Here are the four finalists for the 2013 Running Store of the Year award.
Every year, Competitor magazine and Running Insight trade magazine identify the “50 Best Running Stores in America.” It’s based on a rigorous evaluation process, which includes runner nominations, mystery shopping to assess customer service, credit ratings from vendors, and assessments about local programs and community commitment.
The best specialty running shops in America are ones that offer exemplary customer service for every type of runner, organize training programs, group runs and local races and provide knowledge and insights about the latest trends, the newest gear, proper running form and local trails, plus can answer endless questions about racing, training and injury prevention.
Which running shop is the best in the country for 2013? The winner will be revealed on Dec. 5 at an industry-only trade show in Austin, Texas, and published online at competitor.com. In the meantime, we offer a glimpse of the four finalists (listed in alphabetical order) for the Running Store of the Year and have listed all of the shops earning the 50 Best Running Stores in America seal of approval for 2013.
Naperville Running Company
Primary owner: Kris Hartner
Total space: 9,300 square feet (when a second store opens in 2014)
Located in a bustling western suburb of Chicago, Naperville is a running hotbed. Aside from top-tier high school cross country teams and one of the country’s best NCAA Division III programs, it has a robust community of citizen runners (from age-group champions to first-timers) and dozens of local races, including a marathon that debuted in November.
At the center of that running buzz is Naperville Running Company, a 5,500-square-foot specialty store built on the pillars of excellent customer service, sound advice from experienced runners of all levels and a comfortable, engaging shopping experience. One of the highlights of the brightly lit store is a two-lane inlaid rubber track around the shoe-fitting and accessories area.
“You’ve got to be able to handle the full range of the bell curve of our customers,” says owner Kris Hartner, whose store won Running Store of the Year honors in 2009. “There are a lot of people who aren’t hard-core runners or don’t even consider themselves runners at all who walk in our door looking for shoes and advice. Our goal is to have good one-on-one interaction with every customer. It’s not rocket science and there are no secrets. What it takes is really good people working for you, and that’s what we have.”
Did you know? Hartner, who has a degree in biomechanics, worked in various roles at Reebok and Adidas before opening Naperville Running Company in 2000.
Red Coyote Running and Fitness
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Primary owners: Jon and Burke Beck
Total space: 5,500 square feet
Opened in 2010, this is the youngest store to ever make the 50 Best list and this year made it for the second time. From the start, the husband-wife ownership duo of Jon and Burke have strived to offer an inviting and accessible atmosphere while also giving back to the community.
The 5,500-square-foot Red Coyote store has the only slow-motion-video gait analysis system in the region and has developed thriving programs. For example, three years ago, the store’s Newbie Running Program, which trains first-timers for a 5K, attracted about 30 runners. This fall, 215 runners went through the program. And the Thursday night Pack Pint Runs, co-sponsored by a local brewery and often benefitting a good cause, have been wildly successful.
“The most important part of what we do at our store is listen to the customers, making sure we understand their goals, their problems and their needs,” says Burke Beck. “We ask questions to identify goals, needs, history and problems. We are kind of like running therapists.”
Did you know? The Becks previously co-managed the Road Runner Sports superstore in San Diego.
Rush Running Company
Primary owners: Alison and Mike Rush
Total space (all stores): 3,800 square feet
CIt’s no small irony that independently owned Rush Running thrives by connecting with the community in a city most well known for being home to the world’s largest retail chain. Although husband-and-wife owners Mike and Alison Rush both ran track for the University of Arkansas and have fast PRs to their credit, they’ve been successful because they treat every customer who walks through the door of their 2,600-foot store the same, no matter if they’re a marathon maniac or a first-timer going from the couch to a first 5K.
Great service, an individualized expert shoe-fitting process, a clean, well-merchandised store, free training programs and a friendly atmosphere are its primarily calling cards. In 2011, they opened a 1,200-square-foot Rush Running store in their own college-town stomping grounds in Fayetteville.
While the store’s wall-of-fame photo gallery has a few famous fast people (Shalane Flanagan, Meb Keflezighi and former Arkansas star Joe Falcone, among others), it’s primarily filled with photos of regular runners. “Anyone who brings us a photo of themselves running in a race can make it onto our wall of fame,” says Mike Rush. “We facilitate a fun, nurturing, learning environment that promotes fitness in general, not just running or walking.”
Rush Running staffers use a high-speed camera, treadmill and flat-screen TV to both show and tell customers what’s happening within the specific biomechanics of their gait.
“It’s a great teaching tool that takes a little more time to complete, but it’s all about the customer and education,” he says. “We want our customers to know exactly why we bring them the shoes we do and what exactly they’re putting on their foot.”
Did you know? The store also has a Wall of Shame in its bathroom featuring professional athletes that have been busted for using PEDs. Among the notorious dopers are the wall are “FloJo” (Florence Griffith-Joyner), Justin Gatlin and Lance Armstrong. “Most of the time it takes a second for customers to “get” what the wall is, but once they do we all share a good laugh,” Mike Rush says.
Sole Sports Running Zone
Primary owner: Lance Muzslay and Karen Seymour
Total space (all stores): 7,600 square feet
Lance Muzslay made a name for himself as a professional triathlete with a successful track record at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. But upon retiring, he’s built a successful business on the passion for endurance sports he shares with all of his customers at his three Sole Sports locations in the greater Phoenix area.
Muzslay works to make sure his stores are at the forefront of the local running communities. That ranges from simple outreach efforts, group runs and free clinics to special shopping days or extended store hours for a running group, club or team.
Muzslay’s crew also puts on fun social events on a regular basis, including runs from breweries and other local businesses, point-to-point runs between the stores and trail runs through the desert.
“We do everything in our power to make sure our stores are the hubs of their respective communities,” he says. “We strive to foster an unassuming environment so that everyone who walks in the door feels like they are part of our Sole Sports family and that they belong there.”
Did you know? Muzslay has raced 20 Ironman triathlons and never finished slower than 10 hours. He boasts a PR of 8:45 at Ironman Australia in 2002.