How Saucony and Asics Rebounded After a Tough 2020 — and Why Sales Could Have Been Stronger

·6 min read

Saucony and Asics have long been performance run category leaders, but much of the recent conversation has surrounded relative newcomers Hoka One One and On, as well as veteran brand Brooks. However, strong sales to start 2021 have shifted talk back in their direction.

For the three months ended April 3, Saucony experienced a sales climb of roughly 60%. As for Asics, its North American revenue increased 22.9% for Q1 2021, and its performance run sales increased more than 30%.

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Market momentum also appears to be on their side.

“Our surveys have said that people are going to run or walk more in 2021 than they did in 2020. The surge we saw in 2020 is continuing, and retailers are responding to this and buying more running shoes,” explained Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser with The NPD Group Inc.

For Asics, the reasons for its sales boost center around where its products are selling and for how much — more than it was about specific product.

“The good news regarding our growth for Q1 in performance running was the fact that it was across all channels of our business. We saw positive increases from all trade channels and success at various price points, which is a nice sign for the health of the business,” Sean Mannion, VP of sales at Asics America, told FN. “Also, we saw an increase in average selling price, which helped the sales lift. Overall, our inventory levels are in a good place, and sell-through at retail continues increasing, which is ultimately driving the sales growth for Asics North America.”

As for Saucony, aside from the running and outdoor booms that created organic growth for the greater market, its early wins have been more product-centric.

“Our product pipeline is extremely strong across our core franchise models. The Kinvara, the Ride, the Guide, the Triumph and the Peregrine on the trail side — all of those styles are extremely runnable and very attractive,” Saucony president Anne Cavassa said. “And then you layer on the Endorphin collection — the Endorphin Pro, the Endorphin Speed and the Endorphin Shift — there’s a lot of brand heat coming from those styles.”

However, Powell noted that the year-over-year sales increases are coming against weaker-than-usual numbers from the period when COVID-19 halted the market.

“Clearly, we have an easy comparison against 2020. The lockdown started in March, retailers immediately reacted by canceling and pushing out orders for the balance of 2020, so brands took a dip last year and they’re up against an easier comparison,” Powell said.

But the industry insider does not believe this tells the whole story of Saucony and Asics to start the year.

“At the same time, we have this clear trend of people running and walking more that is driving things upward,” Powell said. “We also can’t overlook light retail inventories. Retailers continue to tell us that their inventories are well below a year ago, so that is also part of what’s driving these increases.”

Despite the high marks, both companies said their numbers likely would have been even better if not for supply chain issues and port congestion, which hindered further sales gains.

“Our Q1 increases were actually lower than we had planned based on some of the global supply chain challenges, especially the port delays which caused delays in Q1 deliveries,” Mannion explained. “Ultimately, we could have experienced even higher comps if the delays did not exist.”

Cavassa shared a similar sentiment.

“There was some supply chain bumpiness in Q1. Sixty percent growth is exceptional, but we see that there is demand out there and we want to capture more of that,” the exec said. “We have our sights on 60-plus, we are not expecting the momentum to slow down — and that is not just on top of 2020 numbers, but also 2019 numbers. Our expectation is to have similar strength through the rest of the year, and we are expecting Saucony to outpace the organic growth.”

Although things look to be moving in the right direction for both Saucony and Asics, Powell said he cannot offer an opinion on the outlook for the rest of the year with confidence.

“It’s hard to set expectations right now because it’s such a moving target,” Powell said. “You have to look at retail sales, you have to look at wholesale sales, you have to get a sense of retailer sentiment, and all of those things seem to be positive. I think Q2, because of the stimulus checks last year without any real stimulus against them [this year], will make things more challenging for every brand. Q3 presents an opportunity, although the movement of [Amazon] Prime Day to Q2 is going to be somewhat of a problem for some retailers and brands.”

He continued, “It’s a mixed bag out there, but I expected that Q1 would be the best quarter of the year and I still think that’s going to end up being the case.”

Powell, however, did say he is confident that consistent sales growth for Saucony and Asics throughout the year is achievable.

“The levels might not be as high, but directionally, yes, we could expect increases for the rest of the year. The environment is really good for running right now. I fully expect we’re going to see performance running come back as streetwear over the year,” Powell said, also noting that he believes both brands will perform in line with the market, if not better.

Looking ahead, Mannion said updates to key performance running franchises, such as the Gel-Kayano, GT-2000 and Gel-Nimbus, will lead Asics throughout the year. (Aside from run, the exec said he expects innovations in its tennis business will boost sales, while impactful Sportstyle collaborations will provide energy.)

As for Saucony, Cavassa said the brand expects the fan-favorite Ride and Guide shoes to be top performers, as well as the Endorphin 2 range of shoes, including the debut Endorphin Trail. Beyond that, the trail category should be a business driver.

“Our product lineup is equally strong on road and trail, and I think we have always had a really strong trail product,” Cavassa said. “The Peregrine is a multi-award-winning shoe, the Switchback won some early awards, the Mad River is really interesting and the Exodus is a heavy duty, rugged shoe. They are all getting amazing updates.”

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