The Running Event’s Christina Henderson on Growing Amid a Volatile Trade Show Landscape & Pressing Issues the Industry Wants Addressed

Bucking the challenges in parts of the trade show landscape, The Running Event (TRE) is growing rapidly.

The exhibit hall for this year’s show, which will take place Nov. 28-30 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, will be the largest in its history. There be more than 300 running and outdoor brands present, and Switchback — an area dedicated to the outdoor market that was introduced in 2022 — is expected to double in size from last year.

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With the show weeks away, TRE executive director Christina Henderson said registration has been trending about 25 percent ahead of last year when it comes to attendees. Much of the growth, she confirmed, has been on the outdoor specialty side. Also, she said TRE has noticed run specialty retailers are bringing more members from their teams and that the show could have its largest international attendance to date.

Indeed, Bekah Metzdorff, co-owner of Mill City Running in Minneapolis and Saint City Running in St. Paul, Minn., told FN she’s bringing more staff than usual to the show. She noted the advantage of TRE is “it connects us with retailers and with all levels of people at brands.”

Scott Dvorak, owner and founder of Charlotte Running Co. in North Carolina, agreed: “It’s an opportunity to get together and commiserate, share ideas and hopefully learn something new.”
Here, Henderson reveals what attendees can expect from this year’s event.

How have you been able to navigate this volatile trade show landscape?

“I credit our industry. Specialty retail knows how to pivot and is smart. Their businesses are doing well, so our business is doing well. We’ve been smart with our partnerships. We’re excited to work with numerous partners going into TRE 2023 that have bolstered our exhibit floor and attendance. You’ll see new footwear brands who have never been on the floor before in performance, lifestyle and outdoor. And the Switchback side of things, that growing crossover between running and outdoor has made TRE intriguing and valuable for outdoor brands and retailers. We have this formula of growing the show while keeping it intimate with that community feel you crave at a trade show.”

How are you dealing with the rapid growth of the show?

“We don’t want to grow for the sake of growth. We want exhibitors to have a good experience and we want them to provide value to attendees. We have said ‘no’ to certain brands who want to exhibit because it doesn’t make sense, because they don’t sell around run or outdoor specialty. It is also about facilitating and fostering the community. We have a pickleball court, we have a professional resource center we’re calling The Hub, we’re going to have a professional headshot area, we’re building nook pods so people can do one-on-one meetings.”

Is pickleball being embraced by specialty run and outdoor retailers?

“Pickleball isn’t for every run specialty store, but it is for many, and it’s for many outdoor stores. It brings in new customers. Some running stores are broadening their offerings. The person who’s running their local half marathon is likely also hiking, and now they’re playing pickleball. For some stores, it has been a slam dunk; for others, it wasn’t. We have two pieces of education happening at our pickleball court. ‘Why sell Pickleball?’ is a panel of retailers who have had tremendous success selling pickleball. The next day we have ‘How to Sell Pickleball,’ a panel with K-Swiss, Selkirk and OS1st saying, ‘Here’s how we can help you sell pickleball products.’”

What issues does the industry want to see addressed during the show?

“Sustainability. A big push right now is the role we play in our carbon footprint as an industry. That conversation is happening across the trade show floor and in our education. DE&I efforts remain important, too, in how we are creating an inclusive space for all people. And the retailer-brand relationship. We’ve come out of COVID and everyone’s trying to learn how to work with each other again to find the most value in those partnerships.”

What was the biggest request from attendees since last year?

“More networking time. They want to talk to each other — especially on the retailer side. Yes, they want to meet with brands, but that time where your store from New York can talk to the store in California about shared goals and challenges is important. That’s where these nook pods come in or Tuesday education, and we have numerous runs and walks in the morning.”

What does Switchback doubling in size from last year say?

“It shows we’re onto something. This crossover between running and outdoor is real and continues to strengthen. A majority of the brands who exhibited last year are returning, and they are also sharing. That’s been our largest recruitment tool: word of mouth from brands saying, ‘This is where you need to be. This is the future.’”

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