FALL 2023
A Product Data Management Revolution for Run Specialty Stores
Almost two years ago, a group of running specialty industry leaders approached the Running Industry Association (RIA) to explore a solution to a growing problem in the industry: securing and formatting consistent brand product data for retailers to use in third-party platforms necessary for store operations. Data management is time consuming and costly for retailers, and distributing data store by store is not efficient for brands.

“We saw the opportunity for something better, and felt that the RIA was the perfect organization to provide democratized access for all,” said RIA Executive Director Terry Schalow.

Since research showed that the average retailer spends as much as $30,000 annually to secure and manage brand product data, the need for a universally accessible tool became readily apparent. Thus, the RIA Product Data Collaborative, or PDC, began to take shape.

“While the project represents a significant investment of both time and financial resources, the benefits to our members will easily outweigh the costs,” Schalow explained. “In short, PDC will help all levels of the industry save a boatload of time and money!”

Additional benefits of the PDC will include a significant reduction in data corruption due to manual management. And perhaps even better, when everyone is accessing the same clean product data, the new database will foster dramatically improved transactional efficiencies across third party platforms.

Streamlining product data management for the run specialty channel

runstyle is the first running industry publication to interview the lead architect of the RIA Product Data Collaborative (PDC), Lance Muzslay. As co-owner of Sole Sports Running Zone, Lance has managed all of his company’s product buying and inventory over the past 16 years. Along the way, he developed related software. In 2020, he launched OptiO inventory management software as a solution for others in the running industry. His vast experience in dealing with product data as a retailer is complemented by his experiences with OptiO customers, who are retailers managing product data across a variety of POS systems.

runstyle: What is the PDC?

Lance Muzslay: The PDC, Product Data Collaborative, is a database that is being developed by the RIA in collaboration with Contentserv, a cloud-based service focused on scaling brand product data. The PDC will make it easy for brands to input product data and for retailers to easily access that data in a format specific for their POS systems. John Wallace, an e-commerce specialist at Playmakers Athletic Footwear and Apparel, will be the database administrator. More information about the PDC is available at https://runningindustry.org/pdc. Anyone interested in learning about getting access to the PDC can preregister on this page. Anyone interested in learning about getting access to the PDC can preregister with the QR code on the last page of this special report.

How will the system work?

Brands will upload their product data into the PDC. The system then standardizes it for retailers to easily create product assortments for uploads to POS systems, e-commerce, and digital marketing solutions. Simply put, the PDC promotes the ease of doing business. It removes the burden of gathering, formatting, and managing brand product data by providing a centralized repository that gives retailers exactly what they need with the click of a button. The PDC includes hard and soft data like model numbers, SKUs, UPC/EANs, colors (description and code), sizes, widths, wholesale costs, retail prices, MAPs, and images.

What is the timeline for launch and training?

Training will commence in October and the platform is slated to go live in November. Training will be offered through online sessions. Furthermore, the system administrator will be available to assist with questions on an on-going basis.

How intuitive and convenient will the PDC be for its users?

Ease of use is paramount for both brands and retailers. Retailers will be able to easily navigate by brand, season, and product attributes in order to select their desired data for download. Their accounts will be configured for their POS systems, and the data export files will be in a format that is compatible with their POS systems.

For a nontechnical person, how difficult will it be to learn and use?

It is being designed for ease of use by nontechnical people. When the system is ready, I anticipate that it will be intuitive and therefore have a short learning curve.

Can the PDC improve workflow across the running industry?

Instead of every retailer trudging through the same arduous processes in dealing with product data, it makes way more sense for RIA as an industry organization to reduce that burden and empower members to reap enormous value. The quality of points of sale and other systems used by RIA members is amazing, but a linchpin to maximizing their value is having good data that can be sourced painlessly.

What retailers are saying about the upcoming launch of the RIA Product Data Collaborative

“The current problem or pain point for retailers in managing product data is mainly how the data comes across in raw form, and the time it takes to get it into the correct format and into your system quickly. If that time can be reduced, that is a huge benefit. When products, sizes, colors, etc. are in our system and easily searchable, it helps employees from a speed standpoint. We specialize in getting the right shoes for customers, and it’s important to be efficient with checkout time for customers. If staff can’t easily search for the item that the customer wants, then that’s going to bog down the transaction. The PDC can help improve sales because if we can be more efficient with the customer and inventory, then we are more efficient in our space, and everyone is trying to maximize dollars per square foot. Anywhere we can maximize efficiencies will help a run specialty store improve sales.” - Ken Larscheid, founder and owner of Running Lab in Brighton, Michigan since 2011 and former brand sales rep

“With all of the SKUs, UPCs, pricing, price reductions, images, and formatting needs, it’s a big process ensuring the accuracy of data so inventory is accurate. We always have four to five people managing data, and are probably at a point where managing and updating data from hundreds if not thousands of SKUS should be someone’s full-time job. The main benefit of a universal product data management solution is having all of the data readily available in one place and in one format, rather than having to spend hours reformatting it. The PDC will help our employees when looking up special orders. They will benefit from having connected inventory from the brands all the way to the warehouse. What excites me the most about the coming launch of the RIA’s Product Data Collaborative is not spending hours of my life in excel sheets, and getting back some productivity not only for myself but for other people.” - Justin Porter of Athletic Annex in Indianapolis, Indiana, a three-store retailer celebrating its 40th anniversary

Other perspectives on the positive impact of a product data solution

“Incorrect and corrupted product data are such a barrier to stores being able to properly and efficiently run, understand their business, and make it better. One way that bad data affects running stores is how it limits their ability to determine where to get their best ROI. Bad data even affects the value of the business, because we look at product data to see what is sold and not sold, and inaccurate data can undervalue sales numbers. The PDC will give us the ability to understand what is really selling in the market, creating new opportunities. It will be a game changer, providing better management of inventory so better partnerships can be developed between retailers and brands. The RIA is taking an incredibly fragmented marketplace and bringing it together with common purpose. Data management has been a barrier for as long as I remember. Improving how we function online, go to market, operate, and collaborate – that all excites me. It’s a significant deal.” - Parker Karnan, co-owner and general manager of Karnan Associates, a full-service business consulting firm, and a former brand rep in the run specialty industry since 1991

“Brands have so much data to share and numerous places where we need to share it. If a change is made to any of the data, making sure it is communicated to all parties properly is a massive challenge. The PDC will allow us to share information in a timely manner and give us the ability to instantly communicate any product, pricing, item number, or data change. With a centralized data-sharing platform, brands will be able to spend more time thinking about what drives the business and less time consumed with reacting to requests for information. Reps, who have a number of competing priorities, will be able to spend more time working with accounts to find ways to support their business at a local level versus making sure they have the latest line lists.” - Paul Perrone of Implus, a family of brands such as Balega, TriggerPoint, Spenco, and RockTape

“In my research, I have found that more than 42% of the products sold by run specialty retailers do not use the same UPC codes that brands use, making it very difficult for retailers to track sales history. Why is this happening? It’s because making data consistent requires tons of time. It’s a never-ending job of sending emails, doing Excel work, and constant oversight. And while the data indirectly affects the bottom line, retailers have more immediate priorities: there are always customers to serve, inventory to keep stocked, employees to train, you name it. And companies like ours need the time back in our day just as much as retailers do. We have to keep our product catalog updated, too. If we don’t have data from all brands, our software seems incomplete. Having the PDC and a single source of truth will not only save us time, but it will also make our product that much more effective.” - Coleman Conley of Upper Quadrant, providing software to help retailers understand sales trends and leverage marketing data