Rollerblade fitness spokesperson Rachel Carrillo on the job at the company's booth at the Miami Marathon Expo.
Visitors to the giant Miami Marathon Expo two weeks ago in Florida may have noticed something unusual.
Tucked in among the scores of booths hawking athletic shoes, sports drinks and other running accessories was one featuring inline skates. At the booth, three employees of Rollerblade USA, including the company's new fitness spokesperson, espoused the cross-training benefits of skating.
Runners seemed receptive and scooped up the company's promotional literature, skate catalogs and keychains, said Rollerblade USA's marketing manager Nick Skally. "The response was phenomenal," he said.
The booth represents the company's first attempt to grow the skate market by targeting runners. The New Jersey-based company plans to staff booths at five large running marathons this year, including the huge Boston and Los Angeles events.
"What's new about this strategy is that instead of going after couch potatoes, we are targeting an active, athletic non-skating group," Skally said. "These people are already very active, very fit, so it's an easy conversion to get them skating."
Rollerblade's message to runners is twofold: "That skating can make you a stronger runner, and it can help you prevent over-use injuries," Skally said.
Targeting runners is just one way Rollerblade hopes to grow the skate market in 2007. The company also plans to continue its ongoing programs, including Skate in School, Free Skate Lesson and Camp Rollerblade. In fact, Skally said, each of those programs will grow in 2007.
In addition, the company is starting its Key Influencer Program. The program will offer discounted skates to thousands of fitness instructors and personal trainers throughout the country, in hopes they will help spread the inline gospel.
Skally says 2006 was Rollerblade's best year since 1999. "We saw real organic growth," he said. "It was the turnaround we were hoping for."
Rollerblade sales increased 12 percent (in dollars), and the company's share of the market for branded inline skates grew to 65 percent, Skally said.
Part of the reason for this was the exit from the U.S. market of former skate maker Salomon. But Skally says Rollerblade thinks other things are going on. "One is generational," he said. The millions of people who learned to skate during the explosive birth of inline skating in the 1980s and 1990s are now grown up and buying skates of their own.
Another factor, Skally said, is the new skate technology, especially the larger wheels, which first appeared two years ago. "It is grabbing people's interest again."
Rollerblade's new interest in runners and "key influencers" won't detract it from its traditionally strong support of the skate community, Skally said.
"We're just looking for new ways to rebuild the category. We've got to keep pushing this thing because this is what we do and what we love."
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Burnson
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