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After Hoka Hires Former Nike Running Exec, Here’s How the Battle of the Brands Could Shake Out in 2024

The appointment of Hoka’s new leader is another winning move for Deckers’ fast-growing running brand — as well as another potential setback in Nike’s efforts to ramp up its own running business.

Deckers on Monday announced that Robin Green, a 17-year Nike veteran, would take on the role as president of the Hoka brand, following the recent announcement that Deckers Brands CEO Dave Powers would retire on Aug. 1 and be replaced by Stefano Caroti, the company’s chief commercial officer and former Hoka brand leader.

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Green, who most recently served as Nike’s global vice president and general manager of men’s running and fitness, assumes her new role during a critical time in the running market, especially for the red-hot Hoka brand, which just reported a 21.9 percent increase in sales in Q3 to $429.3 million and was named Brand of the Year at the Footwear News Achievement Awards in November.

Meanwhile, Nike’s position in performance running — especially since the pandemic — has lagged. Amid a broader cost-cutting plan across the organization, Nike CEO John Donohoe reiterated in December that the running category is a “key priority” for the company moving forward, especially in the sector of everyday runners.

“Nike has a lot of work to do in their running through business and they need all the capable people that they can muster to help them get that back,” Matt Powell, an advisor at Spurwink River and senior advisor at BCE Consulting, told Footwear News in an interview.

“[Green] is deeply rooted in the running business and running culture,” Powell said. “I think it’s an excellent fit for for Hoka and expect that this will be a very successful hire.”

BTIG analyst Janine Stichter agreed in a Monday note to investors that Green was a good choice for Hoka, given her “extensive background in athletic footwear from a leading brand.”

Where Nike went went wrong

As for Nike’s missteps in running, the footwear giant has, since the pandemic, lost share to smaller, running-focused brands like Hoka, Brooks and On, all three of which have found success with their niche performance offerings. After growing its running footwear business 10 percent in fiscal year 2023, Nike outlined a plan for a broad rebound in the crucial category.

“Nike has been facing challenges as it works to reignite its product engine, and has been ceding share to newer, high growth brands like On and Hoka, which have maintained a relatively more full-price status, particularly at Hoka,” explained Stichter in a Sunday note to investors.

Powell also noted that Nike’s running business is mainly composed of shoes with opening price points of less than $100, as opposed to competitors that offer more premium priced product. Until recently, Nike mainly sold these lower-priced running shoes via its wholesale partnerships, many of which Nike exited over the last three years.

“The base of the business — where the bulk of their sales were — is what they cut out,” Powell explained. “And they weren’t able to replace that business on Nike.com or with other retail.”

Notably, Nike in December touted its more premium running products, such as its Ultrafly trail running shoe ($260) and its Pegasus and Wildhorse franchises.

“Nike is acutely aware that it faces more competition in running from brands like Hoka, which is one of the reasons it is refreshing key lines like Pegasus 41 and innovating in specific segments like trail running with Ultrafly,” managing director of GlobalData Neil Saunders said in an interview. “Even so, many of the new brands on the block are commanding the attention of consumers so Nike is facing an uphill battle to retain share.”

Despite Nike’s efforts to revamp run, analysts suspect that On and Hoka will likely continue to dominate the market in 2024. According to Wedbush analyst Tom Nikic, the early response to Hoka’s new Cielo X1 marathon shoe, which launched Feb. 1 and retails for $275, has been “favorable.”

“Every size from 9.5 upwards is on backorder until March, and the website states that nearly 17,000 customers have viewed the product in the past 24 hours,” Nikic wrote in a Friday note to investors. “Given the price point, we wouldn’t expect it have ‘mass appeal,’ but serious runners seem to have had a good response so far, demonstrating that the brand still has credibility in the running community.”

However, other brands are positioned for breakthrough moments this year as well. Saunders called out Lululemon, which just launched its men’s shoe line after seeing massive success with its women’s running shoes, as well as the Wolverine Worldwide-onwed Saucony, as two running brands to watch in 2024.

Powell called out VF’s Altra brand and Asics as two other potential challengers to watch this year.

“Those will be the names that I think are going to make the most noise in ’24,” Powell said.

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