By officially coming together as a corporation the group can act together as a buying group. But their overall mission is much larger than that. The group describes itself as an advocate for the channel, with a focus on issues that impact the long-term longevity and health of this industry.
“We believe in independence, innovation, and collaboration with our partners and each other in order to have a positive and lasting impact in our communities and the industry of run,” it states on Run Collective’s website (runcollective.co). “The Run Specialty Retail Collective was created to ensure the long-term prosperity of independent running specialty retailers. We will diligently serve our communities, relentlessly create better workplaces for our colleagues, and collaboratively work with brand partners to sustainably and consistently improve the performance of our respective businesses.”
The 12 retail members are Athletic Annex (Indiana), Big Peach Running Company (Georgia), Charlotte Running Company (North Carolina), Charm City Run (Maryland), Gazelle Sports (Michigan), Naperville Running Company (Illinois), Pacers Running (DC, Virginia), Playmakers (Michigan), Potomac River Running (Virginia), Runners Roost (Colorado), Salt Lake Running Company (Utah) and Skinny Raven (Alaska).
John Benedict, retired co-owner of Playmakers, is the executive director of Run Collective. He describes the formation of Run Collective as years in the making, beginning well before the idea for a formalized group existed, with several retailers sharing ideas on emails, calls and meetings — a practice that ramped up during the pandemic, and continued as business issues and challenges continue to multiply for retailers in the specialty space. Sharing best practices (and emotional support) on a monthly call amongst several running retailers spurred the eventual creation of the current corporation.
“It’s probably gone back a dozen years,” Benedict tells us. “There were several of us who wanted to do a more formalized group, and we weren’t even exactly sure what that would look like, but we knew when we got together and started talking about business, usually we all learned something valuable.”
He adds, “The key with forming the group was, could we in some way be a buying group? Absolutely. Could it be a place where we share metrics, and we share best practices? Absolutely that’s critical. We want to help each other become better retailers, in a more formalized way. And then we also want to do good things for the channel. I don’t think this group would want to exist without having some of the things we do be a model for other stores to do and be successful in the channel.”
Among the group are members who have formed the Running Industry Diversity Coalition (RIDC), which focuses on BIPOC inclusion, visibility and access in the running industry; and empowerun, which connects female leaders in the industry.
With 12 successful, independent business leaders coming together, the group is “taking it slow,” stresses Benedict. In becoming a corporation, the 12 retailers are part of a new business called Run Collective. The buying power of the group can allow for better terms on purchases. Benedict notes that often with the phrase “buying group” there can be a negative connotation, where groups hammer brands for better terms, but he stresses that Run Collective won’t and can’t operate that way. He says, “We realize the brands are truly, truly partners and we have to treat them as such, and so we’re looking for ways to work with brands as a group. Brands are important partners and not adversaries — that’s important to the group.”
Ultimately, as Run Collective moves forward, “the most important thing is to be really collaborative,” says Benedict. “The group coming together is a little bit more powerful of a voice than just being 12 independents.” And while there has been plenty of interest and word of mouth about the group within the run industry, Run Collective is “still figuring out exactly who we want to be, how we want to engage and how big we want to be.”
An example of a “really small” concept in progress, says Benedict involves handling the design and marketing of cause-based shirts that could appeal to other specialty run retailers across the country, who could join in and get a good price on buying. “It’s about sharing ideas – even on small things — the group is always thinking about how we can do things and help the channel along.”
He adds, “Run Collective wants to be a really good thing for the channel. We don’t want to ever be a detriment.”
Who Is the Run Collective?
The 12 retailers who founded the group are among the top independent run specialty retailers in North America. Currently membership is limited to the 12 founding members. (Vendors can partner with the group.)
Big Peach Running Company
Charlotte Running Company
Charm City Run
Naperville Running Company
Potomac River Running
Salt Lake Running Company