We interviewed owners and managers of some of the 50 best running shops in the U.S. for 2015, and here’s what they had to say about the business of running.
What qualities does a running store need in order to be successful?
“Hire, train and keep great people. Stay true to what you do. Love the sport. Enjoy helping people. Watch your inventory, stay on top of trends, and have a bit of luck.” –Eddie Johnson, A Snail’s Pace, Fountain Valley, Calif.
“The products we carry can be found just about everywhere these days, so the three qualities that I see as imperative to success are authenticity, passion and being community-centric.” –Matt Helbig, Big River Running, St. Louis
“In this day of specialty run, everyone does the basics when it comes to customer service. For Pacers Running to be successful, we have to be memorable. Be great, be authentic, be helpful and, most of all, be memorable.” –Chris Farley, Pacers Running, Arlington, Va.
Why buy running shoes at a run specialty store?
“We want running to be the best it can be in our community. Getting runners into the correct shoes, educating them about proper running form, showing them the latest in running products and building lasting relationships with the customer are important to keeping them involved in the sport. I don’t think you will find that in big box or general sporting goods stores. Purchasing shoes online for a new runner is also a huge gamble. We wonder how many runners we lose from the sport each year because they purchased the wrong running shoes and get injured.”
–Doug Alred, 1st Place Sports, Jacksonville, Fla.
“Determining the best shoe for an individual from among hundreds of options takes expertise. It’s a combination of art and science. You can’t get that online or in a non-specialty store.” –Kris Hartner, Naperville Running Company, Naperville, Ill.
“Have you ever stared at a shoe wall in a large retailer or the shoe page online? There is a ton of product out there. Some of it is amazing, some of it is good enough, and some of it just does not meet my standards. Our job as a specialty store is to do research, know our customers and carry products that are innovative, reliable, beautiful and consistent—for footwear, apparel and beyond.” –Genie Beaver, West Stride, Atlanta
“It’s all about listening to the consumer and finding what works best for them individually. Our five-step fit process, educated staff, wide selection of product, and low prices guarantee this. Also, shopping local saves jobs and helps the economy.” –Eddie Johnson
What do you foresee being the next big trend in running shoes? In recreational running?
“The heritage shoe trend is gaining serious traction, and it would be interesting to see heritage/lifestyle shoe styling in technical running shoes. Saucony’s Life on the Run Collection hints at this new trend—an intersection between running and recreational running.” –Burke and Jon Beck, Red Coyote Running and Fitness, Oklahoma City
“Footwear technology is rapidly changing, perpetually becoming lighter, more durable and more adaptable. Midsole materials and upper designs move and fit more harmoniously than they have in the past and we expect to see that trend continue as vendors push the envelope to provide runners with the most natural-feeling experience. The wearable technology trend is also making its way into footwear. Shoes of the future will be more integrated with the technology many of us are already using to provide more advanced metrics on our biomechanics and the wear of the shoes themselves.” –Genie Beaver
What tips do you have for runners when they shop at your store?
“If you can, bring your current running shoes and the socks you wear for running. It helps give us a better picture of what your needs might be. In addition to that, bring an open mind to trying something new and remember we may end up having you switch to a different size.” –Kris Hartner
“Don’t be intimidated by the fact we are a running store. We help all different types of customers, from marathon runners to customers who just want a pair of comfortable shoes to wear around town.” –Burke and Jon Beck
“We encourage runners to ask a lot of questions and try on different pairs of shoes. We even encourage runners to take their new shoes home for a trial run. If the customer is unsatisfied with how a product fits or functions, we will help them find a different product that will work.” –Chris Lampen Crowell, Gazelle Sports