Based on a recent study, the running boom of the late 1970's to the 1980's has reemerged since the 1990's. Four footwear companies—Foot Locker (NYSE:FL), Finish Line (NASDAQ:FINL), Brown Shoe (NYSE:CAL), and Nike (NYSE:NKE)—and their shareholders seem to have an inside track on the gains from this reinvigorated mania for running. The rewards can be substantial, as the study's graph below indicates.


Most striking here is the sustained growth onward from the 1990's, with roughly a million finishers of long distance footraces added annually from 2010 to 2012. These just the competitive runners, too, and exclude those who run just for fitness. Significantly, this graph indicates that female runners have begun to outnumber their male counterparts during the last three years.

A grab on the ladies' lead
Foot Locker seems to have zeroed in on this shift. Its Lady Foot Locker unit is transitioning away from the pure fashion or lifestyle products it sells and focusing on athletically active young females whose workouts may include running. Initial efforts to excite the female customers' in-store experience in Lady Locker's 19 parks format stores and 7 SIX:01 doors are bearing fruits as sales are "comping up" in these outlets. A website has also been launched recently to reach a wider female audience.

Key store acquisitions
Finish Line has also been quick to grab further gains from the running market's uptempo. The company is ramping up the consumer reach of its Running Specialty Group through some recent high-profile store acquisitions. Among these are four Bob Roncker's Running Spot stores in Northern Kentucky and Cleveland, three Boulder Running Co. stores in Colorado, and six BlueMile stores in Indianapolis.

Going into its third quarter of fiscal 2014 in September, the company already had 46 stores and is on pace for 200 stores in the next five years. Growing its e-tail segment is another continuing priority for Finish Line.

Shoe innovations pay
Brown Shoe is as bullish as Foot Locker and Finish Line on running's contribution to its growth. The company sees it as one of the primary drivers of comparative sales next year. It believes that such gains can be expected in the future as long as running shoe manufacturers continue to innovate and add new styles.

During the third quarter of 2013, lightweight running shoes were among the company's best sellers in terms of styles and product categories. Notably, the men's Nike Flex for the first time emerged as tops in Brown Shoe's athletic shoe sales during the quarter. 

In its 2014 first quarter, Nike reported that higher revenues from Nike Brand running and men's training, as well as basketball and soccer helped offset weakness in its sportswear segment. For the quarter, Nike Brand worldwide sales hit $6.5 billion, up 7%.

Earnings beat
In November, the three shoe retailers all reported strong results, sending their shares to new 52-week highs. Brown Shoe surprised the market with a 12.5% increase in EPS to $0.63 during the third quarter. Analysts were expecting either a 2.6% decline or a 3.3% gain. Sales for the quarter rose 1% to $702.8 million, against expectations of a 3%–3.6% drop.

For Foot Locker, non-GAAP EPS rose 8% to $0.68, ahead of the $0.66 consensus estimate. Its comparable-store sales rose 1.4%. 

Finish Line's second quarter results for fiscal 2014 were as robust, with consolidated net sales up year over year by 13.3% to $436.0 million and comparable-store sales rising 0.9%. Diluted EPS rose 10.2% to $0.54. 

A quick pick


Brown Shoe

Finish Line

Foot Locker


Market cap (intraday)





Trailing P/E (trailing 12-mo, intraday)





Forward P/E (1 yr.)





Dividend yield (annual)





From the metrics culled from Yahoo! Finance at the end of November, Foot Locker could be the value investors' top pick. It would be wise to keep tabs of the rest of the companies here as well, however, as they all have the proven capability to draw rewards not only from the second running boom but also from opportunities in the broader sports footwear, accessories, and apparel space.

Strong to the finish
The robust growth of running in the U.S. appears likely to continue for the long term. It has become more than a mania or a movement advocating a healthy lifestyle, which is fertile ground for the above companies and their peers.

Arturo Cuevas has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.