Might you, if you are a woman, be running in a pair of Skecher’s GOkara Speed shoes before long, just as some men already run in Skecher’s GOmeb Speeds? Maybe, now Skechers has signed elite American distance runner Kara Goucher to promote its push into performance footwear for runners.
Skechers? Seriously? The Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based footwear company made its name with skate and lifestyle shoes. Yet it is now staking seriously big bucks on getting more race and recreational runners — female and male — to wear its GOrun shoes.
In signing an endorsement deal with the company, Goucher follows fellow American Olympian Meb Keflezighi, who ran — and won — the 2014 Boston Marathon in GOmeb Speed 3s. It is a sign of the progress Skechers has made as a performance brand that Goucher's deal has not been met with the wide-eyed incredulity that Keflezighi's was a couple of years back.
Goucher, 35, a member of the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic track and field teams and the 2012 U.S. women’s half-marathon champion, previously had a 12-year sponsorship deal with Nike. That was not renewed by mutual consent last year.
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Late last year Goucher signed an apparel deal with Oiselle, an emerging Seattle-based women’s running brand, which likely limited her marketing appeal to any shoe brand that also made clothing. Skechers was one of several shoe brands that broke off discussions with her as it had launched an apparel line last year. (Keflezighi was clad head to foot in Skechers in Boston.)
In the end the company decided that any possible marketing conflict was less important than adding a big name from women's running to sustain the momentum of its performance shoe sales. Having got into the running shoe market only in 2011, its Women's Go shoes were one of its fastest growing lines last year. The deal with Goucher was finalized in the days after Keflezighi's win in Boston, which gave the company a huge windfall marketing boost.
Skechers had annual sales in 2013 of more than $1.8 billion, two thirds of it in the U.S., but does not break out sales of its individual lines.
Terms of Goucher’s deal have not been disclosed, but the contract is understood to be worth more than $1 million. It will run until the 2016 Olympics, where Goucher is expected to be on the U.S. marathon team. Keflezighi’s initial two-year contract was extended last year for a further three years, also committing him to the company through the 2016 Olympics.
Keflezighi, like Goucher, had been left without a shoe contract for several months after his decade-long deal, also with Nike, had come to an end.
Running shoe sales are estimated to have topped $3.5 billion in 2013, a 16% increase on the previous year, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, a trade group. That followed a 23% rise in 2012 over 2011's sales. Those growth rates have attracted both shoe makers who haven't traditionally made running shoes, such as Skechers, K-Swiss, Under Armour and Scott, and new entrants such as Altra, Hoka, Newton, and Vibram.
Add in the established big names of the industry, such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Puma, Asics and New Balance, and the market has become as fearsomely competitive as elite distance running.