With a sprint to the finish, Running Insight senior writer Daniel P. Smith accomplished his ambitious feat at the 2021 edition of The Running Event. In one 45-minute session, Smith shared 101 of the smartest, savviest and sharpest ideas he has seen America’s run shops implement to ignite their respective brands and drive results. 

Leveraging a decade’s worth of stories he has penned for Running Insight, Smith’s program covered unique fun runs, strategic community outreach endeavors, creative marketing initiatives, innovative youth programs and other novel efforts from the nation’s running specialty stores.

“This was by no means a comprehensive list, but certainly a robust look at the creativity, intelligence and enterprising work of America’s run shops,” Smith says. “I hope every attendee left motivated, inspired and with a boatload of potential ideas they might adapt and apply at their respective stores.”


25 Out Of 101 

For those readers who could not attend the session – why not!?! – here is a sampling of 25 interesting ideas Smith highlighted in Austin. 


 In conjunction with his annual staff holiday party, Runner’s Edge owner Anders Brooker rents a bus for his entire team and their significant others, who then personally hand deliver carefully curated gift boxes to the store’s top 100 customers.


A past Best Running Store in America honoree, Runner’s Edge makes the effort and sends handwritten thank you notes to its top 1000 customers each holiday season.


Fleet Feet Chicago’s Historic Run Series takes runners on a guided tour of notable Windy City landmarks.


Sticking with the holiday season, Geneva Running Outfitters’ Christmas Eve Elf Run features owner Eric Ott and his crew of elves hitting streets on Christmas Eve morning randomly dispensing gifts – sunglasses, hats, water bottles, race tees – to those they encounter. 


Each shoe purchase at Louisiana-based Varsity Sports comes with a branded Varsity Sports tee that includes the store’s popular – and fitting – “Run Hard, Live Easy” tagline.


Track Shack’s Royal Flush promotion with Brooks at the Orlando Half Marathon provided race participants who purchased Brooks merchandise at Track Shack exclusive access to VIP bathrooms on race day.


Sayville Running Company’s $30 Run Around the World Challenge in April 2020 charged some 600 registered participants to collectively circle the globe in pursuit of a $30 store gift card. Since they did it twice, they received a $40 store gift card.


The First Thursday Urban Adventure Runs at Fleet Feet in Portland, OR, task runners to visit as many checkpoints as they can within an hour. Runners earn raffle tickets for each spot they hit before enjoying a lively party.


Women Who Workout and Wine is a lively, wine-filled fundraising affair hosted by Montana’s Bozeman Running Co. The event features a running fashion show, a bachelor auction and live auctions from the best of Bozeman’s small businesses.


RunAbout Sports’ High Performance Distance Academy is an overnight camp for middle school and high school runners at Virginia Tech. The camp features daily runs and professional speakers on topics such as nutrition and sports psychology. The camp also includes exposure to cross-training activities such as yoga, Pilates and spin. 


Dick Pond Athletics’ Team Bucks program directs a pre-tax percentage of each team athlete’s purchase back to their school’s cross-country or track program in the form of a Dick Pond gift card


Whirlaway Sports’ annual Captains’ Night assembles captains from local high school cross-country teams together for a pre-season night of motivation and camaraderie. The event includes guest speakers and quirky contests designed to inspire leadership and teamwork.


The shoe-tying clinics at RC Outfitters in Peoria, IL, teach youngsters how to knot their laces.


The Healdsburg Running Company’s always-popular three-day, two-night camps combine trail running, travel, fitness education and dynamic culinary experiences in northern California’s wine country.


The Ultra Running Company’s Runners Select Program is a monthly subscription service with four tiered levels ranging from $60-115 per month. The programs include free footwear, customized training programs, complimentary race registrations, member-exclusive gear and early access to sales and events.


Fleet Feet Hartford’s ambitious We Run WEHA Challenge ventured to run all 230 miles of West Hartford’s streets over the course of 2021. The store’s weekly email provided participants a 4-5 mile “route of the week” that included some route-specific factoids.


Ridgefield Running Company and its sister store in Darien introduced the 5K Passport Challenge in Summer 2020. Participants could run, walk or hike 12 unique 5K courses across two Connecticut counties. Individuals or households who completed their passport earned a personalized wood medallion.


The $50 “Mystery Box – Anything But the Shoes” available at Snail’s Pace is packed with assorted running goodies, such as performance socks, water bottles, nutrition, sunglasses, A Snail’s Pace-branded gear and store gift cards.


In response to customers’ oft-voiced claim that they’re “not really a runner,” Potomac River Running’s window graphic reminds passers-by that “everyone deserves the most comfortable, best-fitting shoe regardless of when it’s worn.”


Marathon Sports’ Winter Warrior Challenge tasks individuals to run at least one mile outside every day throughout January. If participants miss a day, they’re out.


 At the annual Runner’s Edge Treadmill Challenge, a dozen runners enter a bracket-style competition to test themselves on a treadmill set at a 12 percent grade for 10 minutes. There’s music, a lively emcee, free-flowing beer and a betting pool.


Haddonfield Running Company owner Dave Welsh regularly moves staff around the company’s four South Jersey stores, which he believes produces new experiences, new relationships and variety that keeps his team members engaged.


At its events, North Carolina-based Run For Your Life celebrates runners who have completed their first race by presenting them the Roadie Runner Medal.


Running Lab owner Ken Larscheid says offering appointments at his Michigan-based store has improved customer service and helped him better plan staffing. A “Book Appointment” tab on the store’s website allows customers to secure a time for their visit while a pre-visit questionnaire collects basic contact information.


Before the start of the nation’s earliest St. Patrick’s Day parade in Binghamton, NY, Confluence Running helps oversee The always-popular Belmar Parade Day Mile. Piggybacking on the parade route makes the mile run’s logistics more manageable and cost-effective while also providing runners a built-in, if not slightly inebriated, crowd. n

Interested in seeing all 101 of the ideas Smith presented at TRE? Contact him at
[email protected] to receive the full presentation.