Survival Of The Fittest

Supporting The Community

Of course, supporting the community has long been a key role played by running shoe stores, and in places with relatively small populations, this role is even more critical to business survival. Recently, in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I stopped by Running Wild, a small specialty store managed by Jim Dwyer. Looking around the store I saw a treadmill next to a huge poster of Steve Prefontaine, two shoe walls and a sign tacked to the wall that caught my eye.

“To those of you who will be purchasing your running shoes online, ask yourself two questions: 1) When was the last time you saw your Internet shoe company sponsor a local road race that you like to run? 2) When was the last time you saw your Internet shoe company support fitness and running in your local schools? To those loyal customers of Running Wild, THANK YOU!”

Dwyer said his main strategy for competing with Internet discounting and big-box stores is customer service and the basics of a proper shoe selection and fit. But he also said that he takes this value outside of the store with clinics presented at local companies and corporations, where the rising costs of health care insurance have prompted businesses to encourage healthier lifestyles.

However, despite all of their best efforts, specialty running stores will still have to relinquish a percentage of shoe and gear sales to the behemoths. “No business is ever going to have the right to 100 percent of customer dollars,” Fleet Feet’s Rowe said. “Perhaps some percentage of runners will only buy their first pair of shoes from us.” Rowe says that this is business—you take that first pair of shoes sold as a positive, and continue improving and doing things well to build on it.

One thing is for sure: If there’s a specialty running shoe store around the corner, and its business is successful, you know they have something good going on.

This piece first appeared in the December 2011 issue of Competitor magazine.

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