Will Major Brands Kill Small Weightlifting Shoe Companies in 2012?

The “training specific” shoe industry has boomed over the last 2 years, in part due to the success of Crossfit’s convergence into mainstream fitness. Another contributing factor is the “back to nature” health movement which encompasses everything from natural running using barefoot or minimalist shoes, “caveman” style eating such as the Paleo and Primal diets, and even the discontinuation of excessive grooming – who liked using shampoo anyway?

Within all of this health and fitness madness a clear picture begins forming; people are becoming ever more informed and one realization is that what you wear on your feet matters when you are training. People seem to be paying less attention to hype and marketing, and more attention to actual science and human anatomy considerations when buying fitness related footwear. And while there have always been sport specific shoes, never before have there been so many sub-categories.

If you take a trip back in time, Chuck Taylor All-Stars were originally designed as a basketball shoe. Running shoes were anything with a soft and springy sole, and no one had even heard of “trainers”. Fast forward to 2011 and every major athletic shoe manufacturer has a line of micro-specific training shoes. I’m talking crazy stuff like “shooting shoes” and “disc golf shoes”. But the market that has seen the largest sales increase has to be shoes for weightlifting.

While weightlifting shoes were before thought of as a product for fringe athletes like Olympic weightlifters and Power lifters, Crossfit and the overall awareness of proper footwear has changed all that. Until recently this market was dominated by small boutique shops like Risto and Safe USA, along with a handful of larger players like Do-Win and VS. But major manufacturers like Nike, Reebok and Adidas have decided that there is too much money in this market to ignore it any longer.

This new trend can be easily witnessed by taking a look at Adidas, who have been making Olympic weightlifting shoes since the 70s, and their 2011 release of the Power Lift Trainer shoe. While their previous shoe offerings all targeted Olympic weightlifting, the Powerlift clearly went after the Crossfit and recreational demographic.

And they aren’t alone – Nike and Reebok are jumping on the bandwagon as well. The new Reebok weightlifting shoe has been designed in tandem with actual Crossfit athletes as part of their assumption of the role of official sponsor of Crossfit. And rumor has it that Nike will be releasing a follow up to the famous Romaleo weightlifting shoe in 2012. So does all this spell the end for smaller weightlifting shoe companies? Maybe. Maybe Not.

While the bigs definitely have an advantage when it comes to production capacity, research & development funds, and advertising, smaller companies that hold true to their core products will likely still move plenty of shoes in 2012; albeit, less will be purchased by Crossfitters. An example of such a company would be Risto Sports, who pretty much only make shoes, and who’s shoes are designed and worn by actual Olympic weightlifters.

I do however believe the entry window for new start-ups to try and enter the weightlifting shoe market has closed. As well, brands that have seen increased sales due to the Crossfit mania will likely see a decline in 2012 as Reebok launches their shoe line, and Adidas and Nike release new models.

Finally, with so many options on the market for weight lifting shoes, all manufacturers will need to be extra diligent in meeting customer expectations. This means brands like Do-Win, who have struggled with quality and product consistency over the last 2 years may lose their popularity in the U.S. market. Smaller brands will also need to work on their marketing to remain relevant and identifiable to their target customers.

Hopefully when the ashes settle around this time next year, whatever has transpired in the shoe world has done so for the betterment of the consumer.

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