3 Reasons Boston Dominates Running Brands

Did you see this story in the Boston Globe today?

Here’s an excerpt:

This high number of companies raises the question: why is the Boston region overly represented in the running industry? It comes down to three reasons.

1) History of shoemaking
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the shoe production industry thrived in the greater Boston area. Paired with the region’s booming textile industry, shoemakers were plentiful across eastern Massachusetts, especially in Haverhill, Brockton, and Lynn. While most of the production side has since moved overseas, many companies that trace their lineage to local production have thrived as standalone brands.

New Balance, which got its start in 1906 as a domestic manufacturer of arch supports, has been the goliath of Boston’s running industry ever since Jim Davis purchased the company in 1972. In an homage to its roots New Balance, with annual sales of more than $2 billion, still produces a percentage of its shoes in New England factories. Only four years after the founding of New Balance, Abraham Hyde started a shoe company called Hyde Athletic Industries in Cambridge; in 1968, he went on to buy (and relocate to Boston) a small running brand called Saucony. Today, Saucony and New Balance are two of the largest running brands in the world and have become pillars of the Boston running industry.

2) A great running culture
The Boston Marathon was founded in 1897, shortly after the revival of the marathon during the 1896 Olympics. Today, the Boston Marathon is the premier American marathon and the gravitational center of the Boston running universe. Students get the day off from school, the Red Sox game is scheduled to coincide with the race, and millions of supporters come and cheer one of the most competitive races in the world.

But the famous marathon isn’t the only highlight of Boston’s running scene: Boston is one of the most runner friendly cities in the country (number three, in fact, according to Active.com). Boston has several of the best indoor tracks in the country, hosts dozens of local races every weekend, and is home to three of the best running clubs in the country. It’s no coincidence that there are 29 running specific stores in the Boston area, one of the highest per capita in the country.

3) Success begets success
Just like Silicon Valley with tech or New York with finance, Boston has become the hub for running brands, which has the cyclical effect of luring companies to the region. Vibram, Puma, Karhu, and Innov8—which hail from Italy, Germany, Finland, and the U.K respectively—each chose Boston as their North American headquarters. New running companies have spun out of older ones (Topo Athletic from Vibram); new investors of running brands hail from older running companies (Fireman Capital Partners andBreakaway Innovation Group trace their roots to Adidas’ $3.8 billion purchase of Reebok); and new running technology has spread first in Boston and then across the country (South End based RunKeeper is one of the most popular running apps).

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