In 2023, Fleet Feet, the franchisor of locally owned and operated run specialty stores, expanded significantly, opening 19 new stores – a four-store increase from previous years. Fleet Feet started 2024 with a store count of 291 (which includes Marathon Sports, acquired by Fleet Feet in 2022).
Joey Pointer, Fleet Feet’s president and CEO, tells us, “Looking ahead this year, our commitment remains strong as we aim to reach 400 community-based retail stores. We are actively exploring ways to engage with prospective franchisees, ensuring our expansion aligns with the communities we serve. The focus is on steady growth, reflecting our dedication to providing quality retail experiences across the country.”
Pointer is quick to note that in 2023, 15 of the new Fleet Feet locations were established by franchisees entering new markets, including Canton, GA, Inlet Beach, FL, and The Villages, FL. And, he says, many existing Fleet Feet franchisees expanded their footprints by opening second and third stores. Another noteworthy development was converting Montgomery MultiSport in Montgomery, AL, into a Fleet Feet store.
Here, Pointer talks to us about
the current state of the market and
tells us more about Fleet Feet’s plans
for the future.
Runstyle: Where do you see the most innovation and buzz coming from in 2024 when it comes to products or categories?
Joey Pointer: “We’re observing a significant shift in buzz within the industry, particularly driven by platforms like TikTok and YouTube, and the rise of social media influencers.
At the NYC Marathon in November, we hosted 20 community events in our Columbus Circle store throughout the week leading up to the marathon. The impact social media influencers had on those events, driving attendance and engagement within the community was striking, highlighting a unique moment where influencers have the potential to generate more buzz on products than traditional athletes or brands.
While there will undoubtedly be noteworthy product innovation and developments this year, one of the most interesting things we’re seeing is how social media platforms and influencers are shaping a dynamic and evolving landscape within the industry.”
When adding new brands into the mix at Fleet Feet, what are the most important things you’re looking for in a brand?
“First and foremost a great product.”
Can you address how Fleet Feet is balancing the brick-and-mortar experience with digital efforts as we move deeper into 2024?
“Fleet Feet is prioritizing and enhancing its brick-and-mortar experiences as we progress through 2024. Instead of transitioning more towards a digital-centric model, we are doubling down on our commitment to community-based retail. The goal is to provide customers with an immersive and personalized in-store experience.
While we acknowledge the significance of digital platforms, our strategy involves utilizing them as tools to complement and augment the brick-and-mortar experience. Digital initiatives are geared towards attracting and engaging customers, ultimately encouraging them to visit our stores. This approach is rooted in our belief that the in-person shopping experience offers unique advantages, such as hands-on product interaction, personalized consultations with our outfitters, and a sense of community that online interactions simply can’t replicate.
Our belief is that community-based retail offers unique advantages that go beyond online interactions. It fosters a sense of belonging and connection, creating a shopping environment that extends beyond transactions. By integrating digital efforts strategically, we aim to seamlessly bridge the physical and digital aspects of our business, ensuring that customers can enjoy the best of both worlds in their retail experience.”
What is the digital target as a percentage of overall sales? Did it rise above 15 percent for all of 2023?
“We exceeded 15% for 2023 and have significant room to continue growing our digital footprint in 2024.”
Can you tell us about Fleet Feet’s loyalty program? How many members currently? How is it working? Will you change anything about the program this year?
“We launched the first iteration of our brand-wide loyalty program in 2019; today, we have three million active loyalty members.
One of the things I’m most excited about in 2024 is launching our reimagined rewards program. The new program will offer updated benefits in a tiered structure to increase customer engagement and continue to drive brand loyalty. Stay tuned as we get closer to launching and share more details.”
In 2023, “Reasons We Run” was a key slogan/campaign for Fleet Feet. Can you tell us about it? What impact did it have? What’s next?
“As our first cross-channel national brand campaign, ‘Reasons We Run’ exceeded our expectations and will continue to serve as our brand platform throughout 2024.
The goal of the campaign was really rooted in growing awareness and reaching new customers. Our distribution strategy included Spotify, Hulu and YouTube – all of which introduced Fleet Feet to a significantly expanded audience in each of our local markets.
We’ve also found great success with our organic content strategy. The stories our customers have shared and continue to share from across our communities speaks to our belief that running has the power to change lives.”
In 2026, two years from now, Fleet Feet will celebrate its 50th anniversary. What are some of the business objectives, and milestones that the company hopes to reach by then?
“As Fleet Feet approaches its 50th anniversary in 2026, our goal to be the best national resource for local running remains unwavering. We are committed to making substantial strides in bringing that goal to life, with a focus on growing our store count, elevating brand awareness, and, most importantly, serving more communities and customers.
As we approach this significant 50-year milestone, our celebration will not only be a reflection of our achievements but also an opportunity to express gratitude. We will acknowledge and honor the invaluable contributions of our employees, franchisees and loyal customers who have played a pivotal role in shaping Fleet Feet’s success.”
Do you have any specific, personal business objectives as you approach your 20th year working at Fleet Feet?
“As I approach my 20th year with
Fleet Feet, one personal goal is to embark on a van trip across the country, visiting Fleet Feet stores from coast to coast and back. The goal is to connect with employees, witness firsthand how different stores engage with their local communities and participate in some epic runs along the way.
This journey is not only about celebrating the achievements of the past two decades but also about immersing myself in the diverse and vibrant Fleet Feet community that spans the nation.”
What is your outlook on the run specialty retail industry overall in 2024 and beyond?
“Our best days are still yet to come.”