Gym craze in­spires shoe war

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Kyle Stock

As a con­sumer, Steven Pokk shares some rar­efied com­pany. Like bas­ket­ball le­gends Shaquille O’Neill, Dee Brown and Allen Iver­son, Pokk owns 15 pairs of Ree­bok sneak­ers.

But the Adi­das-owned brand has fallen far since its hey­day on NBA courts in the 1980s and 1990s. In a bid to re­bound, it signed a 10year deal in 2011 to be the of­fi­cial sports­wear brand of Crossfit, then a bud­ding work­out reg­i­men that mixes a range of fit­ness strate­gies, from weights and row­ing ma­chines to run­ning and cal­is­then­ics. It was a savvy move for a com­pany des­per­ate to stay rel­e­vant.

At the time, Pokk, a 33year-old per­sonal trainer in New York, was just get­ting into Crossfit. With pur­pose-built sneak­ers and a stand­ing 15 per­cent dis­count, Ree­bok made him a brand evan­ge­list, one of its first since all those bas­ket­ball greats from the 1990s.

In late 2014, Pokk and a cou­ple of bud­dies opened their own Crossfit gym (or “box,” as the ver­nac­u­lar goes): Crossfit Kings­boro in Brook­lyn, N.Y. A month later, Adi­das arch­en­emy Nike qui­etly be­gan sell­ing the Met­con, its first trainer for the Crossfit crowd. Pokk rushed out and bought a pair. He now owns eight it­er­a­tions — wear­ing them to the gym, walk­ing his dogs and, well, all the time. “I’m wear­ing them right now,” he said as he left on a va­ca­tion to Aus­tralia.

As Nike bat­tles Adi­das for a slice of the global soc­cer­cleat mar­ket and tries to fend off surg­ing Un­der Ar­mour on bas­ket­ball courts, it’s qui­etly edg­ing into a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar cat­e­gory that could have far greater im­pact on the fu­ture of the sneaker mar­ket.

In an in­for­mal Bloomberg sur­vey at five gyms across the coun­try, Nike had won over slightly half the Crossfit crowd, Ree­bok had a bit more than a one-quar­ter share and the re­main­der was split among such smaller run­ning spe­cial­ists as Asics Corp. and New Bal­ance and cross-train­ing star­tups such as No Bull.

Make no mis­take, the spoils of win­ning this work­out bat­tle will be huge.

“It’s be­come the fastest­grow­ing fit­ness prop­erty in the world,” said Ree­bok pres­i­dent Matt O’Toole.

How fast ex­actly? There are now about 8,000 Crossfit gyms in the U.S. and 4,000 or so abroad. In them, sweaty masses run through one-hour ses­sions de­signed to build over­all fit­ness with stretch­ing, weights and low-im­pact body move­ments.

Like any trendy, new club, Crossfit presents its fans with a crit­i­cal de­ci­sion: what to wear. On the ap­parel side, the an­swers are easy. But footwear is trick­ier, be­cause the reg­i­men is so var­ied. On any given day, a Cross­fit­ter might be asked to crawl like a bear, jump rope, carry an empty beer keg or walk up a wall into a handstand.

Where Ree­bok wrapped its shoe in a grid of thick, rub­bery plas­tic, Nike’s Met­con is more spar­tan.

No Bull, a brand launched in May 2015 by two for­mer Ree­bok work­ers, sells a shoe with a min­i­mal­ist sole and tough up­per.

“The mar­ket was ripe for this kind of com­pany,” co­founder Mar­cus Wil­son said. “Crossfit is very much word-of-mouth driven, they like to sup­port small busi­nesses, ev­ery­one is on so­cial me­dia, and they are very com­fort­able buy­ing on­line. … It’s kind of the per­fect for­mula for us.”

Gabby Wells works out at Crossfit in Love­land on July 15, 2015. Shoe com­pa­nies are wag­ing war to gain Crossfit en­thu­si­asts’ fa­vor. Trevor L. Davis, Love­land Re­porter-Her­ald

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