Fleet Feet, Inc. released its 2004 annual report last week, boasting a total of 61 franchise stores at year-end after successfully opening a record 12 new stores for the year. Jeff Phillips, the former Brooks exec who joined Fleet Feet three years ago and was appointed president of the company in May of last year, said that the running specialty chain that focuses on personalized customer service has a great opportunity to expand and flourish in a market that has seen so much retail consolidation. The numbers appear to support his position.

As SEW reported in February, Fleet Feet’s franchise stores saw sales increased 19.4% for 2004 to $43.1 million. Comp store sales increased 12.4% for the year.

The retailer saw a shift in vendor strength in 2004, with both Asics and Brooks posting stellar years in the footwear category for the year. Asics, again the top footwear vendor at Fleet Feet with a 22% share of sales, posted a 40.8% gain in sales for the year on top of a 7.5% increase in the prior year. Brooks moved into the number two spot in footwear, passing New Balance with a strong 42.6% increase in footwear sales on top of a 31% increase in the prior year. adidas, Nike, Saucony, and Mizuno rounded out the top seven footwear vendors.

Fleet Feet said that Asics and Brooks were the only brands to exceed the retailer’s footwear growth rate, “resulting in significant footwear market share gains.”

Total footwear sales grew 20.2% at Fleet Feet, while apparel sales increased 11.6% for the year.

The report indicated that Nike held on to its top spot in apparel, but an 8.4% increase in sales led to a decline in market share to 21% of the business at the retailer, versus a 24% share in 2003. A strong core basics program kept Hind in the number two spot in apparel, followed by Brooks, Sugoi, adidas, and Moving Comfort.

In combined footwear/apparel brand sales, Asics and Brooks have both overtaken Nike, who now holds the number three slot in front of Saucony/Hind, New Balance, adidas, and Mizuno.

Fleet Feet recorded its first ever $4 million month in July 2004, followed by two more record-breaking months in August and September. Of the ten best sales months in Fleet Feet’s 28-year history, eight occurred in 2004. Thirteen new Fleet Feet stores opened for business in 2004 in nine states including five new stores in California.

>>> Since everyone loves to talk about the strength of performance footwear in the market, let’s start here for a sense of who holds the cards in the running category…