Ready, Set, Go!
Specialty Running Retailers Sound off on Key Issues for 2019.
What do you see as the biggest challenges impacting the running retail business in 2019?
“The biggest challenge in 2019 will be the growing competition that we see with our own vendors from their websites. As long as they play fair, and not play the price card that we cannot compete against, we will be fine. Flash sales and deep discounting from our suppliers hurts us tremendously. It conditions the customer to never pay full retail and instead just wait for the next super sale. It also plants the seed in the mind of our customers that we are overcharging them for our products.” — Perry Slaughter, Run Fit Sports (GA)
“The biggest challenge impacting the specialty running retail channel is direct-to-consumer. Although brands say only a small percentage of people buy on their websites, I am not totally buying it. Even if it’s a small percentage, it is a growing percentage and brands are investing more and more in it. Why wouldn’t they? We need to figure out a better way for brands’ e-commerce businesses and run specialty brick-and-mortar to coexist and thrive together in the same channel.” — Nicholas Stanko, Ann Arbor Running Company
“MAP programs and shipping costs. [Brands] can direct [consumers] to [specialty] stores and not their website. Online vendor stores offer customers the opportunity to buy shoes now/at once and get free shipping. Meanwhile, we retailers write orders six months in advance and we pay our freight and theirs... it seems.” — Mike Shuman, Shu’s Idaho Running Company
“Speed. We’re the path of most resistance to the consumer. If they choose to spend their time shopping brick-and-mortar we need to be able to deliver the product immediately, and if we don’t have it we need to be able to deliver it in two days to their doorstep for free. We need to work with the vendors to help expedite the process — it’s a win for both of us.” — Jeff Metzdorff, Mill City Running (MN)
What are you most optimistic about, business-wise, in 2019?
“Even though they say less people are defining themselves as runners these days, I think people are more than ever getting excited about getting outside to explore and test their limits in other ways than just races. As run specialty shops, we have been blessed with the opportunity to create communities that are inspiring and to support people in their endeavors. Yes, we need to be profitable to stay in business, but we need to continue to put the people first.” — Nicholas Stanko, Ann Arbor Running Company
“I’m optimistic about Hoka, Brooks, Saucony, Altra and New Balance and what they bring to the local specialty running stores.” — Mike Shuman, Shu’s Idaho Running Company
“We’re seeing the consumer come back to specialty. Gone is the glut of inventory from big-box bankruptcies and we’ve seen some of the weaker players in our space close shop. The best stores are innovating, enhancing the customer experience and are bringing the entire channel with them.” — Jeff Metzdorff, Mill City Running
“The growth we had in 2018. After 16 years, its hard to grow the business, but I feel like we are going to be up again in 2019. It already started ‘guns blazin.’” — Dink Taylor, Fleet Feet Huntsville (AL)
“I am optimistic that the market has stabilized from the retail chaos that we experienced in 2017. It seems that the ultra price-conscious internet shoppers have abandoned us, leaving the customers that value the expertise and personal service that we offer. This makes for a more pleasant environment for my staff and they are thriving in it.” — Perry Slaughter, Run Fit Sports
On the product side, what are you looking forward to in 2019?
“Brooks — the customer service is superior, the footwear and apparel is always first class in fit. Hoka One One — I am still amazed how they continue to be a top brand in footwear. And Strava — Fleet Feet is handing out prizes to customers who log miles, basically rewarding people for running. I like having our customers more involved with the store, very exciting for 2019.” — Dink Taylor, Fleet Feet Huntsville
“I am excited about the 3D foot scanning technology that sets us apart from the two dimensional equipment that we have been using for years. It is not enough for the customer to be given the best expertise and service. They need to be wowed and receive a truly special experience that they will be compelled to go out into the community and share with others. The latest 3D foot scanning technology accomplishes this goal, lifting our in-store experience to new heights.” — Perry Slaughter, Run Fit Sports
“I’m eager to see how consumers react to the new wave of Nike Vaporfly imitators. Nearly every major brand has a skunkworks operation tuning their version of a high cushioned, carbon plate propelled shoe. What remains to be seen is will the customer be willing to buy a shoe that has a similar price point but nowhere near the hype.” — Jeff Metzdorff, Mill City Running
“I hope more brands will put a little more time and energy into run specialty-only products. Not kind of run specialty-only, but 100 percent run specialty-only. If the channel is going to survive and thrive we need things like this.” — Nicholas Stanko, Ann Arbor Running Company
“We are more focused on premium products and premium service across all categories, brand and products. Also, we are continuing to focus on increasing turns by being careful of inventory levels.” — Chris Lampen-Crowell, Gazelle Sports (MI)