Merchandising and Marketing In A Pandemic
THE NEWSMAGAZINE FOR RUNNING SPECIALTY RETAILERS / RUNNINGINSIGHT.COM THE NEWSMAGAZINE FOR RUNNING SPECIALTY RETAILERS / RUNNINGINSIGHT.COM
STORE OF THE YEAR! page 4 and three finalists ... Fleet Feet Richmond p8 iRun Texas p12 Ridgefield Running p14
MARCH 16, 2020 FEBRUARY 1, 2021
BEST IN THE BUSINESS The 2020 Best Running Stores were honored in a virtual ceremony on January 27. SINCE THE 2020 BEST RUNNING STORES EVENT LAST YEAR was postponed along with basically every other in-person gathering due to the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, plans were made for an alternate way to celebrate the winners of the 2020 Best Running Stores Award in a safe and fun way. Those plans came together on Wednesday, January 27, when the Best Running Stores were honored in a virtual awards ceremony that included the announcement of the Store of the Year! The event, presented by Diversified Communications, the owner of Running Insight and The Running Event, was free and open to all industry professionals, including retailers, brands and media. With surprises for winning stores, short videos and face-to-face virtual networking, it was a great time for run specialty to connect with – and celebrate – the best in the business. The following pages highlight the 2020 Store of the Year – 1st Place Sports in Jacksonville, FL – and the three other finalists — Fleet Feet Richmond, Richmond, VA; iRun Texas, San Antonio, TX; and Ridgefield Running, Ridgefield, CT. For more on The Best Running Stores event go to https://www.bestrunningstores.com/brs-2020-awards/
RUNNING INSIGHT ® is a registered trademark of Diversified Communications. © 2021 all rights reserved. Running Insight is published monthly, is edited for owners and top executives at running specialty stores and available only via email.The opinions by authors and contributors to Running Insight are not necessarily those of the editors or publishers. Articles appearing in Running Insight may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express permission of the publisher. Divesified Communications, 121 Free St, Portland, ME 04101; (207) 842-5500.
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Store of the Year:
1st Place Sports Jacksonville run specialty retailer comes in first as ‘best of the best’ in 2020.
e a r e t he he a r t of t he Jacksonville running community,” says Doug Alred, co-owner of 1st Place Sports, with five stores in the Jacksonville, FL, area. They are also the 2020 Store of the Year, a recognition announced last week during the much-anticipated Best Running Stores virtual celebration. For the five-store chain that was founded back in 1978, it is recognition of the place it holds not only in its local community, but within the run specialty business as a whole. “This is a huge honor,” Doug Alred says. “We have always felt like we were number one and [being named a finalist] instilled even more pride in our staff. It confirms the work we’ve been doing is the very best it could be.” When asked what makes 1st Place Sports the Best of the Best, Doug’s wife and coowner Jane has one simple explanation. “The most important thing is our staff and the relationships we’ve built and nourished over the past 42 years,” she says, pointing out that the chain now has multigenerational customers and has enjoyed serving some families for three generations. The 1st Place Sports staff has a combination of more than 200 years of running and retail experience. “We have been continuously building the foundation of the Jacksonville running community both at our stores as well as the – pre-COVID – 100-plus races a year we time and manage,” she adds. “Once the community running foundation began flourishing, we gratefully embraced our 4
Being named Store of the Year is “ a huge honor” for 1st Place Sports and the employees at its five stores.
customers and they embraced us to continue to develop this special community over the years.” Much of the 1st Place Sports staff is relatively new and the Alreds are proud to onboard them in an environment of being one of the very best run specialty stores in the country. (One way they accomplish this is through a partnership with the
Kinesiology Department at Jacksonville University that helps operate a run lab at its beach store staffed by graduate students who have been doing extensive gait analysis as well as metabolic testing, with the results being published.) “We embrace the honor and while we do not take it lightly, we know we must continue to challenge ourselves to continue
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1st Place Sports (continued)
1st Place Sports customers appreciated a return to racing last year even if it meant social distancing, masks and staggered starts for the runners.
to be the very best with each and every customer experience,” says Doug Alred. The COVID-19 Impact in 2020 Like many of its counterparts around the country, the restrictions brought about by pandemic shutdowns brought new opportunities to 1st Place Sports. Many consumers who stopped working out indoors, at the gym or other indoor locations took up outdoor fitness activities, including walking or running, and that brought them to one of its stores. “Some of these were already 1st Place Sports customers, but many found us for the first time,” says Jane Alred, pointing out that its business developed to include new opportunities with virtual fittings and delivery as it pivoted to include out-of-store 6
opportunities. 1st Place Sports also developed an online store that remains a viable sales tool. “The events post-February 2020 forced us to grow our business beyond five doors to every door in the world,” she adds. 1st Place Sports was fortunate that these opportunities allowed it to face down the COVID challenges better than many other businesses. Its existing customers kept coming to shop and a word-of-mouth reputation enabled it to be discovered by a new customer base. And even though its races took a four-month hiatus, the stores remained strong. “Our staff rose to all the new challenges easily,” Jane Alred says. “Our goal was to keep perfecting the basics of what we had been delivering for the past 42 years.”
The challenges of 2020 brought about a more aggressive marketing plan, strengthening it marketing outreach by aligning with a strategic marketing partner who helped it increase its online performance. Doug Alred reports that they have been averaging more than 30 online orders per week after embracing online fittings and having their doors open virtually 24 hours/day. 1st Place Sports also moved much of its 2020 marketing online and hugely expanded its social media presence, including more content online. All of that will continue at an even higher level as the staff continues to learn more about meeting customer expectations with online and social media. Doug Alred emphasizes that its partnership with the marketing company was a new relationship that has paid off in the long run. “We have become proficient at virtual fittings and will continue to offer that for our customers’ safety and comfort in the future,” he says. Getting Social Another growth area was in its social media presence, which he describes as “moderate” prepandemic that exploded in 2020 and 2021. “It became a more strategic and comprehensive effort compared to previously,” he explains. Among the efforts: • 1 Place Sports started using its staff and customers to model products — that will continue in 2021. • It developed much more engagement with its customer base via social media, which has opened new doors to new customers and new ways to deliver
its message to them. Jane Alred also has high praise for the vendor partnerships that became even stronger as they faced the pandemic challenges together. “Our vendors have been great partners for us as we all realized and appreciated that we are all in this together,” she says. Vendor Partnerships The staff held many virtual meetings and virtual sell-ins since its vendors couldn’t visit in-person. “We were truly partners in an effort to increase our marketing opportunities,” she adds. “We value our partnerships with our vendors.” Despite all of the upheaval, the Alreds feel it has been a successful year for 1st Place sports, culminating in being named Store of the Year. “Despite all of the business restrictions, our staff was able to pivot successfully and, if anything, it nurtured an even deeper relationship with our customer base,” Jane Alred says. One way that occurred was the return to racing with pandemic-mandated restrictions Some of its customer base includes people who are not store customers who only participate in its races, a connection that was lost when races were prohibited. © 2021 Diversified Communications
“During the racing hiatus, people were off, but they were quick to vocally welcome us back and to thank us for delivering a post-COVID running experience where safety was paramount,” Alred says. The same applied to its group runs, which were also on hiatus and returned to a grateful audience. “We will never take our customer support for granted and 2020 underscored that for us.” Racing Returns In June 1st Place Sports did a fundraiser for a local charity called Marathon High as its first live event, allowing only 250 participants and starting small groups every five minutes with no post-race festivities. Its next race was in August on the beach, with runners spaced six feet apart and starting one row at a time every 20 seconds. Runners were required to wear masks in the start and finish area and there was still no post-race celebration or awards ceremony. The water stations no longer serve water in cups, but rather individual small containers of water handed to them by
gloved volunteers. As the Store of the Year, Doug and Jane Alred, along with their daughter and co-owner Ryann Alred Lohman, get to provide some advice to other run specialty retailers in America. That advice is simple: Advice to Colleagues “Take what you’ve learned and continue to expand that. Find new ways to find and service your customers that were not previously explored. Engage with your community. Go back to the basics and perfect those techniques.” As for the future of 1st Place Sports, Doug and Jane remain very hands-on as Ryann is poised to take over when her parents are too old to continue. “But I don’t think that will happen for a long time,” says Jane Alred. Meanwhile, Doug Alred urges retailers to remain relevant and keep pivoting to stay true to their goals, whatever they are. “World events such as the Boston bombings and 9/11 have forever changed us and altered how we do business and in this same way that we have learned
1st Place Sports Jacksonville, FL (five stores: Baymeadows, San Marco, Tapestry Park, Jax Beach and St. John’s, opened in January 2021) www.1stplacesports.com Owners: Doug and Jane Alred and their daughter, Ryann Alred Lohman History: 1st Place Sports was started in September 1978 with one location and has grown to five stores in the Jacksonville area.
Co-owners Ryann Alred Lohman and Doug Alred advise their fellow run retailers to learn from the lessons of 2020 and move forward with confidence.
new lessons in the pandemic world,” he says. “We changed how we reach and how we service our store customers. We changed how races are done to
In Their Words: “1st Place Sports is a full-service running store. In-store services include our five-step fit process, free monthly Good Form Running Classes, training clinics, weekly training runs and special events in the store such as our Women’s Night. The fact that the store has surpassed four decades and is still relevant and a driving force in the running community means we must have a successful formula.” The Award: “It is an honor to be recognized as one of the top running stores in the nation. We feel that we are not just a running store, but an integral part our
accommodate social distancing and safety measures. We will continue to change, pivot and strive for excellence in 2021 and in the many years to come.” n
running community. It is very gratifying to be recognized by our customers and colleagues. Receiving this award is not just something we assume we get each year, this is something we know we worked for while being innovative. Our ability to adapt year over year and our continuance to put customers first is a signal we bring up in each staff meeting. The award brings integrity behind what we do and that no one person can achieve such award, it takes the entire team to work together driving forward. Our staff is aware of the challenges, but they are confident in their performance to be a part of the best running store.”
© 2021 Diversified Communications
Best Running Stores Finalist:
Fleet Feet Richmond Virginia retailer has adapted to the challenging times to forge a link with its local running community.
The COVID-19 Impact … “We immediately found the need to adapt to the times,” says owner Jeff Wells. “We became more concerned for our staff’s and customers’ health safety. We implemented safety practices of thorough and consistent store cleaning and regular checking of staff’s health. We added virtual fittings, home deliveries, curbside pickups and in-store scheduled appointments.” They even added additional phone lines just to be able to respond to the increase in customer questions and concerns. Store Design and Merchandising … A big change that Fleet Feet Richmond made in 2020 was to increase the distance between its fit stations to provide a safer environment and to meet the state COVID-19 requirements of space and occupancy. In fact, at its Westhampton location it expanded into its adjacent neighbor’s vacant space to add an additional showroom, additional bathroom, meeting room and office space — an increase of 33 percent store space. Cleaning Up in 2021 … Fleet Feet Richmond plans to maintain the extreme cleaning practices it has taken on during the pandemic. “Our customers and staff seem to have really appreciate our increased effort,” Wells says. Curbside pickup has been very popular and he sees the stores continuing with that, along with appointments on only a small scale because, as he puts it, “our 8
A mural at its Westhamption store depicts the local running community on a rivervfront landscape.
customers really like to have their flexibility of walking right in.” The Community Link .. “Our relationship with our community has grown even more than it was before,” Wells says of the past nine months. “Our customers have expressed a huge amount of loyalty in shopping with us. They sincerely appreciate all that we do to maintain a safe and happy shopping experience for them.” Store Expansion … The Westhampton
store expansion allowed it to improve its customer experience, while also allowing for the addition of more fit stations — a win-win because the store added space for more customers while maintaining safe distancing. The Mural … Fleet Feet Richmond added a huge mural on the Westhampton store’s outside wall that depicts its local running community on a riverfront landscape. “We wanted to bring some positive emotions to these difficult times,” he explains.
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Fleet Feet Richmond (continued)
Product delivery and a revamped store interior are COVID-inspired touches that allowed Fleet Feet Richmond to operate through the pandemic.
Getting Social … Social media was used extensively in 2020 to communicate directly to its community all the new practices that allowed them to shop in a safe way and to allow them to choose what shopping method worked best for them. “We also took on the role of providing a positive, upbeat attitude in everything we do,” Wells adds. “These are difficult times and we wanted to be a source of positive light.”
The Vendor Connection … During the pandemic Fleet Feet Richmond has worked closely with all its vendors as partners. “We made early contact with each of them to make any necessary adjustments to payment and terms and to managing our existing inventory as well as future orders,” Wells explains. “All in all, our vendors have made this a much easier course to navigate.”
Fleet Feet Richmond Short Pump and Westhampton, VA www.fleetfeetrichmond.com Owners: Ashley Wells, Jason Wells and Jeff Wells History: Ashley, Jason and Jeff Wells brought their many years of combined experience to Richmond in 2014, opening Fleet Feet in the Westhampton neighborhood. A year later, they opened a second location, expanding to the Short Pump area to be able to serve a wider 10
L o o k i n g A h e a d … We l l s strongly believes that the running market will continue to be relevant — maybe less with traditional events, but more overall because more folks are needing running gear to go on their personal walk or run. “Our stores can be a safe haven for their shopping and more than ever, they are relying on our expertise to fit them in the proper gear,” he says.
audience of runners and walkers. Over the past six years, Fleet Feet Richmond has fit thousands of runners, collected countless shoes for the less fortunate in Richmond, attended dozens of Sports Backers training team workouts and pre-pandemic hosted fun runs every Tuesday night. In Their Words: “Our customers make our stores great. We serve a broad range of needs, from people who are looking for comfort on their feet to elite runners. We learn so much from this range of fitting experiences that we are continually
The 2021 Challenge for Fleet Feet Richmond … Staffing – and everything that goes with it – and product availability will continue to be Fleet Feet Richmond’s biggest challenges as 2021 continues to take shape. “More than ever, we must be prepared to meet our customers where they are at and have options to take care of them where they feel comfortable,” Wells says. n
growing and able to help more people. Additionally, our staff consistently provides a high-quality and unique shopping experience that keeps our customers coming back. Their product knowledge and need-specific know-how make them the best in the business.” The Award: “We are so proud and humbled to receive this award for the third year in a row. We strive every day to work in service of the community around us. This award shows us that we are making a difference and living by Fleet Feet’s nine core values.”
© 2021 Diversified Communications
Best Running Stores Finalist:
iRun Texas Michele and Mitch Allen have made their three stores in San Antonio an integral part of the region’s running scene.
Reflections on 2020 … During March and April things were pretty tough due to COVID-19, reports Michele Allen. “We did not want to lay off any of our full-time staff, so we worked on things that always seemed to get pushed to the back burner.” During this time, the staff began updating its policies and procedures and its website while launching an online store. The Customer Contact … iRun Texas staff also personally reached out to their regular customers through phone calls and texts to see if they could help with any of their running needs. In addition, it launched virtual fittings and provided phone ordering with curbside pick-up and home delivery. “This kept us in close contact with our regular customers and kept them happy, even when our doors were shut,” Allen says. “We were also able to allow those individuals with medical prescriptions into the stores for shoe fittings following CDC guidelines.” The Remodel .. iRun Texas had been planning to remodel its first location (opened in December, 2009, so it definitely needed a face lift) and decided during pandemicmandated restrictions would be the time to really do it. The remodel was completed before the end of the year. Merchandising In A Pandemic … In the first 12
iRun Texas has reached out consistently to its customer base during the pandemic to keep them engaged.
quarter of 2020 iRun Texas launched its online store, which continues to be a very important part of its business. Virtual fittings are also something that will continue to be offered customers if that works better for them. Merchandising Post-Pandemic … iRun Texas plans to continue its online shopping, curbside pick-up, home delivery and virtual fittings as the pandemic hopefully loosens its hold on Texas. Any Positives in 2020 … Allen points to the remodel, the new website and the online store as positive developments in the past year. A closer connection with customers was another, unexpected result. “I think that our customers really tried to support us
and local businesses during this pandemic,” she says. “I think they often just shopped even when they didn’t need something right then just to help our business.” Another Benefit … Allen points out that with people working from home and gyms closed, iRun Texas has also seen many new customers who have just started or got back into running and walking outside. Marketing In A Pandemic … iRun Texas did not introduce any specific marketing initiatives in 2020 because of the pandemic, but Allen believes that future marketing efforts will be more successful and better thought-out because of the staff’s ability to tie in all aspects of how customers interact with it on their phones or laptops. And
© 2021 Diversified Communications
The personal touch of safe shoe fittings and a store remodel position iRun Texas for the long run in a pandemic retail environment.
because it now has a distinct tie-in with social media to its website advertising it will be able to target customers with more intention. The Racing Business … While the retail side of its business has fared well enough through all this, its training programs and race management company have not — iRun Texas has not had a live race since February. “Training classes and races are a huge part of our business and they give people goals to keep running,” Allen says. “I have faith that by Summer 2021 we will start to see events come back and social gatherings and training classes will be able to resume.”
Getting Social … During the challenging year of 2020, social media allowed iRun Texas to keep in contact with its customers, an effort that really evolved as the year wore on. At first, it seemed like its customers turned to social media for basic information, Allen explains – such as whether the stores were open, any adjusted hours, capacity limits, that sort of thing – and that allowed it to connect with little updates rather than publishing them monthly in a newsletter. Daily, and sometimes even hourly, it put up information about how the stores could continue to help customers.
plans progressed and we found our groove, Mitch and I posted a video (or two) talking directly to customers,” says Allen. “We’ve never done that before, but customers really appreciated the intimate feel of the owners of ‘their running store’ talking directly to them.” Adding the online store and updating the website during this time has allowed iRun Texas to view social media in a bigger scope — from directing people to the online store to shop, to figuring out how to track website traffic, it has learned a lot about the advantages of technology and social media in today’s small business.
Getting Social, Part 2 … “As our
The Vendor Connection … Allen
iRun Texas Three locations in San Antonio, TX Owners: Michele and Mitch Allen www. iruntexas.net History: In December 2009, iRun Texas opened as Run On! San Antonio, a partnership with owners Michele and Mitch 13
Allen and the owners of Dallas-based running stores, Run On! In October 2012, the Run On! stores in the Dallas area sold, necessitating the name change of the San Antonio store. Rebranding as iRun Texas and buying out the partnership in December of 2012, the Allens opened their second location in May 2012. The third location opened January 2015.
gives her vendors an A+ for their efforts during the pandemic. “It was definitely a balancing act for them trying to get product out, pushing back release dates and all kinds of shipping issues that have happened due to the pandemic,” she says. “But as partners we have worked through this together.” Looking Ahead … Allen and her team are very hopeful for what 2021 will bring to them. “We have learned a lot, enhanced our online and social media presence and figured out new ways to manage our business,” she says. “We are resilient. We will continue to adjust and grow with the ever-changing world we live in.” n
In Their Words: “We strive to encourage runners and walkers of all ages and abilities in achieving their highest level of health and fitness goals through our staff, comprehensive product line and quality training programs. Our excellent, educated staff is committed to fitting you in the right shoes. We also feel our bra fitting process is just as extensive and important as fitting for shoes.”
© 2021 Diversified Communications
Best Running Stores Finalist:
Ridgefield Running Opening a new location during a pandemic made for a challenging and rewarding year for Ridgefield Running.
Reflection on 2020 … Changes were pretty drastic at Ridgefield Running and none will go away. Since March 16, the last official day the store was open before the Connecticut shutdown and before it reopened on May 20th. Ridgefield Running Company set up delivery and curbside service, instituted fittings outside and officially became an online retailer, using the RunFree Platform, that went line within days of closure. More 2020 Changes … The retailer also changed its POS system to Heartland, allowing it to become iPad mobile, and took out its entire cash wrap and converted to 100 percent iPad devices for 3D scanning, gait analysis to check-out. This enabled it to have the client work with one employee from greeting to departure and it now has an Opto Kiosk that can roll around if needed. Even better, this allowed the store to gain about 100-square feet of space. Wait, There’s More … The changes continued through the year as Ridgefield Running adopted Touchless Pay terminals and took out a no-longer-needed dressing room and moved a wall to gain a bigger back room for the staff to move around. They also replaced carpet in the back with a more hygienic wood surface and removed all four-ways to make space. They also took apparel down to a size run per SKU, to slim down and make room for loss of four-ways. Enter Darien Running Company … As if that wasn’t enough change, in July owner 14
It was certainly not business as usual at Ridgefield Running and its new Darien Running store in 2020.
Megan Searfoss opened Darien Running Company in Darien, CT. The store was designed to allow a customer to move around the store freely without anything but its FitStation, treadmill, fit benches and stools on the f loor. “Both stores feel open and allow for a customer to see everyone in the store, creating a safe environment,” Searfoss says.
Safety Protocols Rule … The stores started with a greeting station in which temperatures are taken and masks and hand sanitizer are available. They followed all guidelines that the CDC and the state set forth and in November were able to take down the greeting area. Everyone must still wear a mask and they do limit the amount in the store at a time, but the need to police has
© 2021 Diversified Communications
providing over 100 pairs of new shoes for homeless men and women. It later partnered with the Open Door Shelter, a nonprofit that serves the homeless and provided 100 pairs of new shoes and clothing for their free store.
The pandemic forced Megan Searfoss to create stores that are “super shoppable,” with technology upgrades complementing the retail floor.
been removed and both stores are very open. Any Positives? … “The pandemic caused us to innovate quickly and as a result we got creative and have created stores that are super shoppable,” Searfoss says. “If anything, it caused us to really think about selling spaces and how customers can interact without bumping into another person.” The pandemic also forced them
to act on upgrading technology more quickly than Searfoss had planned, but it worked out for the better in the end. Marketing in a Pandemic … Ridgefield Running Company is very community-oriented and like everyone else was forced to reach its customers in different ways. At the start of the shutdown it did a BuyOne-Give-One initiative for the Bridgeport Rescue Mission
Giving Back to the Community … During the pandemic RRC has focused on give-backs for the many non-profits that lost their races, or fund-raising vehicles by using its stores to create awareness for them. “The concept that although we are all in the same sea of the pandemic, everyone’s boat is a bit different really struck home for the staff,” she explains. “The stores took a hit, but I was able to keep people employed and we were able to give to those that are really struggling.” Getting Social … Social media continues to be a large part of the two stores’ marketing; however, reaching its customers through segmented emails is much more personal and the open rate remains high.
Ridgefield Running Ridgefield, CT, and Darien, CT (opened July 2020)
they are looking for a walking shoe, a shoe to stand at work all day or a shoe for a championship race.
In Their Words : “We support the active community through sponsorship, scholarship and education. Through a strong partnership with our Ridgefield Library, we have hosted Deena Kastor, Scott Jurek, Diana Nyad and many top orthopedics from HSS. We have donated over 200 pairs of shoes to our local homeless shelters during the pandemic.”
Owner: Megan Searfoss History: Opened in October, 2014, moved to the hear t of downtown Ridgefield in March, 2019. The new location is a 100-year-old building with lots of history that allows for curbside pickup, outdoor fittings and run meet-ups Every customer goes through RRC’s Fit Process, a comprehensive evaluation, 3D foot scan and Dynamic gait Analysis, before trying a pair of shoes, whether 15
The Award: “The Best Running Stores recognition this year is especially sweet. The RRC team has never worked so
Integrating its POS system with its email platform and social media has been a game-changer. Vendor Partnerships … For the most part, Searfoss says her vendors were awesome. Offering extended terms and holding product while the stores navigated their “time-off” and then return-to-business was critical. “Our reps stayed in touch and were super helpful from afar,” Searfoss says. The 2021 Outlook … Searfoss says she remains “cautiously excited” about 2021. “We are going to continue to innovate and push what we can do safely,” she adds. “If there is a positive from the pandemic it is that people are outside moving and many have found the mental and physical benefits of running for the first time. Our virtual programs and small group meet-ups are growing and when racing and high school sports open back up, I think we are all going to experience an uptick. It’s been a long recovery period and athletes are ready to go.” n
hard to ensure a customer feels welcomed and safe in our store. Our 100 percent iPad integration ensures the customer works with one team member. The RRC team treats every customer like they are the secret shopper, ensuring that all are treated with the same respect and attention, from a gel purchase to a GPS watch. We are proud to be able to say that we are a Best Running Store! Through the pandemic, RRC quickly became omni-channel, offering virtual fittings, curbside and delivery. Our staff has worked hard to adapt to the changes and our fit process, now available by appointment, will become an integral part of the business moving forward.”
© 2021 Diversified Communications
The 2020 Best Running Stores A-Z Originally announced in the July 2020 issue of Running Insight, here’s a recap of the winners.
1st Place Sports
Fleet Feet Pittsburgh
Potomac River Running
A Runner’s Mind
Fleet Feet Richmond
A Snail’s Pace
Fleet Feet Rochester
Aardvark Sports Shop
Fleet Feet Spokane
Ridgefield Running Company
Big Peach Running Co.
Fleet Feet Springfield
Run For Your Life
Brooklyn Running Co.
Run Hub Northwest
Charlotte Running Company
Charm City Run
Runner’s Edge MT
Columbus Running Company
Dick Pond Athletics
Good Times Running Co.
Fleet Feet Chicago
Lincoln Running Company
Rush Running Company
Fleet Feet Davenport
Salt Lake Running Company
Fleet Feet Fort Wayne
Medved Running & Walking
St. Pete Running Company
Fleet Feet Hartford
Mill City Running
Tortoise & Hare Sports
Fleet Feet Huntsville
Naperville Running Company
Fleet Feet Maine Running
North Wales Running Co.
Up and Running
Fleet Feet Montclair
Palmetto Running Company
Fleet Feet Mount Pleasant
Whirlaway Sports Center
Fleet Feet Nashville
Xtra Mile Running
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Merchandising & Marketing
MERCHANTS OF CHANGE A new emphasis on home fitness and running demands different merchandising strategies for run specialty retailers in 2021.
By Dirk Sorenson, Executive Director, Industry Analyst, Sports, The NPD Group
Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash
ÂŠ 2021 Diversified Communications
ne of the biggest trends to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis is the consumer adoption of new fitness routines — whether it is in the form of investing in health and fitness equipment for the home, a pair of running shoes or a new bike. The momentum that began in mid-March has showed no signs of abating, and demand remained intact for the holidays — a critical selling season for retail overall and typically one of the best times of year to better understand the tangible desires of consumers. Essentially, U.S. consumers have changed their workout habits for two overarching reasons. 1. For many, commuting to and from work or school has been reduced or become non-existent, with more working and schooling from home than usual. Given that the average one-way commute is just over 26 minutes, according to the U.S Census Bureau, it becomes clear that time is being put back in people’s day to invest in new activities. 2. Many gyms and fitness centers around the country remain closed or are operating at reduced capacity, also leading consumers to find new ways to exercise. With social distancing measures in place, many may also be reluctant to return to these types of public facilities. Home Fitness Equals Running Given all of these factors at play, it is unsurprising that consumers are turning to home fitness as a way to pursue their exercise and wellness interests. In the three months ending November 2020, home fitness equipment sales grew by 126 19
percent compared to the same period in 2019, according to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service. Cardiovascular equipment such as treadmills, rowers and stationary bikes were up 160 percent during this period. Consumers’ motivation to find additional ways to exercise is also contributing to sales increases for performance running footwear. Performance r unning shoes sold across sporting goods and specialty stores as well as the sport specialty e-commerce channel grew nine percent in sales during the three months ending November 2020 compared to the year prior, according to NPD. Women Lead the Way As retailers consider how to engage with consumers in this space, it is critical to understand who may be showing interest in the performance running shoe category. Overall, NPD data shows that the women’s market is outperforming men’s; sales grew by 14 percent for women’s product during the September through November 2020 period, compared to a growth of five percent for men’s. These combined trends of a growing women’s running shoe market and at-home fitness investments also assist in helping retailers to identify enhancements in their merchandising and product assortments. While men’s performance running product still holds a slight majority at 51 percent dollar share of market, the growth in women’s designs suggests that more floor space, visual display and complementary apparel product should target a women’s audience. A secondary benefit of this
approach, particularly for run specialty stores, is that by boosting women’s product these stores will, in turn, strengthen their positioning as a destination for athleisure apparel. While selling large equipment may not be ideal for some smaller run specialty retailers, there is still good reason to place a greater focus on smaller home fitness items and sales add-ons. In fact, specialty run and outdoor stores have experienced strong sales increases in categories such as dumbbells (+212 percent), suspension trainers (+425 percent), and resistance tubes and bands (+71 percent) in the quarter ending November 2020 as compared to the same period one year ago, according to NPD.
Consumers’ motivation to find additional ways to exercise is also contributing to sales increases for performance running footwear. Performance running shoes sold across sporting goods and specialty stores as well as the sport specialty e-commerce channel grew nine percent in sales during the three months ending November 2020.
Getting Connected Pays Off Retailers and manufacturers should also not ignore the explosive growth of smart and connected fitness products that will likely continue to ignite demand. There is no shortage of connected treadmills and bikes coming to market, along with innovative apps. This user base may be more inclined to purchase new equipment, apparel and footwear to participate in classes. Today’s global crisis has prompted a consumer drive in how to be healthy at home and while this fitness movement was born out of the pandemic, the surge in fitness-related equipment and footwear sales will continue to shape exercise habits and recreational activities in the future. There is a tremendous opportunity for brands and retailers in this space to engage with a new and growing consumer base, and nurture the enthusiasm that has been a silver lining in today’s challenging times. n
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Merchandising & Marketing
New Realities of Run Retail COVID merchandising trends seem to be here to stay for run retail – because they work. / By Holly Wiese
urbside pickup, social distancing, touchless transactions, expanded online presence … the list goes on. So many new “normals” in retail that came to life during the COVID19 pandemic. The big question is, Which trends aren’t going away anytime soon? The truth is that some of these new ways of doing business are simply COVID-related trends that will likely fall to the wayside as things settle down in a post-vaccination world; however, some of the new directions have proven to be viable shopping options for many consumers. Those ideas are likely to take hold in a post-pandemic world. In hindsight, some of us may be wondering, “Why didn’t we think of that sooner?” First, BOPIS Explained There’s a new term out there since COVID hit called “BOPIS,” which in case you missed the memo stands for “buy online, pick up in store.” This type of business has blown up, resulting in many stores adding permanent (or at least semi-permanent) curbside pickup areas or even drive-through scenarios when possible. Whole new systems have been implemented for consumers to procure products without leaving their cars. For add-ons and simple re-order items, I don’t see this going away anytime soon. Let’s face it, for all those people who genuinely love the in-person shopping experience, there are plenty who prefer to skip the whole
Curbside pickup, appointment shopping, digital merchandising? All are part of the new retail reality in 2021.
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New Realities of Run Retail (continued)
Playmakers has marked off its entire retail space with these numbers and clear zones for fitting. Everybody gets one zone and it’s distanced off from others. This only works for larger spaces, but smaller ones could mimic it with fewer zones.
experience of talking to people at all and are perfectly happy driving up for a quick pickup. Because of this extremely popular new way of doing business, many stores are allocating part of their retail space to become fulfillment areas. Lowe’s has installed lockers at certain stores where customers can pick up purchases simply by scanning their phones. Frank DeJulius, owner of several Fleet Feet Cincinnati area stores, says that the new “Quick Fit” areas that Fleet feet stores implemented are here to stay. “It’s basically lunch hour business that otherwise may have 22
been missed,” he says. “People are super busy these days and those who know exactly what they want are often turned off by having to wait for somebody to help them. With this express area at the counter, they know they can pop in and get really quick help to grab their product for them and get them out the door.” Physical Changes Here to Stay? The GlobalData analytics and consulting company shared that 68 percent of U.S. shoppers have said that they are going to use curbside pickup at stores more in the future and nearly
60 percent say they will collect more of their online purchases from inside stores. What other physical changes are we starting to see at retail? The plexiglass dividers at counters are certainly here for the foreseeable future, but many retailers are also installing additional physical barriers to create longer term “forced” social distancing protocols in their stores. Getting shoppers used to moving in a certain direction throughout their space has become much more important than in the past and is now becoming normal and expected by consumers entering a new space.
A new approach to product merchandising is almost the exact opposite of what we’ve spent years mastering. The art of getting people to slowly browse through your store, picking up everything and wandering around aimlessly, has currently been replaced with the mission of placing products for quick purchase decisions. The current retail goal has become to get shoppers in, get the hot product in their hands quickly and move them out as swiftly and smoothly as possible. Sound counterintuitive? Yes, maybe, but studies are showing that this is how customers feel safest — keeping shopping sessions short, sweet and focused. The good news is that they tend to be spending at least as much as pre-pandemic or even more, as they’re not planning on making as many store visits as in the past so they tend to make each one count. In addition, retail color specialists are starting to see trends to create more calming, relaxing shopping environments. Consumers are more stressed than ever, so soft blues and greens are taking an uptick in retail environments. Athleisure and ‘Zoom Dressing’ Have you heard the term “ Z oom D ressi ng” yet? Apparently it’s a thing! People are much more concerned with their upper half only these days, so sales are up in tops and down in bottoms, with the huge exception of comfy leggings and tights. Athleisure is a more important category than ever and Lululemon reported sales soaring 157 percent in the © 2021 Diversified Communications
Pop-up shops in parks, bike paths and neighborhoods make for quick gift and impulse buy purchases. The idea sure worked over the past decade for mobile bike repair shops, so maybe it’s not so crazy after all? It’s also not too surprising that we’re seeing an uptick in outdoor shopping centers, as they allow for fresh air and plenty of space to spread out as you wander between stores.
A tented off area built around the exterior door at Playmakers allows for touchless hand-offs through the window.
second quarter of 2020. This Athleisure trend is certainly good news for running retailers, as we all know apparel is a tricky category to get right. Focus more on comfort right now, less on technical, as people can wear so many of these items for home, work and exercise, which now blend together more than ever. Appointment Shopping As for other trends retailers plan to hold on to past COVID, Jody Herzog, owner of several Fleet Feet Cleveland locations, says that the appointment way of selling is here to stay for his stores. Busy people love knowing they can put an appointment in their schedule, giving it the same importance as a Zoom client call. He says the response to this approach for some has been almost as well received as their free delivery program. “We’ll likely be adjusting the 23
regularity or guidelines of our free delivery moving forward. but it is absolutely here to stay in one form or another,” Herzog says. “People have loved it and it’s been well worth our time and investment to keep our customers happy.” John Benedict, co-owner of Playmakers in Okemos, MI, echoes this. “People are loving our delivery service, at-home virtual fittings and the option to have outside regular hours appointment for those who aren’t comfortable coming in during regular hours. We’re doing whatever it takes to be exceptional,” he says. Playmakers has also used the wait list system that started pre-COVID to a much greater extent these past eight months. “We simply can’t let the store get too full, so every customer is greeted at the front door and put on a list,” he explains. “They receive a text when we can accommodate them. This
makes people feel safe in knowing they won’t be entering a busy space.” In addition to delivering product, businesses are opening satellite operations that are going to where the customers are, much like the model of a typical food truck. This is a new business approach that Benedict says has been discussed on his team as well, explaining that “we’re open to anything and everything if it keeps people happy.” Where the Customers Are This concept first started with restaurants and local farm stands driving through neighborhoods selling their goods like an ice cream truck early on during the pandemic, as people weren’t even leaving their homes to go to farm markets. It has now expanded as retailers are forced to find more creative ways to make their products accessible to their customers.
Different on the Other Side The pandemic has forced all of us to re-assess how we approach business, shopping, social activities, eating out and traveling. The traditional rules of retail have changed and, as is true with so many things, those who are most nimble and willing to roll with the punches will continue to come out on top and push the envelope to get creative and find a new way to succeed. There are enough case studies at this point to comfortably say brick-and-mortar retail is indeed going to survive the pandemic — it just may look a bit different on the other side. n About the author Holly Wiese has more than 25 years of experience in the field of visual merchandising and retail design, including in the specialty running sector. She is a frequent speaker at The Running Event and has been a keynote speaker at a number of sportswear industry and merchandising events. In her spare time, Holly can be found riding her bike across the country or trail running around Boulder, CO. She can be reached at: holly@3dotsdesign. com; www.3dotsdesign.com © 2021 Diversified Communications
Merchandising & Marketing
Around the Shop Fleet Feet’s Catherine Moloznik dishes on the evolving importance of merchandising. / By Daniel P. Smith
n a Monday morning in January, Catherine Moloznik descends the steps of Fleet Feet’s secondfloor headquarters in Carrboro, NC, and strides into the company’s flagship store. She spends a good chunk of the morning in conversation with Pam Zieger, the store’s operating partner, as well as Johanna Iwanicki, Fleet Feet’s newly minted merchandising manager. The trio earnestly discusses contemporary consumer needs, an exploration that naturally leads to purchasing and merchandising, two areas that sit neatly in Moloznik’s wheelhouse. In early 2020, Moloznik and her husband, John, moved their family to North Carolina as both Fleet Feet Chicago veterans accepted positions with Fleet Feet’s corporate office. While John turned his attention to business development initiatives, Catherine Moloznik was tasked to oversee purchasing and merchandising at Fleet Feet’s 34 corporate-owned doors as the company’s director of merchandise planning and analytics. And she acknowledges it’s a rapidly evolving world in the age of COVID-19. “Given COVID’s presence, you’ve basically got one shot to sell to the customer when they’re in your store because it’s not likely they’re coming back anytime soon,” Moloznik says. “So, have your mannequins tidied up, the right product available and an understanding of customer traffic in your store.” Run Shops in the Age of COVID In many run shops, various corporate-owned Fleet Feet doors included, sit-and-fit footwear areas have swelled to accommodate social distancing. As these 24
Catherine Moloznik is tasked with overseeing purchasing and merchandising at Fleet Feet’s 34 corporateowned stores as director of merchandise planning and analytics.
enlarged footwear areas have gobbled up more floor space, some apparel, accessories and fixtures have been pushed off the floor, which has forced run shop operators to be more deliberate with merchandising as well as purchasing, Moloznik says. “With these bubbles around the fit area, you need to think about how you can safely showcase the products you have,” she says, adding that COVID has compelled her to “think twice” about the in-store product mix. “You need the right products and
sell-through because you can’t have excess inventory cluttering up the showroom and confusing the customer.” While paring down inventory to the “best of the best” requires a process of “brutal editing,” Moloznik nevertheless believes it’s been a productive and necessary endeavor — and one that will remain so moving forward. “It’s a positive in that it has made categories more profitable and less cluttered,” says Moloznik, who received the Nike Just
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“It’s a tough environment these days for run shops, but you can sell the whole store with the right merchandising and traffic flow.”
Moloznik believes run specialty stores should not be afraid to embrace some creativity in their storytelling.
Do It Award at The Running Event in 2017. Simultaneously, Moloznik has also noticed a shift in consumers’ shopping habits. She says customers seem far more intentional with their visits to brick-and-mortar storefronts, less inclined to shop around and more mission-focused, some even carrying a mental, if not written, list of what they need. “In some ways, sales are easier now because people are coming into our doors with a high intent to purchase,” she says. “Though that often means 25
footwear, there’s an opportunity here to show head-to-toe solutions and everything we can provide, albeit in a safe, clear way.” And that, she contends, heightens the importance of merchandising now more than ever before. Merchandising With A Purpose Working through planograms and thinking about what merchandising looks like down to the fixture level, Moloznik stresses that merchandising is more than “just an apparel
conversation.” From the store windows, traffic patterns and sightlines through the store to storytelling aides and bringing footwear samples off the shoe wall, Moloznik says the aim is to make merchandising a more holistic story beyond how apparel hangs on a rack or where hydration accessories sit in the store. “We’re not afraid to blend the categories together and, in fact, see value in doing that,” Moloznik says. She emphasizes the importance of storytelling to “add
life to a collection” as well as opportunities for consumer education. This might include attaching little cards communicating product information to displays, “silent sellers” like prominently showcasing a jacket with 360-degree reflectivity on a window mannequin or having a Staff Picks section in which store associates highlight their favorite products and briefly identify why the items dazzle. “You can catch people’s attention, provide information quickly and do it in a way that feels authentic,” Moloznik says, noting that the run specialty marketplace is full of rich brand and product stories that can appeal to customers’ sensibilities. And much like the novelist, store operators shouldn’t be afraid to embrace some creativity in their storytelling. Consider, for instance, setting a pair of trail shoes upon a layer of gravel and rocks running across a table. Such a visual display, Moloznik says, would clearly communicate the footwear’s intent. “Make it an experience for the consumer and they will get it,” she assures. “It’s a tough environment these days for run shops, but you can sell the whole store with the right merchandising and traffic flow.” n © 2021 Diversified Communications
Merchandising & Marketing
On to the Future
Swiss redefining retail merchandising with technology-driven On NYC store in New York City.
fter “reinventing” the running shoe a decade ago, On has now unveiled its vision for the future of retail by reimagining how people shop for running shoes. in doing so the Swiss shoe and apparel company has taken a number of bold inititives to move retail merchandising to a higher level. All of the excitement is centered around its global flagship store, opened in mid-December at 363 Lafayette Street in New York City, offering what the company describes as “a design-centric and technologically driven approach to the in-store consumer experience.” The store is 1630-square feet, with a 735-square-foot downstairs storage basement. “Reinvention has always been core to On,” On co-founder David Allemann tells Running Insight. “This store concept allows us to give our customers an effortless, explorative new way to shop at a physical location and really get a brand immersion. It builds on our ‘Try On’ philosophy of putting the product experience ahead of the sales transaction.” Centered around its unique “Magic Wall,” On NYC provides customers an effortless new way to shop for shoes and apparel. Shoppers can either stop in the store or schedule a virtual shopping appointment and receive product within four hours to try on in their homes before purchasing. Allemann says that even though On developed the design for this store well in advance of the pandemic, the concept is fully equipped for this new retail normal. In fact, the pandemic has not impacted On NYC’s design and layout at all, he says, with each of the tech features allowing customers to move safely and swiftly around the store without requiring proximity to other people, as well as enabling them to access information using their own personal devices. “Our mission to put the customer first has taken on new meaning this year,” he 26
The Magic Wall at On NYC allows shoppers to analyze their running styles in seconds right on the store floor.
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adds. “We’re excited to offer this sophisticated, yet safe experience to anyone and everyone who has taken solace in physical activity during this difficult moment in time.” Upon entering On NYC shoppers experience the latest in retail technology. Spanning nearly the store’s length and height, the 62 x 9 x 3-foot Magic Wall is striking in both appearance and technological capabilities. The front side of the Magic Wall allows shoppers to analyze their running styles in seconds right on the store floor. With hidden gait-cycle analysis technology, shoppers need to only run a few strides to get instantly matched with the best shoes for their individual running style. Combined with a custom-built invisible foot scanner with depth cameras that achieve an accuracy of +/- 1.25mm, shoppers receive not only model recommendations, but also their size. On’s team of running expert store “advisors” are available to facilitate and coach along the way. The back of the Magic Wall enables shoppers to explore and try on the entirety of the On shoe collection – it carries every model and size. At checkout, an advisor brings out a fresh pair and facilitates a seamless, contactless purchase. Behind the Magic Wall, changing rooms are available to test On’s apparel collection. One of the most unique merchandising features of the store is the bio-based and recyclable 3D-printed boulder in the front window — it is an exact replica of one found in the Engadin Valley, where the idea of On was born. Described as “an expression of technology and nature 27
The 3D-printed boulder in the front window represents On’s Swiss heritage. Apparel and every model and size On shoe are also features of On NYC.
coming together,” it is a modern-day tribute to the company’s past and heritage weighing in at almost 500 pounds — it took nearly 33 hours to print. On NYC does retain some “traditional” retail concepts to go along with the futuristic advances. Allemann believes the physical retail store has an important role to play in bringing a brand to life and providing a “home” for fans and the local community. “Our primary goal in opening On NYC is to provide new and existing members of our community a way to interact with the brand in a fresh, fun and convenient way and to create a safe and welcoming run community in NYC for both locals and those passing through,” he says. The storefront, with the massive LED screen and the unique, bright 3D printed rock in the window representing the company’s Swiss heritage is doing the bulk of the work in attracting new customers into the store. Unfortunately, the big grand opening party On had initially hoped for had to be postponed to a later, safer date. Allemann also addresses any concerns run specialty retailers may have in competing with a brand’s own retail efforts. “On NYC will be a place to raise consumer awareness, not just about our brand but also about our core technologies and how they work to serve consumers,” he says. “The goal isn’t necessarily sales volume, but to educate and provide a fully immersive brand experience. This is a shared mission with our retail partners that will build awareness for the brand.” n © 2021 Diversified Communications
Merchandising & Marketing
Go(ogle)ing Digital Google Shopping is a digital merchandising win for run specialty. / By Dean Gill
igital merchandising refers to how you position, promote and market your products online. Running Insight readers are experts at merchandising in the physical world — now going instantly virtual in 2020 has made many experts in the digital world, as well. Despite differences in the “worlds,” the goal remains identical: Reduce friction for customers to shop, view, bundle, learn, compare options and ultimately buy products. Accordingly, digital merchandising is a broad topic. It includes all areas where you would visually present your products online, including your online store, digital ads and social media promotion. Traditionally, display advertising has been the obvious option for visuals. Display advertising’s main strength is high-funnel awareness, not lower-funnel product exploration and comparison. Shopping, however, is precisely tuned for exploration and comparison and is a direct tactic to drive customers and prospects to your online store. There is no real-world analog for the customer journey enabled by Google, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, etc. Two decades ago, a curious customer would find a retailer that ought to carry a particular product in the Yellow Pages. They would inquire by phone and discuss options. If the conversation were a good one, they would physically go to the store to make a purchase. Now, in the online world, it is as if every product has its own listing in the Yellow 28
Pages. Instead of just one “number,” there might be dozens, including each gender/size/ color permutation, as well as every store that carries the product. Google Shopping is the easiest and lowest cost “Yellow Pages” to join for run specialty retailers. Google Shopping Explained It may sound complicated and a bit daunting, but Google Shopping is actually a fairly simple concept to explain and for run specialty retailers to implement. In essence, Google Shopping is a combination of a comparison-shopping engine and an ad platform that permits shoppers to find, compare and view physical products among different retailers. As mentioned, Google Shopping results are visual – thumbnail pictures of the product – and link back to
your online store. Google Shopping comes in two flavors: paid media and free listings. Run specialty retailers should use both. In 2018, Google’s own research indicated that 63 percent of all shopping journeys began online. Meanwhile, Google dominates the search function — 88 percent U.S. market share, according to Statcounter GlobalStats. Taken together, these measurements send a clear message: Be on Google. Of course, you are already on Google since your website is reachable via search. If someone were to search now, they would obtain your website and maybe a paid search ad you have active. Shopping provides a third outcome in these otherwise text-heavy search results. In addition to a link to your webpage, and a text keyword search result, shopping provides a visual — a picture of the product found. Although Amazon remains the dominant player in shopping, it can be more cumbersome for run specialty retailers to onboard, given key constraints, especially as related to brand permissions to list their items on Amazon. Google has some other unique advantages. According to Wordstream, 35 percent of Google product searches result in sales within five days, compared to Amazon’s 20 percent. Additionally, according to Wordstream, Amazon transactions take an average of 26 days to convert, versus 20 days for Google. Google Shopping paid media is an extension of Google Adwords, where the campaign
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setup most closely resembles that of search campaigns, and the two types of ads should be deployed in tandem. Just as retailers should always operate a “store near me” type of paid search campaign, they should also have an everpresent shopping campaign. Both types of campaigns are designed to attract high-intent customers who know what they are looking for. However, unlike search, there are no keywords to select. Instead, Google organizes all products according to its own taxonomy and the literal titles and descriptions of products. Google recognizes your products by virtue of a product feed you set up. Becoming ‘Google-worthy’ Another successful play for shopping ads is to create a funnel for long-tail remarketing. How does that work? First, choose a handful of fairly “Google-worthy” products — high profile, new, hard-to-find. Second, put a significant budget toward the shopping ads for a short period of time. Typical spend will be 20-30 percent of product value, for no more than five to seven days. While the campaign will earn some sales, it will earn many, many more clicks. Those clicks can be mined at very low cost for the next two months in remarketing. A related tactic is to use the shopping channel to wind out older inventory. “Most of our success has been on the clearance level,” says Gareth Wilford at Athletic Annex in Indianapolis, IN. While paid media is recommended, it need not be your entry point to the Google Universe. Google provides two free types of listings: Google Surfaces and Local Inventory Shopping. • A Google Surface is any 29
A proximity search (notice the “near me” button is checked) shows the Pacers result since that is near where the author lives..
Google-owned platform; e.g., Google Search, Maps, Images, YouTube, etc. Rolled out just in time for the pandemic, free surface ads are a win-win for Google and for retailers. For Google, it fills product holes in the search experience. Additionally, it entices retailers to set up product feeds to Google and be ready to create paid shopping campaigns at any time. For retailers, it provides an opportunity for free online real estate that helps level the playing field with chain and box stores. • Local Inventory Shopping is Google’s bridge between the online and brick-and-mortar worlds. Drawing from data that contains products actually stocked on your shelves, these ads are designed to send online shoppers to your physical store based on the online shopper’s proximity to it. This online-to-offline feature is different from Amazon and other market shopping sites. Inventory data requires a verification process with Google to ensure you actually have listed products on your shelves at the
advertised prices. For select items, you must submit pictures for proof. Lance Muzslay of Sole Sports Running Zone in Phoenix, AZ, credits these local features to “[help] drive people into stores, from the local search standpoint. We ask people what brought them in and products rendering locally is positive exposure that drives people in.” Easy Set-up for Run Retailers The most attractive aspect of Google Shopping is that anyone who sells online can participate at minimal cost. Time is the greatest cost, because Google has strict rules and is technical in ways that can feel arcane. However, with some time and focus, anyone can learn how to navigate it. Set up i nvolves c o or d inat i ng t h r e e key G o ogle properties: Adwords, Merchant and Mybusiness. Most retailers already have Adwords. From the Adwords account arises the setup of a Google Merchant account, which is the center of Google
Shopping management. From this account, you load your products and manage participation in Google’s shopping programs — paid media shopping, surfaces, and local inventory. The final Google property is a Mybusiness page for each of your brick-andmortar stores. Mybusiness knows the physical address of stores and is the basis for the local proximity-based shopping programs. The interplay of these three elements enables shopping. The Adwords account obtains products from the Merchant data feeds and Mybusiness provides store locations and IDs for local ad presentation and inventory confirmation. Of all of the setup elements, the costliest in terms of time and learning curve is the product data feed from your e-commerce store to Google Merchant. Google provides five key methods to pull data. but the best option for run specialty retailers is a data feed. 1. The first option is to simply allow Google to crawl your online store and automatically pull all the key information. 2. The second option, for advanced retailers, is the Content API, in which you connect Google directly to your store programmatically. In operation, the crawl often obtains incomplete product information, which causes products to be rejected for ads. The Content API is overkill for most Running Insight readers. Additionally, directly connecting your store to Google may reveal how product presentation in your online store can conflict with the strict technical requirements of Google. For example, you may call an item “Men’s” or “Women’s,” while the terms Google is looking for is “male,” © 2021 Diversified Communications
Go(ogle)ing Digital (continued) or “female” — all lower-case is also required. 3, 4. The third and fourth manners to push products to Google is to manually curate your products via connected Google Sheet or an actual upload file. While these ways can fix the compliance challenges, it is not scalable. Instead of being able to submit thousands of products, you may only be able to submit a few dozen at a time. 5. The last, but recommended method, is to set up a data feed. The best way to implement a data feed is to engage one of the many data feed management companies. These companies position themselves as a Rosetta Stone between your online store and Google. The Google Ecosystem “Being part of Google’s massive ecosystem and utilizing Google Shopping as part of their marketing strategy, is why over 70 percent of our customers choose to optimize this channel,” says Rob van Nuenen, CEO of Netherlands-based Channable, a leader in the feed management space. Additionally, these services are not exclusive to Google Shopping — they can be used to push information to other notable markets such as Facebook & Instagram Shops and Amazon. Each service has its own conventions, but the gist is the same: you connect the data feed application to your online store; it vacuums up all your products (thousands, not dozens); you define rules and conditions that transform your online store information to comply to marketplace technical requirements; and finally, you schedule a regular “fetch” from the market (e.g., Google Merchant) to obtain the 30
feed regularly. Besides the “male,” “female,” “Men’s,” “Women’s” example cited above, another key advantage of using a feed manager is manipulation of product fields to make them more amenable to search strategies. For example, a product title can be modified from its natural “Item Name X” to “Women’s [Brand] Item Name X, [size Y], in [Color].” The new title includes brand, gender and size elements that add to the searchable potency of your listing. Pricing plans among feed services exist for any size retailer. The key drivers for cost are the number of products entering the feed manager and the number of destinations (e.g., Google Shopping Facebook, etc.) fetching the information. Getting Started The first step to kicking off a Google Shopping capability is to look inward and make sure your online store is well suited for searching. As Abiga i l Cook, f rom Playmakers in Okemos, MI, mentions, “You need to do homework. I’d like to think Google just found us, but we spent so much time working on descriptions and meta-tagging.” Also important is to ensure that proper site tracking and tagging are set up to enable measurement and re-targeting. Then comes setting up Google Merchant and connecting Google properties between Adwords, Mybusiness and Merchant. Simultaneously, you can work on generating your product feeds. There will be at least two: a Primary Product Feed and a supplemental Local Inventory Feed. Google provides pretty straight
When the user clicks through to a product, notice that Google provides the capability to search this particular store’s inventory (highlighted in yellow). It’s a periscope to the back of the store before ther author even leaves his house.
forward documentation and many online resources can be used to figure out how to create these setup items on your own. However, as Playmakers’ Cook says, the main thing she wished she knew before starting her store’s journey to digital merchandising is “we did not necessarily have to do it all ourselves.” Just as costs like rent, power and Internet for a physical store are givens for retail, so too are online costs like hosting, an e-commerce store and, potentially, outside help to organize, setup and curate a shopping program. Retailers who have embraced digital merchandising shopping have no regrets. Athletic Annex’ Wolford credits shopping for search impact: “Amazon is dominant, but if anyone is going to get it right, [to compete against Amazon] it’s going to be Google. You have to have a presence on Google. It’s how people search. It’s not about short-term sales, it’s about exposing your inventory to the world and increasing customer visibility to your brand.” A t P l ay m a k e r s a n d a t Washington, D.C.-based Pacers
Running, the key strategic value is in the potential to reach new customers and audiences for their products. “Using the omnichannel strategy – we can use Facebook, Google – we can find audiences we would have never found before,” says Playmakers’ Cook. “We ship product all over the country now.” Pacers Running’s Chris Farley values how the greater digital presence helps “find new runners, new potential runners and can help start the conversation. What excites me is that it starts or continues the conversation with shoppers. “We have examples of where it converts and we have examples of just getting lots of clicks,” he adds. “But I’m willing to invest in marketing that gets or continues the conversation — especially with new customers.” n about the author Dean Gill is a client service director for run specialty at marketing services provider Upper Quadrant. He can be reached through its website, www.upperquadrant.com, or directly at email@example.com © 2021 Diversified Communications
Merchandising & Marketing
Retail in 2021 and beyond can be summed up in one word — omnichannel.
here is no doubt that 2020 brought massive change to run specialty retail. Some adapted better than others and those that did through any number of strategies are now positioned to succeed in a new retail environment and perhaps even in a (hopefully) postpandemic world. Those that have not adapted – well, they won’t be around to worry about this new retail environment. Taking a look at this change in retail was a recent report from Shopify as part of its “The Future of Commerce” series. The report paints a challenging, but overall optimistic, picture of retail in America. “It feels like from a retail perspective, the year 2030 has been pulled into the year 2020,” says Harley Finkelstein, president of Shopify, on the Resilient Retail podcast. “When I started at Shopify 11 years ago, e-commerce as a percentage of total retail was about five percent. And between 2010 and 2020 it grew … to about 15 percent of total retail. “Well, in the back half of 2020 it’s closer to 25 percent,” he adds. “So we’ve had the same acceleration in digital retail over the last three or four months as we did in the past decade.” Here are some of the highlights that will be of interest to run specialty retailers: • While store owners looked to new experiences such as curbside pickup, local delivery and appointment shopping to continue to serve their customers during pandemic-mandated closings, these changes also impacted how consumers think about shopping. In a nutshell, consumers have come to expect and demand these ways to shop. • The physical hit retailers took in 2020 has a bit of good news — investments in retail can still work towards growth in new 31
channels by leveraging an omnichannel approach. • By adapting to consumers’ changing shopping habits through omnichannel strategies, retailers replaced 94 percent of point-of-sale sales lost in the first six weeks of the pandemic with online sales over that same period. • The reason omnichannel is so important for retailers is that it helps to diversify their business so it can be more resilient. If one channel changes – as brick-and-mortar did during the pandemic – then other channels are there to pick up the slack. • The report quotes Jeff Bull, brand director at TC Running Company, on its omnichannel efforts: “Our expansion to online sales has been explosive. In the midst of a global pandemic we managed to recoup almost all of our sales. And the crazy thing is that last year (2019) all of those sales were in-store. All of them.” • But omnichannel is so much more than just a loss prevention strategy — it can grow business along with traditional brickand-mortar. 2021 may bring back some of the lost foot traffic and when it does omnichannel selling can help run specialty sell more than ever. • Consumer shopping habits are changing — they want options like contactless payments and appointment shopping. According to Shopify data, 62 percent of buyers are now more comfortable making in-store purchases with digital or contactless payments. As a result, the number of merchants offering contactless payments increased 122 percent during the pandemic. • Half of all consumers say the ability to schedule time for in-store shopping is
The results are in, according to Shopify: Physical retail has transformed and it’s not showing any signs of stopping in 2021. What started as a necessity for shoppers will become a habit, presenting run specialty retailers with an opportune time to harness new ways of selling to match consumer expectations.
relevant to them. Having a reduced number of people in a store at any given time is important to shoppers. • In addition, more than half (59 percent) of shoppers are interested in contactless pickup and are using that option more often than pre-pandemic. • Consumers are turning to local delivery to receive their purchases — 28 percent of consumers received items through local delivery in the last nine months. • One other note of interest to run specialty retailers: In April 2020, at the height of the retail shutdown, 60 percent of retail gift cards were redeemed online, compared to just 27 percent in-store. Additionally, nine percent of consumers said they purchased a gift card to support a small business. So the results are in, according to Shopify: Physical retail has transformed and it’s not showing any signs of stopping in 2021. What started as a necessity for shoppers will become a habit, presenting run specialty retailers with an opportune time to harness new ways of selling to match consumer expectations. n
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Merchandising & Marketing
COGS Explained It means Cost of Goods Sold versus Cost of Goods Purchased and it is vital to merchandising in 2021. / By Ritchie Sayner
hen reviewing a profit and loss statement, one of the traditional benchmarking metrics is Cost of Goods Sold (COGS). What exactly is COGS anyway? Also referred to as Cost of Sales, cost of goods sold is just what it says it is — the cost of all of the inventory sold during a given period. Paul Erickson, a colleague of mine at Management One, describes COGS as “the most misleading metric in retail.” He prefers to use Cost of Goods Purchased (COGP) as it more directly relates to cash flow and thus the financial health of the business. COGP is determined by simply subtracting purchases from sales for the same period. Paul’s claim is that using COGS can provide a retailer with a somewhat unhealthy financial perspective since selling very little at full price can result in a very good COGS. Using COGP, on the other hand, relates purchases directly back to cash flow. The following example illustrates the difference between the two. The Formula At Work Let’s assume that you bought a new style of 50 pairs of running shoes for the current season. After four months you were only able to sell five pairs of the shoes, but they all sold at full price. Your cost of goods sold would be excellent since the cost of selling the widgets did not require any discounting to generate the sales. Herein 32
Photo: Sharon McCcutcheon on Unsplash
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lies the problem — you still have 45 pairs that you have already paid for remaining in unsold inventory. The cost of goods purchased would paint a much different picture and it wouldn’t be pretty. Go FISHing Not to complicate issues, but it needs to be stated that varying accounting methods will have a bearing on COGS. FIFO and LIFO are the most widely accepted accounting methods and FIFO is the most trusted and easiest to use. Simply stated FIFO – or first in, first out – assumes that items purchased first, were also the items sold first. LIFO – last in, first out – on the other hand, would recognize that items purchased last would be the sold first. Whichever method you use, know that there will be a difference in profits and therefore income taxes. Though clearly not recognized by generally accepted accounting practices, this is where the FISH accounting method comes in to play — first in, still here. I see this all too often, especially in the footwear business. Has this ever happened to you? A style or styles gets purchased, generally with no regard to the merchandise plan, gets put on the wall amidst the rest of the assortment and ends up getting lost. The style doesn’t sell as it should and for reasons unknown to all does not get returned or marked down. The result — COGS-excellent! COGP-horrible! The lifeblood of any retail establishment is cash flow and COGS does not take that into account. To add insult to injury, if the item is still in the store at inventory time, you get to pay taxes on merchandise that 33
shouldn’t have been bought in the first place and should have been either stock balanced with the vendor or marked down. This is what is meant by the FISH method of accounting.
receipts are way over what is to be sold for a given period, the store is most likely in an overbought situation, leading to potential cash flow issues, let alone future markdowns.
Understocked/Overstocked This may sound as a contradiction in terms, but I see this situation often. When reviewing data at the total company level it often appears at first glance that a store has way more inventory than needed to do the business forecasted for a given time period. However, when you drill down to the class/subclass level what you find is an inventory level void of current, fresh seasonal product that is way below levels sufficient enough to produce planned sales. As a result, sales suffer and both inventory turnover GMROI are reduced. In addition, unless the merchant is paying attention, open-tobuy is also restricted due to the inventory number being inflated with unsaleable merchandise. If this situation is not recognized and dealt with, no new merchandise is purchased and sales get even worse. You can also encounter the overstocked /understocked dilemma when stores have broken sizes, discontinued vendors and dated inventory that has not been identified. I refer to this situation as having “a whole lot of nothing.” A store that is operating this way can never achieve its true upside potential. One simple way of selfchecking is to pay attention to purchases. A retailer typically should receive somewhat more than it sells. If not, chances are good that the store is not buying enough new merchandise. If
Recognize and Fix Mistakes The solution is clearly to recognize mistakes quickly and take action. Margin is great, but it’s no substitute for CASH. Consider this, would you rather have: A. A store full of aging inventory, decreasing sales, slow turnover, low markdowns and poor cash flow, BUT a healthy gross margin percentage on the profit and loss statement, or B. The potential for higher sales due to tighter inventory levels with fresh new product, OTB for fill ins, off-price merchandise and new vendors and faster inventory turnover (cash flow), even though it may sometimes, but not always, mean sacrificing a few precious margin points? COVID-caused issues notwithstanding, this shouldn’t be a difficult choice, yet we often see examples of shoe stores choosing option A. Next time you are complimenting yourself on a healthy cost of goods sold figure, go one step further and simply subtract your purchases from your sales to determine cost of goods purchased. If you are doing it right, you can pat yourself on the back with both hands. If not, we are always here to help. n
This may sound as a contradiction in terms. It often appears at first glance that a store has way more inventory than needed to do the business forecasted for a given time period. However, when you drill down to the class/ subclass level what you find is an inventory level void of current, fresh seasonal product that is way below levels sufficient enough to produce planned sales.
about the author Ritchie Sayner has spent the past four decades helping independent retailers improve sales, profitability and cash flow. He c a n b e rea ch ed a t advancedretailstategies.com.
© 2021 Diversified Communications
Merchandising & Marketing
Five pandemic-era concoctions with staying power for run retail. / By Daniel P. Smith
hen COVID-19 slammed into the U.S. last spring, it forced changes upon nearly all categories of American life — and running shops certainly couldn’t escape the upheaval. Across the country, many run specialty stores closed their doors as governments issued stay-at-home orders. Fun runs, races and track seasons – gasoline to the run specialty engine – evaporated. Uncertainty reigned. True to form, run shops rallied. They touted free local delivery and in-store appointments, embraced digital tools and crafted savvy solutions to service and engage customers. With vaccines now rolling out, some light is – finally, gratefully – shining upon this all-consuming pandemic. But don’t expect run shops to return to business as usual. In fact, retailers march into the future with a few different pandemic-sharpened tools in their arsenal. FREE LOCAL DELIVERY Pre-COVID, Paul Epstein had dabbled in local delivery at his Running Wild shops in Pensacola, FL, and Fairhope, AL, often during the holidays or in cases when people were in a crunch. “We weren’t broadcasting it, though,” Epstein says. In the grips of the pandemic, however, free home delivery took root at Running Wild to accommodate customers hesitant to visit retail shops as well as those consumers hunting convenience. Running Wild used its branded “short bus” to make upwards of 10 deliveries each day. “People knew they could call us and that free local delivery was an option,” Epstein says. The offering helped Running Wild gain a marketplace advantage and celebrate its “localness,” Epstein says, which is why he 34
Cherie and Paul Epstein use their Running Wild-branded “short bus” to make home deliveries to customers around Pensacola, FL. The couple added free home delivery following the COVID-19 outbreak.
intends to continue offering the service at both Running Wild outlets. “Free local delivery shows our commitment to our community, though we will manage it differently to make sure we’re being most effective and efficient with our resources,” he says. “We’ll determine our customers’ needs and expectations as well as their location to see if the better path is local delivery or shipping.” APPOINTMENT SHOPPING While retail appointments inched into the American consciousness pre-pandemic, they largely remained a niche offering until COVID-19 brought them mainstream. In Fall 2019, Ken Larscheid tested appointments at the Running Lab, his now 10-year-old shop in Brighton, MI.
He quickly saw positive results, including average ticket sizes 70 percent greater for customers who booked appointments. “I was sold on appointments before COVID hit,” Larscheid says. Upon reopening Running Lab in late May following a two-month closure, however, Larscheid amplified external messaging around in-store appointments. He added a “Book Appointment” tab to the store website, advised his medical partners to encourage appointments when referring customers, simplified his pre-visit questionnaire to basic contact information and changed appointment systems to Waitwhile. “We were filled ever y day,” says L a r s ch eid , who i s mo r e c om m itted to appointments than ever before. “Appointments have added a layer of
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professionalism and customer service and helped us better plan staffing. The only negative is if we’re busy and there’s a wait because those with appointments jump to the front of the line.” W hen L a r scheid t r a nsports Running Lab to a larger 4400-square-foot storefront later this month, in-store appointments will make the move, too. “They’ve been working for us, so why go away from them?” he says. VIRTUAL EVENTS Prior to COVID’s arrival, Brendan Barrett didn’t give much thought to virtual events. These days, however, Barrett’s Sayville Running Company a nd Smithtown Running Company on Long Island, NY, offer something virtual every month. “It went from an afterthought to the standard,” Barrett says. Last April, with the two running stores closed and the company’s race timing and management business in limbo, Barrett’s team launched Run Around the World: A (Social) Distance Project on Strava. More than 600 individuals participated in the $30 virtual event, which challenged the collective group to circle the world to earn a $30 store gift card. As the pandemic wore on, Barrett’s stores continued rolling out clever, out-of-the-box virtual events. There was a summertime challenge to run between the Sayville and Smithtown stores, a test that involved strategy, as well as the 12Ks of Christmas, in which about 200 participants ran one additional kilometer each day over a 12-day window. Though Barrett acknowledges virtual fatigue and increased competition in the virtual event 35
space, he nevertheless sees a continued place for differentiated virtual events thoughtfully spread across the calendar. Mileage or consistency-based efforts, in particular, can spur engagement and accountability in training as in-person racing returns. “My guess is that virtual events will level off and find their appropriate watermark, but there’s definitely a continued place for creativity here,” Barrett says. GIFT BUNDLES In 2020, Fleet Feet Wichita began assembling “bundles” to engage customers, create compelling value and move inventory. “Spring Bundles” were largely built around nutrition, pairing items such as GU energy gels and Nuun Sport tablets alongside universal items like Body Glide, stickers and goodr sunglasses. During the holidays, Fleet Feet Wichita unveiled three gift bundles in decorative holiday boxes. The $20 Treat Yo Elf bundle, for instance, included Probar Energy Chews, Run Gum, a Fleet Feet Boco Gear Face Mask and a Foot Rubz Massage Ball. “The bundles did well, allowing customers to get a feel for what they would like because they knew they weren’t or couldn’t come into the stores as frequently,” F leet Feet Wichita operating partner Bree O’Connell says. “We also saw customers buy these as gifts for their running buddies as well.” And O’Connell plans to continue developing bundles at Fleet Feet Wichita, albeit introducing kits more strategically throughout the year. She’s considering gift bundles for Valentine’s Day or Easter as well as those
Fleet Feet Wichita began offering gift bundles during the pandemic. Operating partner Bree O’Connell saw many customers purchase the bundles to trial different products themselves or to give to running buddies as gifts.
targeted toward training program participants, perhaps a “congratulatory” bundle that family or friends might purchase for their favorite runner. “We can utilize the bundles so customers have something special to pick up for themselves or a friend,” O’Connor says. BOPIS Despite the ubiquitous availability of free delivery, some consumers still desire – or need – more instant gratification following their online purchase. That continues spurring the rise of Buy Online, Pickup in Store (BOPIS) as well as its cousin, curbside pickup. According to the Omnichannel Retail Index, three-quarters of U.S. retailers now offer BOPIS, while 53 percent of respondents to a January 2021 Convey survey said they used BOPIS or curbside pickup for their holiday season purchases.
Amid the pandemic, Dick Pond Athletics, which has five stores in suburban Chicago, added a BOPIS option to its online ordering page alongside traditional shipping and free home delivery for local customers. “And it’s here to stay,” Chris Wilhite, manager of the Dick Pond store in Park Ridge, IL, says of BOPIS. BOPIS helps running shops like Dick Pond increase profitability by dodging delivery fees. Yet more, it provides stores a chance to enhance the customer experience, getting product into customers’ hands sooner and bypassing any potential shipping delays, which often reflect (unfairly so) on the retail shop. BOPIS also invites additional sales when customers visit the store for pickup. “The benefits are there for our customers and our business,” Wilhite says. n © 2021 Diversified Communications
Merchandising & Marketing
Screen Savers MOTOTV is giving run specialty retailers an in-store merchandising and entertainment opportunity.
erchandising for specialty retail starts with getting customers into the store. But the second part is all about entertaining and motivating them while they are there waiting for help or walking around looking at product. An answer to both of these challenges is being offered by a company called MOTOTV Networks and the concept is simple: Using in-store televisions to do the entertaining and educating. The concept is not new to retailing, but the process and implementation have been updated and simplified. MOTOTV Networks, headed by cofounders Gary Halpin and Chris Mosera, basically provides a customizable digital in-store TV network for action sport and specialty retailers, with a new emphasis on the running market. Simply put, the company pipes fresh specialty running brand content, coupled with local in-store messaging, onto a retailer’s in-store television screen. “This sales tool informs, entertains and engages customers all while they are a credit card swipe away from a purchase,” says Mosera. “We like to say we MOTOVate the sale.” The concept is ideal for run specialty, Mosera points out, because what sets them apart from big-box stores is the employee expertise and individual service and analysis given to customers. Because of this, customers are typically okay with waiting their turn for help. While they wait the screens help keep them entertained and informed with content about the brands available in the store, gives opportunities to upsell apparel and accessories that they may not have considered and provides running and race content of which beginner and pro runners alike can’t get enough. It can also advertise store-level information such as run clubs, upcoming races, 36
The ability to entertain and educate customers with in-store TVs is at the core of the MOTOTV concept.
meetups, sales or local high school athlete highlights to strengthen a store’s connection to the local running community. All You Need Is A TV Making it simple for retailers, if they already have a television screen all they need is MOTOTV’s proprietary media player and an Internet connection. (Its players do not stream, so they are not using up
bandwidth during operating hours.) They are also TV resellers, so they can be a onestop-shop for any of the hardware needs. The benefit of this system is that it is completely customizable for each store, with different layouts available depending on the store’s needs. While MOTOTV manages the incoming content, individual stores can upload videos, include a store logo, update ticker messages and depending on
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The MOTOTV system helps answer some of customers’ questions while they wait to speak with a salesperson.
layout, include banners, social feed and pricing menus. MOTOTV primarily manages brand and lifestyle content that running companies, teams and producers are putting out. Victor Sedaka, head of sales for MOTOTV, says that specialty retailers across all of its networks, which include powersports, bicycling, skiing and other action sports, appreciate how this keeps their customers entertained and engaged as they’re waiting or browsing. “It also helps increase end purchase because they’re learning more about products that can complement or enhance the item that they came in for,” he says. To u c h s c r e e n s , a n o t h e r MOTOTV offering, are also gaining popularity across major brands since they allow customers to engage further with products and build custom products. 37
“Your most important customer is the one already in your store, with this powerful sales tool retailers are able to keep their captive audience excited about the lifestyle at the point of sale. The results have been an increase of impulse purchases,” Sedaka says. Steve Crnic, GM at Brooklyn Running Co., which recently installed the system at its new store in Park Slope, Brooklyn,
agrees with Mosera and Sedaka. “It is a huge help having MOTOTV content answer some of the most commonly asked questions, especially when the store gets overwhelmed with more customers than staff,” he says “It’s a real relief knowing our customers are staying occupied with videos and our store info until we can wait on them.” Crnic points out that run
specialty is the type of business that requires store personnel to work closely with customers in making sure each person is being fitted properly. “Working one-on-one gets a little challenging for a small staff,” he admits. “MOTOTV certainly helps.” Plus, he adds, Brooklyn Running has seen more customers asking to be added to its rewards program since the information was included on its MOTOTV screen. Updating its group events is easier now since posting its sponsored running events takes just seconds to change. One other highlight at Brooklyn Running is staff bios on TV. “Customers get a real kick out of them,” Crnic says. Stores are placing their television screens anywhere that makes sense based on what is the main purpose of the communication — near the shoe wall and near the register are most common. And in this day of mandated limited in-store capacity, smaller stores have been placing the screens in their windows to allow anyone waiting or walking by a preview of what’s inside or to share store information. “I used to manage a premier specialty running store and wish this tool had been around,” points out Mary Reed, currently a MOTOTV Networks account director and formerly manager of a Minneapolis-area running store. “With the ever-changing shoe models, it makes a great training tool for employees and gives the extra customers something to watch while waiting for a shoe consultation. And the possibilities to increase purchases with apparel and accessories are incredible.” For more: www.mototvnetwork.com n © 2021 Diversified Communications
running shorts RIDC Partners with 2:23 Foundation on Global Run for Maud on February 23 ON FEBRUARY 23, 2020 (2/23), Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while out for a run in Brunswick, GA. It took 74 days for the men responsible for his murder to be arrested. For months, the community fought to get answers and seek justice for Ahmaud’s murder. As part of this effort the 2:23 Foundation was created to address Arbery’s murder along with the issues of Black and Brown communities being the most impacted by systemic injustice and the fact that many young people do not have the opportunity or clear paths to attend college and pursue careers in justice-related fields. The Foundation plans to provide scholarships, leadership development programs to raise up future district attorneys and law enforcement personnel and growth opportunities to those looking for ways to advocate. Two of the 2:23 Foundation ‘s core values are focus and endurance. Its prevailing message explained on its website is always, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Because of the circumstances surrounding Arbery’s death, the effort certainly involves the running community and now, joined in partnership with the Running Industry Diversity Coalition (RIDC), the 2:23 Foundation is asking the run specialty business to join with it on February 23 for what it is calling its Finish the Run
Virtual run in honor of Maud. Last year, many runner s joi ne d t he 2:23 Foundation on Abery’s birthday, May 11, in a global 2.23 mile run. Now t he Fou nd at ion is asking supporters to again r un 2.23 m iles and send it their photos to show their support. This year it is using the hashtags #FinishTheRun and #223fdn. “We want to ensure that something like this never happ ens aga i n and we believe that an important component of that is helping to create the next generation of social justice advocates, through scholarships and other programming offerings,” explains RIDC member Alison Mariella Désir. “We are asking that run retailers help elevate and support the event through posting on social media, in newsletters and arranging to get their local running communities signed up and involved,” says Désir, adding that if they are interested in making a direct donation, that is an option as well. Two weeks before the event, Strava will
launch a supportive challenge to accompany the event. Additionally, the organizers are planning to arrange a series of IG live stories on February 23 discussing the work of the Foundation and share personal stories of BIPOC runners, from everyday runners to elite athletes. The entry fee for each runner for the Finish the Run Virtual run in honor of Maud is $23. All proceeds will go directly to a scholarship fund that provides young men and women the opportunity to become lawyers, local leaders, policymakers and social engineers. The 2:23 Foundation has a goal of raising $223,000 for their 2021 Capital Campaign - all of the funds will go to their programming. This event is a kickoff to the fundraising efforts. The link for registration is: https://events.elitefeats.com/223run For more about the 2 : 23 Foundation : 223foundation.org/
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running shorts ASICS Unveils ‘Sound Mind, Sound Body’ Campaign ASICS IS NOW BRINGING ITS “Sound Mind, Sound Body” heritage to the forefront as it returns to its roots in an ambitious new campaign to “move minds and uplift the world through sport.” Launched in mid-January through its various social media and marketing channels, the brand platform campaign includes outreach to run specialty retailers and their customers along with a landmark research project into the positive impact of sport on mental well-being. T he goa l of t he ca mpa ig n, according to the company, is “to encourage people to experience the transformative power of sport, not just on the body but on the mind.” Launching such a campaign in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic that has changed the way people interact with each other and how they view their exercise adds an extra dimension to the project. Indeed, ASICS North America president and COO Richard Sullivan tells Running Insight that while the campaign and research were started well before
Darn Tough Vermont Partners With Bernie’s Mitten Maker Bernie Sanders’ iconic Vermontmade mittens are making their way into socks as Darn Tough Vermont has partnered with the local mitten maker, Jen Ellis, to make a custom premium Merino wool sock that mimics the now famous mittens Bernie Sanders wore on Inauguration day, with 100 percent of proceeds of the sock sales will go directly to the Vermont Foodbank. “This sock is not political. This is about Vermont, community and neighbors,” says Ric Cabot, founder and CEO of Darn Tough Vermont. 39
COVID-19 emerged, the pandemic has certainly impacted how it will play out. “Quarantining and lockdown have been hard and work/life balance has been a challenge for everybody,” he points out. “Once the pandemic hit and we saw how it has impacted people across the world, Sound Mind, Sound Body couldn’t be more relevant. “This has accelerated our strategy,” he adds. This relevance will play out at the core of the campaign in an invitation
spearheaded by ASICS athletes – including Sara Hall, Deena Kastor and Taliyah Brooks – to join their mission and uplift the world. Using sunrise as a symbol of hope, ASICS is encouraging people to kick start the New Year by moving at sunrise to spread positivity and raise awareness. Starting last month, hundreds of ASICS athletes, ambassadors and employees will move at sunrise. The opportunity for run specialty retailers is to connect with “a unique message for their consumers that is credible and helpful to every one of them,” says Sullivan. How retailers and their customers respond to it will depend on the person and retailer involved. “Everybody can relate to this and everybody has their own interpretations of it,” he says. “There is certainly going to be a pent-up demand to get out and be active in person once this happens. The running boom is not going to stop. People really find running helps to clear their minds and give them a better feeling.”
D a r n Tou gh a n d the Ve r m o nt Foodbank had a quarterly custom sock program set to kick off this May, but the program started early when the opportunity with Ellis presented itself. The brand will drop a new sock every three months that benefits the Vermont Foodbank and potentially expand its hunger relief efforts beyond the state. ”I adore Darn Tough and I’m thrilled to partner with such an amazing and generous Vermont-based company. I want everyone to have a cozy, mitteninspired sock and now you really can. I hope they bring everybody joy,” says Ellis.
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running shorts Running USA Survey: Runners Want To Return To Live Events
RUNNERS WANT TO RUN IN 2021 and according to a recent Running USA survey, they want to run in real, live races instead of just the virtual events that took hold in a pandemic-ravaged 2020. The depressing news is that 78 percent of respondents reported participating in fewer events last year due to the pandemic
— and 94 percent were unable to participate in events they had planned due to cancellations. But the better news is that 66 percent of runners plan to be back out racing as soon as an event is available in their area or within traveling distance. An additional 20 percent wanted a vaccine to be
available before they raced again. (Survey responses were collected November-mid December 2020.) “The results confirm the dedication of the core running participant base to the sport we all love, and that’s great news,” says Dawna Stone, CEO of Running USA, in releasing the survey. Among the other findings of the Running USA survey: • 61 percent of runners expect to participate in more events in 2021 than they were able to in 2020. • 73 percent of runners participated in a virtual event in 2020 as an alternative to in-person racing, but 50 percent say they prefer to race in person. • 87 percent believe that COVID-related cancellations will continue to hamper their running schedule in 2021. Additional areas of focus for the 2020 survey included runner perspectives on diversity, equity and inclusion; running brand preferences; reasons for choosing an event and much more. For more survey details: https://runningusa.org/
On Debuts Second Generation Cloudswift The second generation of On’s Cloudswift drops February 4. Just like the original Cloudswift, the second-gen is designed for its city runners and is built for high impact on hard surfaces. Temperature resistant Helion foam combats hot/cold conditions while rubber reinforcements provide traction when it’s wet. The SS21 model features enhanced forefoot cushioning, re-engineered Speedboard (greater flex in the heel and a more rigid mid/forefoot for a snappy response), a 100 percent recycled mesh upper; increased rocker shape, integrated tongue plus upper for sock-like fit and an updated design and colorway. MSRP is $149.99.
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running shorts Feetures Celebrates 20 Years As Family-Owned Business FAMILY-OWNED AND OPERATED since 2001, sock brand Feetures is celebrating 20 years in business this year and is implementing a number of organizational changes that are part of a longer term succession planning process. As part of the transition, CEO and founder Hugh Gaither will remain CEO focused on key specialty accounts while also maintaining strategic responsibility for all sales channels, including Specialty Retail, National Accounts, E-commerce and International. Gaither’s son, John Gaither, is now COO for Feetures, handling overall responsibility for operations, including distribution, supply chain, production planning, product development and innovation. He was previously VP–product development. Gaither’s other son, Joe Gaither, has been promoted to executive VP, where he will oversee all e-commerce, marketing and customer service. Joe was previously VP–marketing. In other organizational moves, national sales manager for footwear specialty retailers, Steve Hallinan, has been promoted to key accounts manager. In this role Hallinan will become the point person and primary account manager for key accounts. Feetures national sales manager for Run Specialty, Dan Gardner, has been
New Balance Unveils Fresh Foam 1080v11 The New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v11, described as a more premium expression of the 1080v10 with New Balance’s newest advances in tech, debuts February 1. The shoe is built for runners looking for a smooth ride when they hit the pavement for a long run. The 1080v11 includes everything that made the v10 a runner favorite, with a few key upgrades that include
promoted to national sales manager for all specialty accounts, including both run and footwear specialty retailers. “2021 marks our 20th year in business and that is a huge milestone for a familyowned business such as ours,” says Hugh Gaither. “As we prepare for the future, we know it is necessary to have a proactive approach to the succession planning process to ensure growth and stability for our retail partners, our customers and internal team to feel confident in the long-term health and viability of this very special company.”
an updated upper that is engineered out of a new Hypoknit technology that offers a soft and supportive fit, providing more breathability with a sleek new design. A new UltraHeel, built close to the foot, provides a contoured fit without the bulkiness, making the shoe easy to slip on and off. MSRP: $150.
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running shorts Walmsley Just Misses World Record in Hoka Project HOKA ON E ON E HELD ITS P roject Ca rbon X 2 event i n Arizona late last month and it lived up to the hype, with American Jim Walmsley completing the 100K route in 6:09:26. Walmsley averaged an incredible pace of 3:41 per kilometer throughout the race, and he ultimately came up just 12 seconds off the world record of 6:09:14, which Japan’s Nao Kazami set in 2018. On the women’s side, Audrey Tanguy of France won the first road race of her career, crossing the line in 7:40:36. Walmsley’s run was not his first 100K world record attempt. In 2019, he ran at Hoka’s first Project Carbon X event, and while he broke the American 50-mile
record that day, he faded in the final 20K and finished close to an hour off Kazami’s 100K best. He ran a much more even race ths year than he did in 2019, posting
Pro-Tec Unveils Two Products Pro-Tec Athletics recently released two new products for the running market.
EVA Bold Foam Rollers are bold and brightly colored and include an exercise program.
• The EVA Bold Foam Roller encourages recovery post-exercise through deep tissue massage to promote flexibility and myofascial release. It comes in two sizes — a travel-friendly 6x18-inch size and 6x35-inch longer roller to offer more exercises such as back stretches. The EVA foam is durable with memory to retain shape, as well as a closed cell and textured surface to reduce spread of germs and prevent slipping. Both 42
• The Ultra Resistance Band encourages muscle strengthening, toning and injury rehabilitation. It adds 49-plus pounds of resistance to exercises such as squats, glute bridges, hip thrusts, clamshells and monster walks. The material is soft, yet durable to retain resistance level over time. To ensure the band stays in place during exercise, a slip-resistant inner rubber strip was added.
almost sub-19-minute 5K splits throughout most of the race. The final 15K were a struggle, though, and he posted two 5K splits north of 19 minutes, which ended up being the difference between first- and second-place in the history books. He finished 17 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Rajpaul Pannu, who ran 6:28:31, and a full half hour in front of third place Kris Brown, who posted a time of 6:39:14. Walmsley now sits at second all-time in the 100K rankings, and he also owns the new American record after obliterating the previous mark of 6:27:44 that Max King set in 2014.
Rep Opportunity With Lé Bent
Lé Bent, a first-on-skin brand that specializes in alpine, outdoor and lifestyle, is looking for sales agencies and independent sales representatives. Lé Bent’s snow, run, trail and bike socks fuse professional athlete design and technologies in a proprietary signature Merino blend of Merino wool and rayon from bamboo. This blend has become the backbone for a range of socks, baselayers, T-shirts, boxer shorts, glove liners and headwear. Interested agencies/reps should contact sales manager Steve Walshe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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running shorts BOA Fit System Receives Peer-Reviewed Validation THE RECENT PUBLICATION OF A peer-reviewed white paper by Footwear Science validates improvements in athletic performance in footwear developed with the BOA Fit System. BOA’s partnership with the University of Denver began in 2018 to measure the biomechanical impact of its fit solutions and the recent publication of this study is the first of a multi-year effort as BOA continues to scientifically prove its many performance benefits. The study shows that athletes wearing shoes equipped with the BOA Fit System saw a three-to-nine percent improvement in agility and speed when compared to standard shoe laces. The highest performing configuration within the study was the BOA Fit System tri-panel configuration, resulting in improved strength, speed and power transfer across five key movements. The study was conducted in DU’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, included 31 Division 1 and club sport athletes, and repeated movements multiple times with four different upper configurations, three of which were designed by the BOA team, in the Adidas Adizero Ubersonic 3.0 shoe. “Most footwear research in the past decade has focused on midsole and outsole properties and very little research has aimed to understand how the fit of the shoe upper affects performance – until
ASICS Joins Falmouth Race As Title Sponsor ASICS has committed to a multi-year partnership to become title sponsor of the Falmouth Road Race beginning with its 49th running this summer. The Falmouth Road Race was first held in 1973, the dream of Tommy Leonard, after watching Frank Shorter compete during the 1972 Summer
now,” says Daniel Feeney, BOA’s manager of biomechanics research and Performance Fit Lab. The study also revealed the BOA Fit System led to improved connectivity to the midsole, allowing for a reduction in the energy required to perform a movement – a positive result across a broad range of sports. The current Saucony Switchback 2 and La Sportiva VK trail running shoes integrate the high performing BOA tri-panel configuration, as will the new La Sportiva Cyklon set to release this spring. Future
Games. The inaugural race featuring approximately 100 participants has evolved into one of the country’s premier road races, welcoming over 10,000 runners each year. The ASICS® Falmouth Road Race is scheduled to be held August 15, pending approval by the Town of Falmouth. “This partnership represents so much
developments with top running brands are also set to leverage these findings in forthcoming product. BOA has an additional agility and speed study currently under peer-review expected to publish later this year. Validation studies are also underway to evaluate performance benefits in the categories of health and endurance that centers on improved athlete efficiency in race, road, and trail running, and of power and precision as it applies to golf. These studies are ongoing and expected to be published throughout 2021 and 2022.
more than a sponsorship,” says Alex Vander Hoeven, GM of ASICS Fitness Apps. “It is a true example of how a world-class event can collaborate with ASICS’ global suite of products and digital services. We look forward to being on the course come race day and are honored to be part of the greater Falmouth Road Race community.”
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running shorts RunSignup’s Annual RaceTrends Report confirms the obvious decline in racing in a pandemic. IT SHOULD COME AS NO SURPRISE to anyone connected to the racing business that there was a 48.1 percent drop in participation among races that were on the RunSignup platform in 2019 and did hold an event of some type in 2020. According to RunSignup’s Annual RaceTrends Report for 2020, if new events on RunSignup are included in the participation numbers, the downturn from 2019 to 2020 falls to 35.5 percent. Much of the discrepancy between the 48.1 percent and 35.5 percent can be attributed to new events on the platform that were built specifically for the pandemic, such as virtual challenges and themed virtual races. Socially distant virtual events and challenges exploded in 2020, with virtual races making up 33.4 percent of all events, compared to just 2.8 percent in 2019. Virtual challenges (multi-activity events with long-term goals) comprised another 6.3 percent of 2020 events. The influx of virtual participants changed the overall profile of endurance event participants, leading to demographic shifts, lower prices and fewer repeat participants. “As staggering as some of the numbers may seem, it’s important to think of them in context,” explains RunSignup founder and CEO Bob Bickel. “Nearly 40 percent of races this year were virtual, a testament to the innovation and determination of race organizers and timers around the country. We know that endurance
professionals will use their fresh virtual race expertise and new protocols for safe in-person events in 2021 and 2022 to restore the industry.” Among other findings of the survey: • Repeat participation in the same event fell from 18.4 percent in 2019 to 10.1 percent in 2020. • 56 percent of virtual challenge participants and 53 percent of virtual racers are over the age of 40, compared to 46 percent for in-person event attendees. • Average prices dropped across all race distances, including an 18.2 percent decline in price for half marathons, likely because of the lower overhead costs of most virtual events. • Mobile devices continue to dominate, with 72.9 percent of website views and 55.1 percent of transactions taking place on a mobile device or tablet.
• Referral rewards, one of the most affected marketing programs for races, accounted for 17 percent of transaction dollars in 2020, more than double the seven percent they represented in 2019. • E-mail marketing was key for logistical communications and marketing, with more than 258 million emails sent from the RunSignup platform in 2020. • Races that enabled fundraisers for their event raised an average of $5733, more than five times as much as the other races that allowed only donations without fundraising. • RaceJoy had a record-breaking year, surpassing one million lifetime users with a 168 percent increase in races using the GPS-based runner tracking app. RaceTrends can be found online and downloaded for free at: https://runsignup. com/trends
Oiselle Adds Alison Désir As Director Alison Désir, the founder of Harlem Run and Run4AllWomen, who was originally signed as an athlete-advisor with Oiselle in June 2020, has been named the company’s director of sports advocacy, charged with driving community, culture and inclusivity efforts. Désir and Oiselle
had partnered last September in the Womxn Run the Vote Virtual Relay, which hosted 10,000 participants in 667 teams covering a 686-mile virtual civil rights journey from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. “I am thrilled to formally join Oiselle in this newly created role,” says Désir. “I’m energized to start pushing the brand
to tackle policy issues that matter to us as runners like environmental justice.” “We are thrilled to cause some good trouble with Alison,” says Oiselle CEO Sally Bergesen. “One of Alison’s many superpowers is her strength as an empathic communicator who can bring people together.”
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running shorts More recent news from the business of running ... Fleet Feet/Nike, Hyperice, Zwift Fleet Feet Prevails Over Nike in Lawsuit A recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision in favor of Fleet Feet changes nothing, as the ruling refused to undo a trademark ruling that forced Nike to halt an advertising campaign centered on the slogan “Sports Changes Everything.” The ruling came out of a 2019 lawsuit filed by Fleet Feet. The wording of the decision goes like this: “Fleet Feet’s ‘Change Everything’ and ‘Running Changes Everything’ marks have relatively low commercial strength, Fleet Feet’s substantial advertising expenditures are a drop in the bucket compared to Nike’s spending, and Nike’s advertising campaign using the ‘Sport Changes Everything’ phrase is likely to swamp Fleet Feet’s marks in the market and to cause consumers to link Fleet Feet’s marks with Nike.” A little history: In September 2019, Fleet Feet sued Nike over Nike’s use of phrases such as “Change Everything” and “Running Changes Everything” in advertising. The chain and franchisor charged that it has trademarked the two phrases and spent substantial resources making those slogans the “cornerstones for its brand.” Then in December 2019, the court awarded Fleet Feet a preliminary injunction on the basis that it had shown that it is likely to succeed on its trademark claims. Citing the upcoming Super Bowl, it issued a preliminary injunction ordering Nike to stop running its ads immediately Nike filed an appeal, arguing that the injunction was a restraint on free speech. According to The Fashion Law, counsel for Nike asserted that the lower court “committed several legal errors in failing to recognize that Nike did not use the tagline as a trademark, that Nike’s use was merely descriptive in the sense required for fair use and that 45
Nike did not act in bad faith in selecting the term.” So it all came to a head last week when the appeals court said it had no power to weigh in after Nike “disavowed any intent” to continue using the tagline. The court noted that Nike had previously admitted that the campaign was only slated to run through the 2020 Super Bowl and hasn’t used “any new slogans that are confusingly similar to Fleet Feet’s marks” since that time. The court wrote that Nike lacks the necessary “legally cognizable interest in the validity of the preliminary injunction” for the court to consider the validity of the injunction. Hyperice Adds Advisors, Acquires RecoverX Hyperice has launched its Hyperice Performance Advisors, a health advisory board of industry experts. Hyperice App users will be able to leverage the expertise, research and education of each advisor. The experts will specialize in new categories residing in the app: Mindset, Nutrition, Physical Therapy, and Sports Medicine. The
Hyperice Performance Advisors are Dr. Michael Gervais, Mindset Advisor; Dr. Jordan Metzl, Healthcare Advisor, Sports Medicine; Harley Pasternak, Global Wellness Advisor, Nutrition; Vinh Pham, Futureproof Advisor; and Dr. Kelly Starrett, Athlete Performance Advisor; Physical Therapy. Also late last month Hyperice acquired RecoverX, a San Diego-based technology company specializing in intelligent thermal technologies. As part of the acquisition, Hyperice adds a team of engineers specializing in biomechanics, thermal and connected technologies including electronic contrast therapy, along with co-founders and product developers Alex Aguiar and Dan Evans. Zwift Appoints Chief Product Officer Zwift has appointed YuChiang Cheng as its chief product officer. Cheng will lead product design & UX, engineering, game design and art, product management, R&D, content programming, LiveOps, quality assurance, and community support for the brand.
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Merchandising and Marketing
One More Thing ...
‘WE MAKE KEYS’ — A Lesson in Merchandising Simplicity From a Century-Old Hardware Store. / By Tom Griffen
ntil recently, I lived just up the road from Fitch Lumber, a century-old hardware store. It’s the sort of deep-rooted place around which a town grows. A ma and pa joint that predated the likes of Home Depot or Lowe’s. A place with an actual bell hanging from the doorknob. An oldtimey spot where personal shopping and good service has never been a business strategy — it’s just what they do. Out front of Fitch’s nondescript building is one of those old school changeable marquee signs. On a regular basis, one of their store employees maneuvers an electric lift beside it and removes one illuminated capital letter at a time until the board is blank. Then, they install a fresh slogan to catch folks’ attention. After years of witnessing this marketing ritual, I started to notice a trend. Fitch used their modest billboard differently than other local businesses. Similar sandwich boards attempted to bait customers with money-saving promises or kitchy catch-phrases. Fitch, however, wasn’t into gimmicks. They kept it simple. Over the years my favorite message was the one I saw posted most often. Three words to advertise one of their least profitable items. It simply said: “WE MAKE KEYS.” I don’t know anything about the profit margin on keys. But probably with the time it takes to place a key order, maintain a key inventory and pay the key cutter, most of the green is a wash, at best. Keys are definitely not keeping Fitch in business — and yet it’s their most often used calling card. A Metaphor for Merchandising WE MAKE KEYS, to me, means far more than the obvious. WE MAKE KEYS is a metaphor for what Fitch believes most strongly in.
plumbing, nuts and bolts, tools, outdoor items and seasonal inventory. The store’s aesthetic blocking and merchandising savviness makes it impossible to lose your way. In fact, it makes it impossible to not want to browse.
Fitch is the sort of business that doesn’t take themselves too seriously. If they ever were an ego-driven venture, they let go of that baggage a long time ago (100 years will do that). They don’t bother using big-ticket items as a grab. WE MAKE KEYS tells the world Fitch believes the small stuff matters. Keys, sure, but also the other small details that make a local business stay relevant for a long, long time. All you need to do is walk in to realize their dedication to the small details that add up to your experience. Here’s how it usually shakes out: The door swings open and a soft jingle announces your entry. You respond to a greeting staffer who’ll undoubtedly check in on you again. Your immediate line of sight is clean and strategic. It affords views of all the expected departments — paint,
Shoppable and Accommodating It’s also obvious that time and care has been taken to ensure areas are shoppable. Aisles between racks are wide enough to accommodate the rare shopper who uses one of the store’s five carts and the product on shelves is arranged neatly to keep options uncomplicated. The lighting isn’t the best, but it doesn’t really matter. The space is in perfect alignment with the shop’s humility. Their cosmology is evident — and that feels good. I like to think that WE MAKE KEYS is Fitch’s secret code for quality and commitment. Maybe it’s something they say at staff meetings to trigger excellence in their day-to-day. WE MAKE KEYS prompts exceptional customer service. WE MAKE KEYS inspires the store layout. WE MAKE KEYS sparks clear and innovative ways to display an inventory selection. And all this meticulous care makes folks suddenly enamored by that shiny red snow shovel or freshly dusted box of nails stacked just-so. WE MAKE KEYS is never about just keys. But when it is, they are absolutely ready to turn a no-profit experience into something unforgettable. n Tom Griffen is a frequent contributor to Running Insight. He is the author of “With a Good Heart” and “Imagine the Sea.” Tom is also a leadership consultant and independent trainer for the run specialty industry. He lives in Spokane, WA. Learn more at tomgriffen.com.
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