Running Insight 3.15.19

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7 pages of sock info starting on page 2 MARCH 15, 2019






hoes and socks might be the world’s most obvious bundled sale. But while consumers geek out on technical detail about shoes, socks sometimes seem generic among running store sales associates, making upselling a pair of specialty running socks to go with a new pair of shoes not always automatic. How does the retailer convince a runner to pay as much for one pair of technical running socks when they can buy six pairs of generic athletic socks for nearly the same price? We need more advanced ways to talk about socks. And this is a retailer’s guide to do exactly that.

1. Emphasize Their Importance Often what wraps the foot is seen as less important than what is under it. This is true for shoe uppers, and socks tend to fall even farther down the scale of perceived importance for many. Runners are beginning to understand, however, that every element of a shoe combines to create its unique ride and that a shoe’s performance starts with fit. Fit, however, is greatly influenced by the sock. “The sock is the athlete’s interface between your foot and your shoe,” says Tanya Pictor, VP–marketing at Balega. “Often the sock is the forgotten piece. It can do a lot to make you feel more comfortable and do a lot to



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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.

protect your foot. If you buy a sock that fits 100 percent correctly and has great moisture management functions, a lot of foot problems are going to be taken away.” Biomechanical researcher Geoff Grey agrees. “Fit dramatically changes how you interact with the shoe and if you change how you interact with the shoe that’s going to change how you run.” And socks are an important part of that equation. “Fit needs to start with wearing one style of sock,” Grey says. “Make sure you’re fitting your shoe in the sock you are going to be wearing. Socks can change fit by at least a half size, sometimes a full size.” The best way to insure that the

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Socks Appeal (continued) customer is wearing the sock they will run in is to sell the shoe and sock as a unit. “When you buy a shoe,” Pictor says, “you should buy a sock at the same time as the shoe and should be fitting the sock with the shoe to give you a holistic experience.” Shoe fitters can use the sock to customize fit. “If someone has a high-volume foot, I may tend to not go towards a thick or heavily cushioned sock,” says Jason Barlow, account representative for Swiftwick and a former retail shoe fitter. “That is going to take more volume inside the shoe, so if somebody has space constraints with the foot, I might tend toward something thinner.” Alternatively, someone with long toes might need a size that feels sloppy in the width and an appropriately higher volume sock can improve the fit without changing important shoe geometries. Properly used, the sock can become another tool to send the customer out the door in complete comfort.

2. Get to know the materials Thickness is an obvious differentiator between sock models and one area where customers often know their preference. But comfort also depends on more subtle components. To start, every brand touts its unique fibers and blends, each of which has slightly different skin feel and moisture management properties. The big material divide is between synthetic and natural fibers, although the division isn’t quite as 4

clean as it may seem. Some natural-fiber socks have as low as 25 percent wool, and no performance socks are 100 percent natural. Every sock uses a blend of some kind, harnessing the stretch, wick, cushion and comfort qualities of different fibers in different ratios to maximize one or another feature. Signature materials like Coolmax, olefin, Merino and mohair provide moisture management, softness and cushioning. Nylon improves durability, but reduces wicking. Lycra and spandex create compression. Learning what properties are most important to a customer allows you to tell a sock story to meet those preferences. Natural fibers are not all created equal either. Darn Tough, for example, brags about the soft feel created by it’s 17.2 micron threads, ma k i n g it some of t he thinnest possible Merino, harvested from specific New Zealand sheep. Balega uses mohair from its South African roots, which stays completely flat and smooth even when wet. These properties are best discovered and appreciated by the personal touch allowed in store.

3. Understand construction Beyond thickness and fiber, socks can be distinguished by how they are knit. Some brands focus on their needle count. A higher count, such as Swiftwick’s 200 needles, produces a tight, fine and durable knit. Related, Darn Tough touts its high number of stitches per square inch — 1441, to be exact. “That

Trends your staff should know • Creative blending of natural and synthetic fibers as brands attempt to optimize moisture control, fit, durability and sustainability. • Advanced knitting techniques improving sock shape and creating engineered zones that provide targeted cushioning, compression and breathability. • Greater variety of heights – from no-show to shorty, mini-crew, crew and knee high – with taller socks gaining in popularity. • An emphasis on aesthetics, with enhancements in printed, sublimated and knitted designs that don’t compromise fiber performance.

leads to a very dense knit without bulk,” says marketing director Brian Brand. “Which means you get a real nice rebound on the cushion and it is real hard to wear through.” Socks, like shoe uppers, are also now knit with engineered zones that cushion more, breathe more or provide more compression in select areas. The detail can be as specific as providing extra cushioning beneath the heel and ball while removing it under the arch and on top of the foot (Smartwool, Thorlo), or engineering a round zone on the sides of the ankle with extra nylon to protect the malleoli bones (Lorpen). While not as structured as a shoe’s last, each brand also has its own foot shape and each will fit certain feet better than others.

4. Sell special features Finally, each brand has its own signature story that distinguishes it from the crowd. Balega locks in the heel

and midfoot while leaving the forefoot open with minimal elastic so toes are free to move and not squished together. Injinji takes that one step farther by wrapping each toe individually to encourage splay and provide enhanced blister protection. Balega and Injiji are also among the brands that knit socks shaped specifically for a woman’s foot, which tend to be narrower and have shorter toes. Thorlo, the original running sock company dating from 1980, is still known for cushioning. As shoes have improved in fit and cushioning over the years, however, their designs have evolved to include thinner models with targeted cushioning and compression zones and the fibers in their top models feature a Teflon-like, friction reducing coating called NonoGlide. WrightSock, another pioneer in the technical running space, still delivers superior blister prevention through its friction-reducing double © 2019 Diversified Communications

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Socks Appeal (continued) “Socks haven’t been all that sexy. Shoes are sexy. Shoes are cool. Socks are the overlooked, underappreciated overachievers.” MOLLY CUFFE SMARTWOOL


layer construction that lets the foot move without heat buildup and also allows them to turn the inner layer “inside-out,” keeping the next-to-skin surface smooth while hiding the cushioning loops between the layers. Lorpen knits two layers into one sock — the inner layer a hydrophobic fiber (Coolmax) that stays dry, and the outer hydrophilic ( Te nce l ) t h a t a b s o rb s moisture, actively creating a capillary, wicking action that pulls sweat away from the skin. Smartwool’s blends always have a large percentage of Merino and they use patented construction methods to provide durability in

the heel, ball and toes, cleverly called “Indestructawool” and “Shred Shield.” Feetures! knits in targeted arch compression, creating a custom fit for left and right feet and providing KT-tapelike proprioceptive support. Every Swiftwick features some level of full-foot compression, which varies from model to model to cater to different preferences. CEP socks provide medical-grade, graduated compression, the highest level you can get without a prescription, that forces blood upward and back to the heart. Darn Tough guarantees their tightly-knit socks for life.

Sexy Socks? All of these talking points can make socks more sexy, which is much needed. “Socks haven’t been all that sexy,” says Molly Cuffe, director of global communications at Smartwool. “Shoes are sexy. Shoes are cool. Socks are the overlooked, underappreciated overachievers.” But, as all serious athletes know, keeping your feet comfortable is critical to success and socks are a key component of that comfort. All we have to do is help the customer find their perfect match. “Once you nail the right sock with the right running shoe, it’s a game changer,” says Cuffe. n

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Ask the Sock Experts Brand executives provide answers to commonly asked questions about socks. Mark Comcowich, Director–Sales and Marketing, Darn Tough Vermont

Jeff Irvin, National Sales Manager, CEP Compression Sportswear

Darn Tough is known for its use of wool. Can you talk about the advantages wool offers in running socks? “The bottom line is, wool keeps you dryer, it’s that simple. “The complexity of the fiber is key. The interior, or cortex, of Merino wool is hydrophilic and the exterior, or cuticle, is hydrophobic. What that means is that the exterior of the wool stays dry and repels moisture while the interior is pulling moisture away from your skin, which results in blister-free running. “Sheep themselves have been adapting to nature’s extreme environmental conditions for thousands of years. They created the perfect fiber, which we’re using to create the perfect socks.” And how have you been able to take your learnings from outdoor and hiking and apply that to running? “As the leader in the outdoor channel, our vast experience with outfitting thru-hikers has given us intel on how people spending a lot of time on their feet impacts the user’s success and comfort. “Our lifetime guarantee allows us to investigate each sock that comes back to our Northfield factory. Upon rigorous inspection, the R&D team continually iterates and field tests different materials, stitches and knit configurations. This focused process helps us ensure that we are creating the most comfortable, durable and best-fitting sock customized for each channel and ultimate end user. Because we are the mill, and own every step of the process, we never stop striving to produce our best sock. Josh Higgins, President, OS1st

Your company has created special product to help runners with plantar fasciitis. Would you suggest retailers merchandise that in sock or sports medicine department? And 8

OS1st specializes in helping runners with problem feet remain active.

how would you suggest retailers sell it in the shoe fitting process? “We suggest having all OS1st products together first and foremost. Along the shoe wall, which is generally where the socks are is best. Our packaging also clearly calls out what each product is for (Plantar Fasciitis, Bunion Relief and so forth) and will certainly get the attention of the consumer. “Most run specialty staff ask their customer if they have any special needs or have any injuries. If they don’t, they really should. OS1st provides try-on products for every store so it gives the consumer the opportunity to wear the product while the staff is in the back getting their shoe and also aids in the fitting process while testing the shoes.”

Do you recommend that runners wear compression every day? “As an ultrarunner myself I wear compression on every training run for these reasons: “First, recovery starts with the first step of my run and if wearing compression my venous system will process the de-oxygenated blood from my legs to my heart a lot faster then if I am not wearing compression socks and this means I recover quicker and then on the next run my legs feel better. “Second, compression stabilizes all the muscles and joints in my lower legs and feet. This stabilization minimizes the amount of vibration on my legs and feet and the overall result is that your lower legs just feel a lot fresher. “Third involves Proprioception. Due to the inherent tight fit of a compression sock it gives you a strong sense of confidence in each step while running or working out. I believe this is something that is not talked about enough when discussing the benefits of compression on athletes — the positive effects of proprioception can do wonders. “Last but not least, I just feel better when wearing compression, so why not wear it every day?” How would you suggest that retailers sell compression socks as part of a shoe sale? “We have some excellent retailers that do a great job of this, but for the most part the industry struggles at making compression part of the shoe sale. The onus does not fall on just our retailers either; we believe it is our responsibility to help educate our customers and make the conversation about compression a little easier for the sales associates during the shoe fit. “One thing we are doing is installing Compression Walls, over 190 walls to date, in many of our retailers. These walls callout the specific benefits of compression – increased blood flow, enhanced muscle

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Sock Experts (continued) stabilization, reduced leg swelling, decreased muscle soreness, improved comfort – and then the customers sit down to try on a pair of shoes and ask about the benefits of compression they just read about. The sell-through numbers in these stores strongly suggest the messaging on the walls are helping. “One other action I see our top compression retailers doing well is offering more than just tall compression socks to customers. We offer mid-cuts, low-cuts and no-show socks at lower price points then tall socks. These socks offer many of the same compression benefits, especially durability (guaranteed to last over 180 washes) and fit (anatomical design, blister-free). After a customer experiences the ride of one of these socks they tend to graduate over to a tall sock or calf sleeve.” Joe Gaither, Feetures!

Talk about cushioning and durability in socks. Do socks wear out like running shoes? And how often should they be replaced? “Durability is one of our brand promises so we consider that to be a key product characteristic. If someone pays a premium price for running socks, they want them to last. Durability is the result of many different factors, including yarn, thread count and cushioning. When developing products you’re constantly trying to strike the right balance between comfort and durability. “Even though socks can hold up for a long time, they still need to be replaced. Moisture wicking, fit and overall comfort are diminished over time. Every person that slips on a new pair of socks knows that replacing your socks feels good and it’s necessary for 10

James Jesserer, Thorlo

How important is packaging in selling socks? “Packaging is fundamentally critical and should both complete as well as communicate the product story in the most succinct way possible — like commercial poetry. Even in a running store setting, no company should be foolish enough to allow anyone else to tell their product story without a script. Packaging content provides that script.” Tom Weber, Wrightsock Feetures! PF Relief Socks in No Show Tab, MSRP $29.99

performance as well. “Socks should be replaced about as often as running shoes. Customers visiting running stores should be educated about this.” Talk about the different yarns you use and why? “We use a variety of natural and synthetic yarns. The most recognizable being polyester, microfiber nylon, and Merino wool. These fibers are all wellknown for their moisture wicking properties and soft feel. They all have various levels of durability. We find the synthetic fibers are more durable, while Merino fibers have anti-odor properties that people really like. “We recently launched our Merino 10 socks using a new Merino yarn that is spun without any twists, allowing for a loftier, lighter fabric that wicks better. In this blend we also integrated a fiber called Tencel, an eco-friendly performance yarn made from the eucalyptus tree. When it’s combined with Merino wool it provides a softer hand and durability.”

Do socks wear out? And how important is cushioning in socks? “Every sock is going to wear out. Socks should be replaced with every new shoe purchase. The standard rule is three new socks for every shoe: a pair for your feet, a pair in the laundry and a pair in the drawer. “As for cushioning, Joe and Jill Lunchbucket runner who shop at Dick’s are going to perceive thick cushioning as an important component of running socks. But if you take a thick cushioned sock and hold it between your thumb and forefinger, you’ll realize that the sock is not absorbing any impact. Cushioning comes from the shoe itself or, in many cases, an after-market insole. The more sophisticated runners who shop run specialty know that.” Bob MacGillivray Drymax

Talk about the role of socks in keeping feet dry? “For runners, moisture is the foot’s worst enemy causing painful, even race-ending blisters. In cold weather, moisture pulls heat away 23 times faster than air, which can lead to frostbite. Socks are an often overlooked or under-researched vital component that acts as the interface

between your foot and shoe protecting the feet from moisture. Socks are present to break the blister cycle caused by heat, moisture and friction.” What is wicking actually? “Wicking fibers are often made from polyester, nylon, acrylic or wool and are hydrophilic (waterliking) because they have both positive and negative charges on their surfaces that attract the negative and positive charges of water or sweat molecules. Because wicking fibers attract moisture, they hold moisture against the skin, keeping skin wet inside the shoe. “Once wet, wicking fiber socks remain wet until the slow process of evaporation inside the shoe takes place. Drymax uses wicking fibers as our outer yarn away from the foot as part of our exclusive Dual Layer Sweat Removal System where we knit our proprietary super hydrophobic (water-hating) Drymax yarn against on the skin side so it can mechanically lift the moisture off the foot and store the moisture away from the foot. Why don’t you make Drymax socks with super thick padding? “Depending on their intended use, Drymax run socks are level 1 or 2 flat knit (thin), or are level 3, 4 or 5 cushioning. For the terry loop cushioning we utilize dense cushioning, rather than super thick cushioning, as it cushions and protects with minimal altering of the fit of the shoes. Some runners like to wear the thinnest socks available. Thin socks inherently provide little protection from moisture, frictional hot spots or blisters; therefore, they have not been suitable to wear for long distance runs/races.” n © 2019 Diversified Communications

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The Sock Market 2019 What’s new for store shelves this season from some of the major hosiery suppliers.

BALEGA: Left to right, Balega’s Silver with antimicrobial treatment and Dynamix moisture management yarn; the Ultralight and Ultralight No Show.

CEP: New styles from CEP, the Ice no-show (top) and the Dark Blue mid-cut, are anatomically designed and feature high performance yarns that offer heat and moisture management.


DARN TOUGH: Top to bottom, Men’s Vertex No Show Tab Ultra-Light Cushion; Men’s Vertex UltraLight Cushion; Women’s Vertex No Show Tab UltraLight. All feature seamless construction.

DRYMAX: Top to bottom, Expro Hyper Thin; Light Trail Quarter Crew; Running Light Mesh Mini Crew.

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THORLO: The new Edge features a Cushioned Suspension System that hugs the contours of the foot and promises faster acceleration in straightaways. OS1ST: OS1st offers socks with a purpose to relieve discomfort from Plantar Fasciitis and Bunions.

FEETURES!: Elite Max Cushion combines patented Targeted Compression with Max Cushion for added impact protection.

WRIGHTSOCK: Top, Women’s Specific CoolMeshll Tab — Style 703 in BlueMist/Purple. Below, Women’s Specific CoolMeshll Lo Qtr Style 704 in Lucite.

SENSORIA: The Smart Sock. Once connected to the new Sensoria Run 2.0 app for iOS, runners receive actionable information from Sensoria’s artificial intelligence coach, Mara, on how to run farther, faster and healthier.

Sockology: A Glossary of Terms • Coolmax: The brand name for a series of polyester fabrics developed and marketed by Invista (formerly Dupont). Coolmax is marketed as moisture-wicking and breathable. As a polyester, it is moderately hydrophobic, so it absorbs little fluid and dries relatively quickly (compared to absorbent fibers such as cotton). • Merino: Fine, soft-to-the-skin fibers from Merino sheep, originally from Spain, now often sourced from New Zealand and Australia. Merino absorbs moisture without feeling damp, pulling it away from the skin to evaporate into the environment. • Mohair: Long, smooth fibers from the Angora goat, largely produced in South Africa. Mohair has similar moisture management and insulating properties as Merino, with a silky sheen against the skin. • Polyester: A smooth, synthetic fiber used primarily for its hydrophobic properties. Proprietary blends often have brand names like Coolmax, DriWright, Thor-Wick and Drynamix. • Nylon: Synthetic fiber that is strong, soft to the touch and lightweight. Enhances durability and shape retention, but reduces moisture. • Elastane/Spandex/Lycra: Synthetic rubber-like fiber that creates

stretchiness and support/snugness, but breaks down quicker. • Olefin: A light, strong, stain-resistant synthetic that is highly hydrophobic, moving moisture quickly without gaining weight. • Repreve: A brand of fibers from Unifi that is certified to contain recycled materials, including plastic water bottles. • Tencel: Made from eucalyptus wood pulp, a fine, smooth fiber that absorbs moisture and transports it away from the skin. • TruRelease: Proprietary technology from Unifi that wicks moisture and evaporates quickly, keeping the wearer cool and dry. • TruTemp365: A proprietary high-tech fiber from Unifi built into fabrics to perform in hot or cold weather. Fabrics using TruTemp365 create a microclimate between the wearer and the fabric. • TruFresh: Unifi yarn technology that helps to inhibit the growth of odorcausing bacteria on fabrics. TruFresh works by inhibiting the growth of odor-causing bacteria, mold, mildew and algae on fabrics. • TruSpring: Unifi technology that provides socks with lightweight cushion and resilience for bounce-back comfort. The technology is in the yarn structure. n

© 2019 Diversified Communications



Sole Reflection Joel Feinberg reflects on his nine-year run as the owner of Universal Sole in Chicago / By Daniel P. Smith


n a cold January night in Chicago, Joel Feinberg settles into the corner of an Irish pub in Chicago. He points his eyes ahead, leans in and shares a confession. “This is going to be difficult,” Feinberg says. It’s understandable. After all, no one owns a running specialty store to someday close its doors. In 2017, though, Feinberg did just that when he shuttered Universal Sole — an independent business that had survived in Chicago for nearly 20 years, a store that had approached $1 million in annual sales and an operation that had earned its share of recognition, including the National Community Involvement Award at The Running Event in 2016. “You can’t imagine how hard that decision was,” Feinberg says. The Path to Ownership

Universal Sole debuted on Chicago’s running scene in 1999 when Paul Peters opened the store in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, among the city’s hippest patches of residential life. Under Peters’ ownership, the store hummed along, setting roots in Chicago’s running landscape with a competitive racing team, a friendly, grassroots vibe and a diverse collection of races that bolstered the store’s profile. “I loved so much about Universal Sole and the vibe [Peters] had built there,” Feinberg recalls. So much so, in fact, that Feinberg accepted an overture from Peters to purchase the business in 2008. After a decade of working to drive others’ success – Clif Bar, vitaminwater and Red Bull among them – Feinberg yearned to write his own story. “I wanted my own business,” he says flatly. “And short of being a professional athlete, this was my path to make a mark in the running industry.” 14

Universal Sole opened in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood in 1999. Joel Feinberg took ownership of the store in 2008.

A Chicago area native who ran collegiately at Indiana University, Feinberg was no stranger to run specialty. Years prior, he had worked the floor at Vertel’s, one of the nation’s earliest entrants into the running retail channel, before spending seven years as a field manager at Clif Bar, where he regularly serviced run specialty accounts, including Universal Sole. Feinberg entered into the deal with eyes wide open, well aware of Universal Sole’s business and its place in the Chicago market. “I knew I had the energy and effort to be successful,” he says, “and I was excited to take over a business people knew and enjoyed.” Feinberg took to ownership with an earnest mix of optimism and energy, seeking to leverage some of the store’s existing assets while injecting his own perspective and

ideas into the mix. He subtly remodeled the 1800-square-foot storefront, though he didn’t dare touch the old track spikes and running posters that adorned the walls and spoke to Universal Sole’s heritage. He brought in new vendors and leaned up the staff to three full-time employees. He refreshed the logo and promoted community-driven programming with a highly social spin, events such as Pilates & Pancakes and Taproom Runs. “I kept a lot of the infrastructure, but tweaked the way we went to market because I saw some opportunities to grow with a changing clientele,” Feinberg says. An Encouraging Start

From the beginning, Feinberg set a simple, clear goal: “Let’s win our square mile,” he’d often encourage his staff, pointing to the neighborhood’s young professionals and

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WE’LL GO TO ANY LENGTH TO MAKE THE BEST COMPRESSION SOCK. More than ever, the new CEP 3.0 No-Shows improve blood flow, boost energy and help alleviate pain, thanks to the remarkable 3.0 fit, which features an anatomically-sized arch and generous cushioning. Bioactive yarns deliver even more comfort. CEP No-Shows give athletes the perfect everyday way to embrace the pressure.


Universal Sole (continued)

In his early days at the helm of Universal Sole, Joel Feinberg installed novel community events that deepened relationships with customers.

remodeled homes as proof of the store’s long runway. By year two, Feinberg says he could “feel the renaissance” as Universal Sole hosted packet pickups with upstart races and novel fun runs like a bottle-sharing craft beer run that brought upwards of 150 runners into the store. Sales climbed and the $1 million revenue mark, a magical threshold for many of the nation’s running stores, sat within reach. “We seemed to be pulling all the right levers,” Feinberg says. The positive momentum fueled Feinberg’s ambition. In 2012, Universal Sole debuted a retail shop in conjunction with the Running Institute in downtown Chicago. The following year, Feinberg opened a Universal Sole location in Chicago’s Lakeshore East neighborhood, a retail operation paired with a physical therapy clinic. Though Feinberg initially 16

pulled Universal Sole out of the race business – “I wanted to do one thing, the retail store, and do that well,” he says. – he began slowly introducing new races, including resurrecting the store’s groundbreaking trail race series. The races provided the store an additional revenue stream as well as additional contact points with customers. “With the new stores and races, we were developing an entirely new customer base,” Feinberg says. But entrepreneurship has a price. “Even though we were at almost at $1 million in sales [at our flagship store], there’s still a lot of risk in owning a small business,” Feinberg reminds. The Shifting Winds of Retail

By Feinberg’s fourth year at the helm of Universal Soul, the progress began to slow. Between

a shifting retail environment, swelling competition and some ambitious plays on Feinberg’s part, Universal Sole’s sales began sliding and the store’s financial health dimmed. Looking back now, with hindsight being what it is, Feinberg sees pragmatic actions he could have taken to better shape Universal Sole’s future. With online retail cutting into brickand-mortar sales, for instance, he could have initiated honest conversations with his vendor reps about tightening up inventory. He could have put his energy into consistently building and evolving the flagship Universal Sole store rather than dabbling in additional units. “Know what’s working and keep feeding that, right?” he says. In June 2014, Feinberg took a full-time marketing position with Goose Island Brewing Company. That move removed Feinberg from the store’s payroll, ensuring he wasn’t pulling any financial resources out of Universal Sole. But with Feinberg’s daily attention elsewhere, things were easily overlooked. For starters, marketing, so central to the store’s initial revenue surge, became an afterthought. “No one in the store was doing marketing because that wasn’t in their wheelhouse,” he says. The End of the Run

As early as 2014, Feinberg began looking for a buyer, but the store’s books didn’t paint a pretty picture and potential deals never ventured much beyond exploratory conversations. In 2016, acquisition talks with one buyer advanced, but the deal disintegrated as the buyer pursued a different growth strategy. Later that same year, Feinberg’s

In December 2016, just weeks after Universal Sole had picked up the National Community Involvement Award as one of the nation’s most community-driven running stores, Feinberg acknowledged the frigid truth. closest advisors staged an intervention. His accountant put the numbers in front of everyone. “It’s time,” they collectively told Feinberg, “time to cut your losses.” In December 2016, just weeks after Universal Sole had picked up the National Community Involvement Award as one of the nation’s most communitydriven running stores, Feinberg acknowledged the frigid truth. He walked into Universal Sole and told his team that the store would be closing when its current lease expired in September 2017. Staff, and eventually customers, pushed Feinberg to consider alternatives, including a GoFundMe page. Feinberg declined. “It’s like sprinting at the end of a race,” he says. “If you had that much at the end, then what the hell were you doing in the middle?” Feinberg wanted to exit as gracefully as possible. “Ultimately, you decide how your business will go,” he says. Weeks before Universal Sole ceased operations on Sept. 30, 2017, Feinberg posted a video announcement of the store’s closing on its Facebook page. He spoke passionately of serving the running community and of his genuine love for the business and the interactions it sparked. © 2019 Diversified Communications


Universal Sole (continued) With the retail store’s end imminent, some close to Feinberg advised him to sell Universal Sole’s events arm. “Wash your hands of it completely,” they urged him. But the events business remained a profitable slice of the Universal Sole pie and a way Feinberg could extract something from an otherwise bleak situation. “The races were a bright spot and something worth saving,” he says. A New Discipline

The Universal Sole name endures in Chicago’s running scene with a four-race trail series that has an energized following.

“This is a very hard thing because we poured a lot into this and we just couldn’t see any other way to keep going,” he said on the video post. The Second Act

Still today, more than two years after reporting his verdict 18

to staff, Feinberg’s pain in that decision remains evident. He speaks fondly of using running as a vehicle to connect people, describing Universal Sole as the “Cheers” of running stores — “We knew everybody’s name,” he beams. And appreciates that he was

able to test his entrepreneurial gut at a time when many of his peers felt locked into their careers. “I was able to do my own thing, albeit at a price,” he says. Yet there is one thing Feinberg held onto, one piece of Universal Sole that remains and, in fact, continues to thrive.

Com m it ted to ret a in ing Universal Sole Running Events, Feinberg did so, though only with a more calculated, disciplined focus that includes rejecting external capital and existing solely on registration and sponsorship. “This is managing your business and staying within your means,” Feinberg says. Today, Universal Sole’s spirit ticks on with a crowd-pleasing, four-race trail race series — its flagship Burgers & Beer 5K that brings about 1000 participants to Chicago’s Soldier Field, the 700-runner Universal Sole 4 Mile Classic and a collection of fun runs scattered across the 12-month calendar. Even amid Chicago’s frigid winters, Universal Sole’s monthly Burgers & Beer fun run attracts upwards of 70 people, while its trail races regularly approach 500-plus registrants. “That’s a testament to what Universal Sole still means to people,” Feinberg says. And proof, he adds, that there’s life after closing up shop. “We might not have a shingle anymore, but Universal Sole lives on.” n © 2019 Diversified Communications


The Big Chill Specialty retail needs to be warm and welcoming, not cool and passive. / By Tom Griffen


energy and vibe. I couldn’t wait to hear what folks had to say. For this topic I got things rolling. Said something about reciprocal energy — the floor staff’s attitude always reflected in the customer’s response to them. Somewhere in the ensuing flow a retailer described his ideal energy as chill. “I want my staff to emit a chill vibe,” he said. Other folks nodded, seemingly agreeing that being chill is a desirable retail trait. The word, however, stirred me up a bit. I did a quick self-check and realized that it made my skin crawl. I wanted to push back, but we

Before long we were all situated in small groups, bellied up to large, round tables. The moderator offered a prompt and someone at each table started a conversation to build upon it. It made sense that our first topic dealt with our “why.” As in, why do we do what we do? Had we started with anything else, I might have raised an eyebrow. We talked for 10 minutes before a new topic was introduced over the loudspeaker. This cycle continued for an hour. Not a bad format, I thought. The host’s third conversation starter was

were already nine minutes into the topic and I didn’t want my overzealous dissatisfaction to carry us into overtime. For the rest of the session, I couldn’t shake that ugly word. Chill. After the event, I spent some time meditating on my hangup. I tried my best to get at why it struck such a sensitive chord. Here’s what I came up with: Chill, at least in my understanding, is a kind of coolness. But there’s a difference. Cool and chill occupy opposite ends of a spectrum. Cool is active, chill is passive.


Chill is not warm. It is not kind. It’s not thinking about anyone else. Chill eschews intentionality and passion. It’s way too selfabsorbed. It’s tired and bored. Personified, the word chill stayed out way too late last night. I get it. Chill is a buzz word these days. Like onboarding and showrooming. Still, I don’t think retail can use it and be good. Frankly, chill retail ain’t specialty. Chill is not warm. It is not kind. It’s not thinking about anyone else. Chill eschews intentionality and passion. It’s way too self-absorbed. It’s tired and bored. Personified, the word chill stayed out way too late last night. A smart specialty shop is precisely not chill at all. It mindfully approaches each day with a desire to do great things. It lives and breathes a succinct value system that guides its work ethic. True specialty has a solid opinion and shares it regularly with staff and customers. As such, it attracts employees who live and breathe the same. Which means they aren’t chill. Since that event, when I hear the word chill associated with retail, I immediately interject. I refuse to allow my colleagues, even those big-box giants, to evolve into a something stodgy and drab. Why? Because I respect customers. I believe that people, in general, deserve the best of each other. All the time. And the way I see it, chill douses any spark towards greatness. Chill’s got its place. But one thing’s for sure, the place is not specialty. n

© 2019 Diversified Communications

Photo by James Padolsey on Unsplash

ot long ago I was sitting in a room filled with retailers of all sorts. It was a networking event — one designed to give us all a chance to learn from each other. Yes, there were a few representatives from run specialty, but the vast cross section of other retailers was impressive. Everything from multi-door big box types to century-old ma-and-pa’s. There was even a florist in the room. Must have been at least 1000 years of retail wisdom milling about. I, for one, couldn’t wait to get to mingling.


OS1st Has a Purpose With 2019 Sock Line Compression brand is committed to run specialty with its new Socks With Purpose® program.


ecoming more and more important to run specialty retailers, OS1st (pronounced “O-S-First”) is the top selling brand in compression bracing for the run market. Using medical grade compression and a patented process called Compression Zone Technology®, OS1st varies the levels of compression in each of its garments to target different injuries and conditions such as Plantar Fasciitis, Bunions, Shin Splints and Patellar Tendonitis. Based in Hickory, NC, this three-generation family business has dedicated itself to developing products that will allow all types of “athletes” to treat and prevent injuries while doing whatever activity they love. Now in 2019 OS1st has unveiled a revolutionary Socks with Purpose® (SWP) line, a medical grade compression program offering customers pain solutions to the most common and problematic issues faced by millions of people daily. “What makes SWP unique is that we are not just another compression sock,”

Why Carry SWP

“The advantage of SWP is that we do not compete with any other sock in the store,” says Tommy Nason. Because we are not just another sock, we add new customers to the business. OS1st socks increase profitability by maximizing dollar per square foot while unifying the compression story in a unique way that allows retailers the opportunity to creatively interact with customers.” “We strive to be the brand and product that run specialty stores can rely on to help their customer treat and prevent their injuries in a medically safe and proven way,” adds Josh Higgins “Our goal is to provide product that everyone trusts will do what we say it will.” “We also want to be viewed as a partner,” he adds. “As a family business, we know and understand the challenges that a run specialty retailer faces. We also know what it feels like when you achieve success in the right way.”

says national sales manager Tommy Nason. “Our socks are based on the patented Compression Zone Technology (CZT) platform found in the FS6 Foot Sleeve. Our socks lift and stretch the Plantar Fascia and compress the Achilles in a specific way. Only OS1st has this technology and our brand is considered to be the expert in the category.” “SWP is designed to not be just another sock on the wall,” he adds. Because of the technical nature of SWP, run specialty is the focus of the line, says president Josh Higgins. “The independent market will always come first for OS1st, period. Their customers want expert advice from their local specialty dealer. There’s no other retail avenue that can offer this to the runner.” OS1st is supporting SWP with a full merchandising plan that draws the compression category into one unified story that is easy to understand and allows the retailer to better explain pain management to its customers.


FS4 Plantar Fasciitis Sock: The FS4 offers Plantar Fascia lift and stretch through patented CZT technology. It also compresses the Achilles for tendonitis issues, reduces swelling through compression and improves blood flow.

FS4+: The FS4+ offers Plantar Fascia lift and stretch through CZT technology, with full belowthe-knee compression with targeted zones on the Achilles, calf and shin splint area.

BR4 Bunion Relief Sock: The BR4 offers mid-foot compression support to assist with PF prevention. Toe separation between the big and second toe reduces friction on the skin and a soft bunion

WP4 – Wellness Performance Sock: The WP4 is geared toward active athletes with sensitive feet. It contains targeted padding with nano bamboo charcoal and light gradient compression.

pad improves comfort.

Want to learn more about Socks With Purpose? Contact Tommy Nason / National Sales Manager / / 919-630-5569


running shorts Pro-Tec Unveils 2019 Elite Athlete Lineup


ro-Tec Athletics recently released its 2019 Elite Athlete Lineup, a list that includes four ultra-runners making big strides in the distance running community — Dylan Bowman, Krissy Moehl, Jeff Browning and Gina Lucrezi. • Dylan Bowman has established himself as a top ultra-runner in America by taking first place at Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji and in the Tarawera 100 Mile Endurance Run during 2018. This year he has set his sights on more international 100-mile adventures. • Krissy Moehl (shown in photo) is a top 22

ultramarathon runner with more than 100 races and 55 wins to her name. In addition to racing, she stays active in the running community by coaching, writing and race directing the Chuckanut 50k. • Jeff Browning, also known as Bronco Billy, is an endurance coach and accomplished ultra-runner. He has 18 years of competitive ultra-running under his belt and 100-plus ultramarathon finishes. His most recent race was the Tarawera 100 Mile Endurance Run in New Zealand, where he finished in first place and set a course record, despite a mistake at mile 16 that forced him

to take a 40-minute detour. • Gina Lucrezi is an indoor track national champion and 10-time All American. Most recently she has taken up trail running and established Trail Sisters, a women’s trail running community that aims to increase women’s participation and opportunity in trail running through inspiration, education and empowerment. These ultra-runners join a handful of other sports-related Pro-Tec Elite Athletes to continue to reinforce Pro-Tec’s goal of helping athletes recover, restore and perform their best. n

© 2019 Diversified Communications


running shorts New products from GU Energy and Curve Ball enhance the running experience. New Flavor from GU Energy Labs

GU Energy Labs has unveiled its newest Energy Gel flavor, Hoppy Trails. Inspired by the celebratory cold beer many enjoy at the end of a long training session or race, this latest flavor provides athletes with an Energy Gel that delivers perfectly balanced, flavorful hops and mild citrus notes. Part of the original Energy Gel collection, Hoppy Trails is the latest product featuring a

bitter flavor profile, following the launch of the CHAi LATTe Roctane Energy Gel last year. In order to help athletes avoid flavor burnout during long-duration activities, and to offer pleasant distractions with flavor, GU focuses on crafting a variety of new and delicious flavors that help counterbalance one another. The naturally flavored Hoppy Trails Energy Gel brings the brewery to the trails in a portable and easy-to-digest form. The 100-calorie packets contain carbohydrates that use non-competing pathways to help maximize carbohydrate absorption and utilization while diminishing stomach distress. This energy gel is a caffeine-free option and it does not contain alcohol.

Throwing a Curve Ball

The Curve Ball, MSRP $25, from Tiger Tail USA, is a stationary foam roller for deep tissue muscle massage. This patentpending tool offers stable and controlled deep muscle massage — the orange, flat base is grippy, which means it won’t slide around and allows it to stay in one place for sustained traction on the muscle. n


Alleviate symptoms of pain, minor soft tissue tears, strains, tracking issues, Tendinitis and Arthritis. Medical grade compression ranging from 20mmHg to 30mmHg depending on compression zone location.

Flat Stitch Technology allows customized stitching to achieve 3D shaping of the fabric for an optimum fit. Breathable, multi-directional stretch allows full range of motion while maintaining high level of support.

YOUR FOR SPORTS MEDICINE © 2019 Diversified Communications