50 Best Running Retailers in America—The Big 4

What makes these running stores the best in America?

Written by: Bob Babbitt

What makes Fleet Feet Sports (Syracuse, N.Y.) Playmakers (Okemos, Mich.), A Snail’s Pace (4 Southern California stores) and Luke’s Locker (9 Texas stores) the cream of a great crop? Every one of these stores operates a little bit differently. But there is one connection that comes across loud and clear: Everyone in these stores, from the owner on down, is passionate about running and passionate about taking care of their customers.

At the end of the day, that is what really counts.

Playmakers

2299 West Grand River Avenue | Okemos, MI | 517-349-3803 | playmakers.com

Curt Munson ran originally to stay in shape for football at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S. D. He enjoyed the running so much he gave up football to focus on cross-country. He bought the Playmakers store in Okemos, Mich., back in 1981. “When we first bought the store it was 1,500 square feet,” he recalls. “Over time we expanded to 2,000, 4,600 and finally 6,400 square feet.”

Eventually it was time to really go big. When Barnes and Noble moved out of a 15,000-square-foot former grocery store location in 2001, Munson and Playmakers snatched it up.

Playmakers makes an effort to showcase great customer service. They put on entry-level running clinics every Wednesday evening and partner with more than 100 local events each year. And the fact that 20 of their 55 employees have been on board for at least 10 years shows how well they treat their staff.

Which translates to a great relationship with their customers. “Our Team Playmakers motto is ‘Any distance, any pace,’” says co-owner Brian Jones. “We work with high school cross-country and track athletes as well as the 50-year-old looking to run his first 5K. Our goal is to help everyone and anyone reach their running goals. In October we launched our ‘From the Couch to a 5K’ training program for women over 50,” Jones says.

Seventy-five percent of their business is in shoes and 15 percent is in accessories. “Running is our core business,” says Jones. “But we also carry the comfort brands and sandals from Ugg, Keen and Merrell.”

Curt Munson, who is in the Running Retailers Hall of Fame, is a firm believer in creating a great shopping experience. His new store showcases 28-foot-high ceilings, 24 skylights, a waterfall and three aquariums. “When it comes to the shopping environment, the product is important, our people are important and the look and feel of the store is important,” insists Munson.

With the success of the book “Born to Run,” people wanted to know more about barefoot running. Munson was right there at the cutting edge. He is the perfect example of teaching an old runner new tricks. “Our Good Form Running clinic has been amazing,” says the 59 year old. “We are doing three classes a week for runners and one for walkers. New Balance is rolling out Good Form Running nationally this spring. This is definitely the most revolutionary time in the history of our industry. Running is truly all about form.”

When it comes to success at retail and at Playmakers, it’s obviously all about form as well.

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