NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- After a somewhat disappointing 2014, Finish Line  (FINL) CEO Glenn Lyon says his company is back on track and feeling good about itself again.

"The footwear industry is performing on steroids right now, and we're happy we are starting to get our swag back," Lyon said.

On Friday, the specialty retailer reported better-than-expected sales and earnings for its fiscal first quarter ended on May 30, sending shares up by 4%. Net sales came in at $443.4 million, compared with analysts' average estimate of $430.8 million, while non-GAAP earnings were 30 cents a share, surpassing forecasts by 6 cents.

Same-store sales, a metric that measures sales from stores open longer than year, rose 5.5%, compared with a 2.6% gain in the previous quarter. 

"I can't wait to hear what Glenn says on Mad Money tonight because it sure sounds like it is finally clicking on all cylinders especially the specialty running group and Macy's," said TheStreet's Jim Cramer, Portfolio Manager of the Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio.

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For Finish Line, the improved tone around its business this year is partly because of better execution than in 2014 and partly because of strong consumer demand for sneakers and sportswear in general.

"There are times that people take their eye off the mark, or read their own press clippings -- once in a while you need a little wake up call," Lyon said.

In 2014, Finish Line's same-store sales increased 3.2%, lagging rival Foot Locker (FL), whose same-store sales gained 8%, as Finish Line admittedly placed too much emphasis on the wrong product.  For example, the retailer carried too many styles of running sneakers as opposed to the hottest trends in basketball shoes. Shares of Finish Line dropped by about 14% in 2014.

But sales are gaining steam thanks to more popular products in the stores and improved customer service, according to Lyon, and shares of Finish Line are up 16% year to date. On Friday, they traded at $28.18, up 4.4%.

Two trends stand out. The first is the popularity of what Finish Line calls "retro" shoes, or classic styles still being solid by Nike (NKE), Puma, Reebok and Adidad (ADDYY) that continue to be popular among consumers.

"When there is no new sneaker platform, just enhanced treatments, customers looking for something new tend to look back to legacy styles that they haven't worn in five years -- and now it's new again," Lyon said.

Two retro styles receiving interest by consumers nowe Nike's Cortez and Reebok's ZPump Fusion running shoes.

The second trend is strength in women's footwear and apparel, with sales of women's footwear increasing by a low-teens percentage in the quarter for Finish Line.

"The women's business is starting to get traction as the major brands we do business with design products for functionality, fit and style," Finish Line President Sam Sato said.

Traditionally, female athletic-wear products from major brands such as Nike or Adidas have been viewed as an afterthought to men's. In the past year, however, they have been an area of considerable investment because of the rise of Lululemon (LULU) and other niche players selling superior-looking --and fitting -- products.

Sato pointed to tight-fitting legging bottoms, sporty tops for the gym and Nike Roshe One sneakers as top sellers for women. According to Lyon, the industry has not seen the kind of appealing products in the women's business it is now since Nike's Shox sneakers burst onto the scene over 10 years ago.

To keep the momentum behind its sales, Finish Line may be looking to tap into the growing popularity of Under Armour (UA) products. This week brought news of Foot Locker -- which has historically had a frosty relationship with Under Armour -- launching what is being called "The Armoury." The first shop inside one of Foot Locker's Champs Sports stores in Maryland will feature exclusive Under Armour merchandise and appearances by athletes. Outside the store will be a sizable black Under Armour logo.

"As Under Armour is now starting to expand their footwear offerings, obviously we think it is a much larger opportunity for us," Sato said, noting that he and Lyon have spent a great deal of "personal time" with Under Armour in the past year to see how the two companies can work closer together.

The byproduct of those meetings could mean an Under Armour shop of its own inside a Finish Line. Or, it could lead to a bigger portion of the sneaker wall at Finish Line's hundreds of shops within stores at Macy's (M) being devoted to Under Armour.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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