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News / Business

Brooks Running has a new CEO and big plans: ‘We’re going to win’

By Renata Geraldo, The Seattle Times
Published: March 31, 2024, 4:27pm
2 Photos
Dan Sheridan, upcoming Brooks Running CEO, is seen at the shoe wall in the the Fremont store, Tuesday, March 12, 2024, in Seattle.
Dan Sheridan, upcoming Brooks Running CEO, is seen at the shoe wall in the the Fremont store, Tuesday, March 12, 2024, in Seattle. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times/TNS) Photo Gallery

Having come back from the brink of bankruptcy to emerge as an industry leader, Seattle-headquartered Brooks Running is now eyeing more growth under incoming CEO Dan Sheridan.

Sheridan, who has spent his entire career at Brooks, is now taking over for longtime CEO Jim Weber. Sheridan credited Weber with finding the performance running niche Brooks now leads. His job is to maintain that dominance while expanding to other areas.

Sheridan said in an exclusive interview with The Seattle Times that he plans to grow Brooks’ apparel business, expand its footwear options to gym and fitness consumers, and enter the China market.

“I’m taking over a really healthy business, a very healthy brand, a group of people and a team that I think is the best in the industry, and that doesn’t happen for a lot of CEOs,” said Sheridan, 51.

Sheridan has served as Brooks’ chief operating officer and president since 2022 and will take over the top job next month.

Sheridan is a Brooks veteran and a University of Washington alum. At the company for 25 years — his entire career — he started as a field representative, supporting specialty stores with any marketing needs involving Brooks. Describing himself as a “person that runs” rather than a runner, Sheridan said he jogs a couple of times a week, including in Seattle’s Magnuson Park, close to where he lives.

He said he now wants to build on Brooks’ running foundation to reach more customers.

A triple-tier strategy

Sheridan succeeds Weber, who was CEO for 23 years. During his tenure, Weber took Brooks from being close to declaring bankruptcy in 2001 to becoming a stand-alone subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 2011 and now a billion-dollar brand. Brooks has nearly 1,300 employees, including about 500 in Seattle.

According to Sheridan, Weber was responsible for building Brooks’ prominence in the performance running niche. The company holds the No. 1 spot in the adult performance running footwear market with a 21% market share in the adult running category.

“He’s what I would call a Hall of Fame CEO in the sporting goods industry,” Sheridan said of Weber. “This brand is forever now because of what he put in place, and that’s really fun.”

Weber was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2017 and had to step away from the business for treatment until 2018. While he has been cancer-free, Weber told The New York Times in 2022 he could no longer go on his 6-mile runs. Complications from Weber’s surgeries after treatment influenced his decision to dial back, according to a Brooks spokesperson.

Building on the foundation laid by Weber, Sheridan hopes to push Brooks beyond running.

In the next three to five years, his strategy includes growing Brooks’ apparel category, as well as its offerings for walkers and gym and fitness consumers. A good running shoe, he said, is also a good gym and walking shoe.

“You’re going to start to see us just talk to more people,” Sheridan said.

He said Brooks will also expand in Europe, where the company has an office in Amsterdam, and enter the Chinese market with two stores this year.

In China, “the middle class is growing, therefore they have more time for fitness,” Sheridan said. There, the strategy will be mostly digital, whereas in the U.S., Sheridan credited much of Brooks’ growth to selling at independently owned, specialized running-gear retailers. Brooks has one flagship store, called Brooks Trailhead, on the first floor of its headquarters.

Among the specialty stores Brooks supplies and supports is Super Jock ‘n Jill, which has stores in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood and Redmond. Super Jock ‘n Jill has been in business for nearly 50 years and has had a partnership with Brooks for decades.

General manager Ty Whitten, who has worked with Sheridan for decades and considers him a friend, described partnerships with brands such as Brooks as a “nice coexistence.” He said Brooks knows that specialty stores validate their products for customers and is active in supporting those stores.

Whitten said he doesn’t expect changes in Super Jock ‘n Jill’s relationship with Brooks with Sheridan at the helm because Sheridan knows the dynamics with specialty stores well.

“Dan gets it,” Whitten said. “He’s the right person for that job.”

Seattle roots, global ambitions

In 2023, Brooks reported $1.2 billion in revenue, representing 5% growth from the previous year, and a record of more than 20 million units sold, the company announced in February. In North America, 2023 revenue increased 7% compared with the previous year as Brooks reached $1 billion for the first time.

Sheridan said he is not worried about competition from newer brands such as Hoka or On Running.

“I worry more about what we can control, which is the execution of our strategy,” Sheridan said. “What I know is if we execute on this product strategy, we service our retailers really well and we fully play in our space on the Brooks brand, we’re going to win against the competition. We’ve done it against the Nikes of the world.”

Amid his growth plans for Brooks, he said the state of the economy keeps him up at night. In February, the consumer price index was up 3.2% from a year earlier. Before the pandemic, the normal pace of inflation was roughly 2%.

“There’s a question mark on the economy,” Sheridan said. “In our business, you’re making inventory decisions for five, six months from now, right? So you’ve got to have a view of short term and long term. And those are always hard decisions.”

Still, he said the inflation pinch that has affected retailers such as discount apparel store Ross hasn’t quite hit Brooks. Being in a premium category, a dedicated runner can forfeit habits such as dining out, but not running products, Sheridan said. He added that in a recession, people might cancel their gym memberships and will instead pick up running shoes to replace their workout.

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But while Brooks maintains its top market share in the adult premium running category, its competitors are growing.

Zurich, Switzerland-based On Running reported about $2 billion in revenue in 2023, marking an increase of 46.6% from the previous year.

In May, Goleta, Calif.-based Hoka reported $1.41 billion in annual revenue, marking a 58.5% increase from the previous fiscal year.

Brooks remains one of Super Jock ‘n Jill’s top brands, though competition has picked up in recent years, Whitten said. The running shoe market is “ever changing,” and the Seattle brand is “changing with the times” and keeping up with new products, he said.

Sheridan said he was employee No. 53 when he first joined Brooks. In the past 25 years, he watched the company grow.

Brooks’ history started long before it set its Seattle roots. The shoemaking company began in Philadelphia in 1914 making ballet slippers and bathing shoes, which were used for swimming. In 1993, it moved to Bothell, and in 2014, when the company turned 100, it moved to its Seattle headquarters on Stone Way between Wallingford and Fremont.

“I’m super proud because we’re delivering something to runners that we think will change their life, change their day and ultimately change the world if we add up all the people that are running around the world,” Sheridan said.