At the NRF Big Show in New York City from Jan. 11 to Jan. 14, the big topics were omnichannel retailing and the digital shopper. But a few sporting goods insiders attended and even some sports retail trends were discussed at the event.

The one session dealing most closely with sports retail trends was entitled, Healthy Products/Healthy Business.” Execs at three retailers – CVS, REI and Giant Eagle – explored health & wellness’ extensive reach across retail categories and its expanding momentum.

Ann Clurman, EVP of trends and futures consulting at The Futures Consulting, said the H&W trend is expected to continue to grow partly because taking care of your health has shifted from “aspirational to attainable” and due to the national dialogue around healthcare, including insurance costs. Employers are “not only encouraging but insisting their employees get healthier,” with many planning on imposing penalties on unhealthy employees in coming years.

The trend should also be helped by better data that support efforts to get healthy. Clurman noted that studies show that only nine percent of consumers currently have a fitness wearable device but 62 percent of those that do believe their health improved over the prior year. Other factors supporting the H&W include exercising as a “reset button” to handle today’s heavier stressload, driven in part by the abundance of information coming from mobile devices and elsewhere. Also, aging boomers are looking to feel healthier as they reach their elder years.

Susan Viscon, SVP, merchandising and private brands, REI, said the co-op’s mantra is “a life lived outdoors is a life well lived.” A prime example of that notion is Mary Anderson, an REI co-founder who just turned 105 and had been “very active until the last five years.” REI also believes “being outdoors is one of the key ways to relieve stress.”

REI’s flagships that have opened up in recent decades have particularly helped the retailer introduce others to the outdoors and broadened its customer base. But Viscon admitted that the “rest of retail has caught up” with its successful experiential store approach and REI is becoming more aggressive offering outdoor programs. Attracting 250,000 participants last year, the programs cover 150 different curriculums on everything from bike maintenance to GPS lessons and even how to ride a bike. She noted that only 19 percent of Americans know how to ride a bike.

The flagships are also set up to help customers “dream” about their next outdoor adventure. Building on that, REI just put a small travel shop inside its Seattle store to support its successful adventure travel program. Said Viscon, “You can dream up a trip to Nepal or cycling in Tuscany and we’ll help you plan that whole trip.”

At a keynote session on the first day of the show, executives from the NBA, NHL, Women’s Tennis Association, as well as Oliver Bierfhoff, the general manager of the German national soccer team, and Paraag Marathe, president of the San Francisco 49ers’, discussed ways to drive customer loyalty, or in their case, fandom. More and more, the executives said that involves sharing even more data with fans, social media engagement, and even extensive entertainment options.

At Levi’s Stadium, which opened in July 2014 and is where the 49ers play, fans can make reservations at restaurants and download team and individual data with free Wi-Fi. Said Marathe, ”In any game, we’ll have 50 percent of the crowd using the app, which is a fantastic level of interaction. But it’s not just about monetization – you can’t sell tickets to a sold-out house; it’s about deepening the experience.”

Megan Dolce, store manager of the Lululemon Athletica Mens in the SoHo district of New York City, gave a brief discussion as part of a session entitled, “Exciting New NYC Stores That Deserve a Visit!”

The store, which opened in November, is the first Lulu store dedicated solely to men. Dolce noted that Lululemon has always had some mens in its stores but only 2 ½ years ago began to ramp-up its mens’ investment with a goal of building a billion dollar business, “hopefully over the next few years.”

The store has three category departments: Sweat for apparel for the gym, team sports and strenuous activities; Post Sweat to help the customer cool down after the workout; and No Sweat, a “still super-technical” but more casual collection to wear throughout the day.

While a typical Lululemon store will show posters of local ambassadors, such as yoga instructors, on the walls, the mens’ store also includes “visual props” from the ambassador’s lives such as a rugby ball to give its male customers even “better feel of who that person is.”

The store also includes a Joinery, where men can have shorts custom-made. The only other store where the service is available is its Vancouver flagship.

But the store was particularly designed to “feel is a community hub for him,” said Dolce. A backroom serves beer and water on tap to help customers “get to know who my team is and Lululemon.” Movable fixtures throughout the store enables the location to hold events. Recently, a party with several influencers in New York City was held under the theme, “Do what scares you,” one of the chain’s manifestos. Beyond local ambassadors, the store actively partners with local businesses on events. Said Dolce, “We always care what’s going on in local communities. No one store is alike because of that.”

Others in the sporting goods world presenting at the NRF show included Robert Perkins, VP, global talent management, Foot Locker, Inc. He discussed how a software system using predictive analytics from Infor HCM significantly reduced the time spent by its U.S. store managers in interviewing and finding quality candidates.

Paul Reid, VP, operations, FGL Sports, discussed Sport Chek's roll out of digital screens at many locations, emphasizing the importance using the screeens to provide “value” in helping shoppers engage in their sports activity beyond just entertainment.

Joe Granato, dir. operations, global initiatives, Lululemon, presented as part of a panel exploring RFID’s potential. Dave Finnegan, CIO and VP, information and interaction, Orvis, served on a panel discussing emerging retail technology trends.

From Dick’s Sporting Goods, Rafeh Masood, VP, customer innovation technology, talked about the omnichannel challenge facing store associates while Bryan Kirby, mgr., pricing, discussed markdown optimization.

The event also featured appearance by James Curleigh, the former head of Keen and Salomon Sports North America who's now president of the Levi’s. He dismissed the athleisure trend that's been blamed for the recent downturn in jeans sales. He rhetorically remarked, “Anyone remember the aerobics trend in the seventies?”

But he also addressed challenges keeping the 160-year-old Levi's brand relevant. Offering customization and more personalization as well as working to “surprise and delight” are two ways to reach today’s younger demographic. Said Curleigh, “Making icons matters, but you have to continue to innovate.”

Many of the other sessions tackled topics such as establishing the right culture, driving innovation, enhancing store design, and understanding the Millennial generation. Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke gave an economic drilldown. But with the trade floor full of many of retail technology’s latest software and in-store gadgets, several sessions covered taking advantage of Big Data, the mobile shopper, and the rise of omnichannel retailing.

At session entitled, “The New Digital Divide,” Alison Paul, vice chairman and U.S. retail and distribution leader at Deloitte, noted that digital technologies – including PCs, tablets and smartphones – influence 36 percent of in-store sales and that will likely increase to 50 percent by the close of 2015, according to Deloitte’s research.

“Channels will disappear because it is not how consumers are shopping,” said Paul.

Although this presents challenges on how to engage smartphone-wielding shoppers throughout their shopping journey, the good news for physical retailers is that many digital shoppers aren’t showrooming but buying more while their inside stores.

In another presentation, Bill Simon, former president and CEO, Walmart U.S., boasted “the technology is available today in physical retail to have almost the same purchase experience as you do online as you do in the store. We just have to get ourselves up to speed to be able to deliver it.”

Much of that technology will be driven by “the availability of data and the increasing sophistication of customers,” including shoppers’ increased access to data. But he insists, “the universal truth has not changed in thousands of years.” Regardless of channel or format, “If you take care of your customers with good merchandise and service, you win the day.”