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THE NEWSMAGAZINE FOR RUNNING SPECIALTY RETAILERS / RUNNINGINSIGHT.COM

A DIVERSIFIED COMMUNICATIONS PUBLICATION

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RUNNING INSIGHT

The Dreaded One-Star Review

The seven most frequent reasons that prompted a one-star review of a running store. / By Daniel P. Smith

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ike it or not, online reviews are valuable currency in today’s marketplace, both in providing consumers a voice and arming potential customers with a sense of what they might expect from a business. According to BrightLocal’s 2018 Local Consumer Review Survey, 86 percent of consumers, including 95 percent of those ages 18-34, read reviews of local businesses. Yet more, consumers

peruse an average of 10 online reviews before they feel they can to trust a local business. With the ubiquity and weight of online reviews clear, Running Insight analyzed hundreds of online reviews given to run specialty stores across the U.S. While five and four-star reviews overwhelmingly dominate – something the entire channel should collectively celebrate – running store customers

do report their share of disappointments. In this special report, Running Insight examined one-star reviews dotting sites such as Yelp, Google and Facebook to identify the experiences, situations and behaviors that most irk customers. With BrightLocal reporting that 40 percent of customers will shy away from a business based on negative reviews, understanding cus-

tomer discontent can help stores avoid clumsy behavior and consciously work to ensure only high-quality experiences survive. Beyond the individual store level, however, one-star experiences – some of which will never appear on a review site – can hamper running retail as a whole, compelling people to minimize the expertise, service, education and community spirit that running stores regularly provide in dynamic, engaging and

RUNNING INSIGHT ® is a registered trademark of Diversified Communications. © 2019 all rights reserved. Running Insight is published twice each month, 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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respectful environments. One unsatisfied Yelp reviewer said he walked out of his visit to a run specialty store and proceeded to tell his friends that the shoe-fitting process was a “complete joke.” Too many such reviews can push customers to shop online or at big-box outlets, somet h i ng

another Yelp reviewer pointed out: “[The] only reason to actually go into a store for goods like shoes [in today’s tech-driven economy] is quality customer service.” Another disappointed running store customer flatly said: “Unfortunately, I’ll be making my future purchases at Dick’s and online.” If too many run specialty stores miss the mark and ignore the most glaring indiscretions, then the channel as a whole stands to suffer. Yes, some customers are incapable of being satisfied, have a proverbial axe to grind

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RUNNING INSIGHT

One-Star Reviews (continued) Perhaps not surprisingly, front-facing staff, including managers and even owners, stood the most frequent source of customer angst. In particular, it’s clear customers don’t like being ignored.

or rely on selective memory or misinformation — that much is undoubtedly true and their online critiques only present one side of the story. Yet, one-star reviews also derive from sensible customers who carried reasonable expectations into their visit. When they leave the store disappointed, frustrated, minimized or feeling taken advantage of, then the ripple effects of that experience can be reverberate far and wide. Here, then, are what we have found are the common culprits when running stores have received that dreaded One-Star Review. 1. Inattentive Employees

“Waited 10 minutes before anyone would even talk to me. Terrible, terrible customer service.” Perhaps not surprisingly, frontfacing staff, including managers and even owners, stood the most frequent source of customer angst. In particular, it’s clear customers don’t like being ignored. Many one-star reviewers spoke of walking into a store and never being acknowledged — not a “We’ll be right with you” or even eye contact as they wandered the showroom or, in some cases, even stood with product in hand. Other one-star reviews directed their ire at apathetic associates more interested in their phones, a household duty or chatter with co-workers than servicing a customer. 2. Callous Employees

“I did not expect her to be so disinterested and short with me.” Beyond inattentive employees, one-star reviewers showered disdain upon indifferent, detached staff members. One-star reviews were littered 4

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a clinician only to have a running store employee overrule that suggestion. That often left the customer confused and conflicted, while it also undermined the clinician’s advice, perhaps to the detriment of future referrals. 4. An Overly Corporate Feel: Impersonal and Rigid

with comments about associates who were seemingly irritated by customer questions or offered vague, boilerplate responses to earnest inquiries. Footwear customers also discussed employees who didn’t watch them run or walk, even as their fellow sales colleagues completed detailed assessments of other nearby customers. Some pointed to employees who delivered shoes, walked away and didn’t return. 3. Overlooking the Customer’s Voice

“They were very married to the ‘results’ from their analysis … [and] I had to push to try on the shoes that I actually wanted.” In the vast majority of reviews analyzed by Running Insight, customers appreciated the personalized, hands-on service of a foot or stride analysis. Customers grew frustrated, however, when associates viewed their analysis as unassailable, defaulted to their own biases and/or failed to account for any additional information the customer presented, such as previous shoes they enjoyed, ailments and, yes, even budget or color. Some one-star reviewers spoke of wrangling with an employee to see specific product and yet others visited a store with a specific recommendation from

“Come on guys! Instead of keeping a 20-year customer and VIP customer you may have just lost one. Quit being so corporate!” An overly corporate feel was most often associated with product returns or store policies that benefited the store with nary a concern for the customer relationship. A number of one-star reviews, many originating from selfidentified long-term customers, cited uncompromising policies that failed to account for the big picture, such as customers who couldn’t redeem loyalty rewards that expired days prior or an inability to return unworn shoes or apparel because of a strict 30-day policy. To some reviewers, this rigidity came off as “corporate” and unfriendly, especially when staff shunned any movement toward a reasonable solution. 5. Lack of Empathy

“The terms he used seemed technical … and I wasn’t really able to glean any knowledge about what it actually meant.” For a good segment of consumers, visiting a running store can be an intimidating experience. When those folks strike up the courage to enter a shop’s doors, it’s an act best met with thoughtful, genuine encouragement, something the vast majority of running stores successfully do on a regular basis. Unfortunately, © 2019 Diversified Communications


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One-Star Reviews (continued) Various one-star reviews cited a rushed experience as the source of their discontent. Customers spoke of impatient employees intentionally limiting selections, either by being uninterested in making a return trip to the stockroom or, in some cases, outright telling a customer there were no other options.

there are times when this is not the case — and that can make an intimidating experience become downright disheartening. Som e on e - st a r r ev iews recounted store employees who relied heavily on technical jargon foreign to customers or others who seemed to imply that a nonrunner wasn’t quite worth the same diligent, guided service as the seasoned marathoner. 6. Hurried Experience

“The staff just wanted me to hurry up and pick the first pair of shoes they [pulled] out of the back room.” Various one-star reviews cited a rushed experience as the source of their discontent. Customers spoke of impatient employees intentionally limiting selections,

either by being uninterested in making a return trip to the stockroom or, in some cases, outright telling a customer there were no other options. Other one-star reviews mentioned staff who seemed to be withholding information or providing short, clipped answers in an effort to expedite the transaction. Still others claimed an associate never checked sizing to ensure a good fit or offered, even when prodded, relevant information about how a particular shoe might address a customer’s issue. The focus was on completing the sale, not customer experience. 7. Accepting The Inevitable Dead Ends

“I pointed at what I wanted,

he ran into the backroom and came back saying, ‘We don’t have that.’” Numerous one-star reviewers expressed frustration when staff accepted dead ends, oftentimes because the staff member was content doing the bare minimum. When a particular shoe wasn’t in stock, for instance, an associate simply communicated that without offering potential alternatives or solutions. From providing specific information on footwear, whether it be about the shoe’s weight, heel drop or even its price, to sharing details about weekly runs, a staff member’s indifference to finding answers – somehow, someway – routinely ignited customers’ unease and diminished their confidence in the operation. n

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RUNNING INSIGHT

Brooks On Its Way to $1 Billion in Annual Sales Company racks up 26 percent growth in 2018; stays committed to ‘the run.’ / By Mark Sullivan

• Global Revenue: Brooks ended the year reporting $644 million in global revenue, a 26 percent year-over-year increase driven by a 28 percent increase in global footwear sales. Apparel stabilized and grew seven percent. • EMEA: Revenue grew 27 percent led by the DACH region. • APLA: Sustained the upward trajectory that began in early 2018, reporting a 26 percent increase in revenue led by Australia. The Ghost running shoe line has been one of the significant reasons for Brooks’ success worldwide.

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rooks is on its way to becoming a billion-dollar brand. The company hit $644 million in sales this past year, a 26 percent increase over the previous year. The increase was fueled by a 28 percent increase in global footwear sales, while apparel revenue grew seven percent over the same period. And company executives say they expect double-digit growth to continue over the next three years. “Our product engine is humming,” says Dan Sheridan, Brooks EVP and COO, noting that footwear growth has been powered by sales increases in franchise styles such as the GTS and Ghost. “We are winning in the cushion category with the Ghost,” Sheridan says, citing the results of NPD data that cited Brooks as the number one brand in that category. Sheridan says Brooks’ results in 2018 were based on work the company started in 2015 when the athleisure boom hit. “We saw that and re-committed to performance run,” he says. “We looked at what runners we were going after and what their wants and needs were. We appreciated that athleisure was a 8

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business opportunity but we also believe that performance is timeless.” That renewed commitment focused on the core runner, who runs two to three times a week as well as what Sheridan terms “the goal seeker” type of runner. “We see them as someone who may not identify as a runner but who is in fact running a great deal and EVP and COO Dan Sheridan

relates more to how the shoes feel than any big bio-mechanical story.” Brooks has targeted this athlete with its energize category, which includes the Levitate. To achieve this growth, Brooks has also managed to retain its dominant share in run specialty while growing in other retail channels. “That’s the hardest part for any brand,” Sheridan says. “We want to be the most profitable brand for our retailers and deliver product promises that make the brand accessible to as many runners as possible.” The forecast is strong for Brooks and the overall running business, Sheridan says. “In 2017, we saw participation bounce back with more than 50 million runners — and with 2020 as an Olympic year we believe that will bode well for running and performance.” Sheridan also says the company is not focused on sales growth as much as it is on execution of its KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) as a business. “Growth is an outcome of doing that. We don’t think about hitting $1 billion in sales, we think about executing on our plans and serving our customers. The lifestyle of run is much bigger than $1 billion. We just have to execute.” n

© 2019 Diversified Communications


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RUNNING INSIGHT

Management Shake Up at ASICS

New executive team named — Koichiro Kodama takes over as CEO to replace Gene McCarthy.

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ajor changes rocked the executive suite at ASICS America this week, sparking concerns among retailers about the brand’s position in the run specialty market. Gene McCarthy has departed ASICS as CEO and the company announced Koichiro Kodama as his replacement. Kodama, a 30-year industry veteran, becomes the brand’s third top executive in the past five years. McCarthy joined ASICS in September 2015 replacing Kevin Wulf, who had joined the brand in 2010. Run retailers expressed concern that the changes portend further struggles for the brand, which as recently as 10 years ago was a dominant supplier to the specialty channel with a market share in the high 20s. Recent estimates have ASICS in the low double digits in market share. “I feel badly,” says Dave Kazanjian, owner of Whirlaway Sports in Massachusetts, when asked his reaction to the ASICS’ market position and McCarthy’s departure. “It’s still a strong brand, but they’ve had some issues with fit and product, which were always their major selling points.” Dave Zimmer, owner of Fleet Feet Chicago, says ASICS’ four legacy styles – the Kayano, Nimbus, Cumulus and GT – are still strong sellers in his store, but noted that ASICS seems less focused on running in its marketing and has been promoting fitness in its digital marketing over the past 24-36 months. “Brands need to focus on what’s brought them to the dance and with ASICS, that’s running. Historically, they’ve been a great running brand, but we haven’t seen that from them in the past few years.” When McCarthy joined ASICS three years ago, he revamped the company’s sales structure and relocated the company’s base of operations to Boston from Southern California. He said at the time that the Boston location would allow the company to attract and retain better talent, 10

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but retailers say new hires did not adequately replace respected executives such as Tracy Paoletti, who was fired by ASICS and now is VP–sales for UGGS. McCarthy also tried to better segment ASICS sales and distribution strategy and place more emphasis on the run specialty category. The brand has been roundly criticized for being over-distributed and run retailers say that practice hurt their full-priced sales and cut margins. As ASICS worked through its new sales structure, the company also tweaked the fit on key styles and ran into issues with runners who were loyal to those shoes for years. “We had customers who were lifetime wearers of those shoes and when they came in for the newest models, we told them ‘you better try these on,’” says Kris Hartner, of Naperville Running Company in Illinois. “We knew the fit was off and didn’t want unhappy customers bringing the shoes back.” ASICS has also expanded into other Gene McCarthy, who joined ASICS in 2015, is out as CEO, replaced by long-time company executive Koichiro Kodama.

categories such as tennis and fitness, and run store owners fear the company’s focus in running has been lost. “There are brands such as Hoka, On and Diadora who want our business and are willing to support us,” says one retailer. “Those are the brands that are cutting into ASICS’ share.” Sales Up, More Personnel Changes

On the same day, ASICS announced its latest round of changes, it also said “in fourth quarter of 2018, the brand saw a 58 percent growth in e-commerce sales since the last quarter, based on new product launches as well as a shift in consumer shopping behavior toward brand-owned sites, where the company is seeing the most growth, approximately 32 percent year-over-year. ASICS also said it continues to see growth across key retail channels, citing 12 percent quarter growth and 11 percent growth year-over-year. In addition to naming Kodama as CEO, ASICS announced the following changes. Richard Sullivan has been named executive VP–sales, categories and marketing, where he will oversee all sales, marketing, merchandisingand apparel functions along with the teams in Canada and Mexico. He most recently served as president of ASICS Canada. Craig Gillan was named as VP–operations and will manage all operational functions, including the distribution center, customer service and sales operations, IT, logistics, inventory planning, SPMO and facilities. Gillan joined ASICS America in July 2012, as director of e-commerce and then served as VP–direct-to-consumer before taking on a global role, where he most recently served as the GM–global digital commerce at ASICS Digital. Paul Ljucovic has also been named VP– finance. He joined ASICS in 2017 and will transition from his current role as senior VP– finance and operations for ASICS Canada to overseeing all finance. n

© 2019 Diversified Communications


RUNNING INSIGHT

Coming Out from Under Runderwear, a new player in the U.S. underwear market, is making a run for it. / By Mark Sullivan

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he British brand Runderwear is making a push in the American market. The company was founded in 2013 by college friends Jamie Smalley and Richard Edmonds. The two runners, who developed their first pair of briefs to combat chafing, have expanded the collection to include sports bras, base layers and new fabrics. “We’re led by our fellow runners,” Smalley tells Running Insight. “Our goal is to create products that make runners more comfortable and to allow them to get more out of their runs.” The brand made news in its home country last year winning “‘Best Underwear & Socks Brand’ at the 2018 Running Awards. Runderwear is hoping to build on that momentum by cracking the American market with its “Chafe-Free” Guarantee. © 2019 Diversified Communications

“We’re so confident that your Runderwear will provide the solution to your chafing

that we offer a 28-day, no-fuss guarantee. If you wear our products and they cause you to chafe, we will happily refund you, it’s as simple as that,” Smalley says. The brand implemented a similar program in the United Kingdom and had less than a 1.5 percent return rate. The company uses 360-degree manufacturing technology and flatlock stitching that produces seamless garments that prevents chafing and irritation. Most of the items in Runderwear’s line are made from a perforated polyamide/elastane fabric that wicks moisture and allows for breathability. Edmonds’ father works in the hosiery business and introduced the partners to factories in Europe and China that were eventually able to provide the seamless product the partners say is vital to the performance of Runderwear. Two years ago, the company introduced Merino Runderwear products and later this year will be introducing more Merino styles, notably the men’s boxer and socks. The company will begin shipping its women’s bras to U.S. retailers in June out of a new American distribution facility in Virginia. The company plans to focus on running retailers. n

Runderwear bras and briefs are made with flatlock stitching that prevents chafing and irritation for runners.

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RUNNING INSIGHT

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Under Armour HOVR Hits Retail This Month

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he Under A rmour HOV R Infinite became available at specialty retail and online at ua.com on February 1, MSRP $120. Featuring shades of pink, orange, yellow and black, the first colorway of the HOVR Infinite is inspired by the sunrise — nature’s reward for the many runners who finish their workout in the early morning hours. The shoe is described as a neutral cushioned, plush balanced trainer, featuring more HOVR to support runners through an infinite amount of miles.

Also launching earlier this month were the HOVR Guardian, HOVR Sonic 2 and HOVR Phantom SE, all part of the 2019 HOVR Suite. All shoes in the 2019 HOVR Suite feature an embedded sensor in the midsole that digitally connects seamlessly to the MapMyRun app. The digitally connected shoes can track, analyze and store detailed running metrics to inform ways to improve performance. Under Armour has also collaborated with Stance, makers of performance socks, to create a custom running sock

designed specifically to pair with the HOVR Infinite — a seamless sock and footwear design offering. The socks offer strategic cushioning in the forefoot, toes, heel, ankle and around the fifth metatarsal, for an especially smooth ride. n

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RUNNING INSIGHT

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New Balance Music Video Celebrates Independent Women

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ew Balance debuted a music video last week that celebrates the intersection between music and running culture to inspire women. This video represents a unique story of four of NB’s female runners who are “in Pursuit,” paired with a female-led band of musicians called “Beginners.” The work was led by a female director and an all-female creative team at VMLY&R.

This video kicks off a campaign for the Fresh Foam cushioning platform highlighting the data-driven technology, empowering runners to run their fastest without unnecessary weight holding them back. Featured in the video are four New Balance female runners, Lisanne de Witte (sprinter, Netherlands), Stephanie Garcia (steeplechase, U.S.), Cory McGee (middle distance, U.S.) and Bev Ramos (middle/long

distance, Puerto Rico). The “in-pursuit” stories of each athlete working to unleash the best version of themselves are highlighted on @NBWomen, @NBRunning and @NewBalance on Instagram and on newbalance.com. The anthem video features a song from Beginners x Night Panda called “Start a Riot” releasedin conjunction with the music video. The Fresh Foam Zante Pursuit, MSRP $109.95, featured in the video, is a lightweight and breathable running shoe featuring a full length Fresh Foam midsole that is laser engraved with data-driven perforations for enhanced cushioning. The hypoknit upper creates a dynamic fit and is engineered in specific zones to create areas of more support where it is needed most. The Fresh Foam collection, launching in 2019, also includes the Fresh Foam 1080 (available now), the Fresh Foam Lazr (available March 1) and the Fresh Foam More (available in March). n

Balega Unveils Updated Ultralight Collection for Spring 2019

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alega International has updated its Ultralight collection for Spring 2019 with new colorways, improved fit and compression, and enhanced cushioning in the No Show model (MSRP $13). Made from ultra-fine, high-tech performance yarns on a high needle count knitting machine, Balega’s Ultralight sock offers sheer, light performance design while still providing critical protection. This medium-low volume sock offers enhanced, strategically shaped cushioning to not only follow the contours of the heel, but to also provide added comfort over the toe area. In addition, the strategic cushioning provides protection and impact resistance. Balega’s proprietary Drynamix moisture

© 2019 Diversified Communications

wicking fibers and reinforced microfiber mesh ventilation panels keep feet cool and dry. The fit of the Ultralight is defined by the Left/Right sock construction and the differentiated elastic bands that provide compression and ensure the perfect fit. Unique to all Balega products, the Ultralight offers Balega’s trademark handlinked toe closure system for a seamless, non-irritating fit. Balega’s Ultralight running socks are offered in a range of on-trend new colors for Spring 2019. The No Show will feature 10 new colors, including Aqua/Pink, Electric Pink/Tangerine, Lilac/Aqua, Aloe/Red, French Blue/Lime, White/French Blue, Grey/ White, Black/Lime, Midgrey and Ink/Cobalt.

Made in the U.S., the new Ultralight styles hit retail stores this month. n

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