Carolina-based specialty run retailer could eclipse $500 million in sales. (It finished 2023 at $494 million.)

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What’s more, Fleet Feet could potentially cross the 300-store mark in 2024. Pointer said the company started the year with 291 doors — including 22 for Marathon Sports, a retailer it acquired in 2022 — and aims to add 16 locations this year. This includes existing franchisees expanding, new partners and a company-owned store.

“That would be a big milestone. It’s probably going to happen in late summer,” Pointer said.

However, 2024 could also bring unique challenges. “Historically, political years have been more turbulent,” Pointer explained. “Interest rates are high, and our consumers are facing economic headwinds. There’s a lot of uncertainty at this moment.”

Is Fleet Feet still in acquisition mode?

Joey Pointer: “The better question is, ‘Are we in growth mode?’ because acquisition is a form of growth. Unequivocally, we’re still in growth mode. Last year, we opened 19 stores. For perspective, our [prior] No. 1 year, we opened 15. [In 2023], it was a mixture of new and existing franchisees and a handful of company-owned [stores]. In addition, Montgomery Multisport in Alabama converted to Fleet Feet. We’re always in acquisition mode. There are lots of ways we can enter a market. Acquisition is just one.”

Who are your biggest competitors and how have they changed?

JP: “We’re hyperlocal at scale, so our competitor is the other [local] running specialty store. At the national level, there are lots of competitors — Lululemon, Dick’s [Sporting Goods] and even Nordstrom. I wouldn’t have mentioned Nordstrom 10 years ago, but in their recent earnings they talked about athletic-inspired and run brands — Hoka, On and Vuori — so the product we sell is in more places and our customers are shopping all these places.”

The market is evolving faster than ever. What are you doing to stay ahead?

JP: “It’s back to the basics. We’re listening, we’re engaging and we’re deeply entrenched in the communities we serve. We’re supporting thousands of different events — PTA, spike nights, medical provider nights. We’re bringing people together from all parts of life, whether it’s a pub run or inviting high school kids into our stores. Those things set us apart from bigger box retailers, that deep community connection we offer with a layer of support and service, and high-quality product.”

In the battle of the running brands, who’s winning?

JP: “The winners keep winning. Our two largest brands are Hoka and Brooks. I anticipate those two will continue to have strong growth. Down a tier, the winners are On, Asics and New Balance. Those continue to grow. Altra is trying new things — they went away from zero drop [midsole stack height]. I like Altra’s innovation and how they’re expanding from their niche. And a brand exclusive to us, Karhu, continues to make great product.”

Do you expect a sales boost from the 2024 Paris Olympics?

JP: “Can I say no? [laughs] Nobody wants to hear that, but it doesn’t impact our business. The Olympics are exciting because you get to see a wide range of sports. But what it does lead to is better product, which is good for our business.”

How is Fleet Feet staying on top of the super shoe trend?

JP: “Our core business is not super shoes, but it’s [getting] more prevalent. It’s still relatively small. If you want the marathon runner or somebody who wants to run a fast half marathon, 10K or 5K, you need a wide assortment of super shoes because they all fit differently.”

The differences between everyday trainers and super shoes are shrinking. What does the future hold?

JP: “Maybe the gap narrows, but training has always been about having multiple shoes. Everybody benefits from having multiple shoes — it leads to fewer injuries — and super shoes are part of the portfolio you should have in your rotation. There always will be a race day shoe that’s lighter, faster and more forward [moving] than your everyday trainer.”

Though it’s a small segment of runners, trail running participation continues to climb. What’s the opportunity there?

JP: “When we think about reaching new, younger customers, trail running is involved in that. We can do a better job across the board. We have markets, especially out West, that do a good job at attracting trail runners — but trails are everywhere. The approach must be different — adventure in nature as opposed to urban, hard-surface running.”

What is the best approach to the category?

JP: “Treat [trail running shoes] like a marketing expense to get that market up and going. You have to establish the market within your community.”

About the Author

Peter Verry is the Senior News and Features Editor for Athletic and Outdoor at Footwear News. He oversees coverage of the two fast-paced and ultracompetitive markets, which includes conducting in-depth interviews with industry leaders and writing stories on sneakers and outdoor shoes. He is a lifelong sneaker addict (and shares his newest purchases via @peterverry on Instagram) and spends most of his free time on a trail. He holds an M.A. in journalism from Hofstra University and can be reached at peter.verry@footwearnews.com.

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