Chelsea Kipp got her start in the running industry during the summer of her freshman year of college when she walked up and down the main street of her neighborhood with a stack of resumes and got a part-time job at her local run shop. She recalls how working in retail forced her to come out of her shell and develop confidence quickly.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota, she got to dip her toes into the running events space with an internship at Twin Cities in Motion. She then joined the Mill City Running (MCR) staff in 2018, where she has worn multiple hats spanning from planning community events, serving as Race Team coordinator and slinging shoes on the sales floor. In 2020, store owners Jeff and Bekah Metzdorff decided to make the bold move to open a second store, Saint City Running (SCR), and appointed her to one of the store manager positions.
Let’s start with this: Are you a runner?
When it comes to the sport of running, I consider myself to be firmly in the middle of the pack. I’ve run a few marathons now and my fiercest competition is myself.
How does that running experience help in your job?
My ability to relate to the range of experience levels is a quality I take pride in and think makes me especially approachable when it comes to helping the spectrum of run shop customers.
How has the past year been for you in dealing with the pandemic?
Personally, the year was filled with a number of highlights in spite of the pandemic, including a surprise visit from my long-distance best friend, a family vacation and moving into a new place with my partner, Andy.
How about in your running?
For about as long as I can remember, Twin Cities Marathon Weekend has been my favorite weekend of the year and 2021 was no exception. Although my own running habits have waned slightly in the last year or so, I got a chance to toe the line this fall to run the Medtronic TC 10 Mile with Andy. Without the pressure of PRs, and many familiar faces throughout the course, it was an absolute blast from start to finish.
What about professionally?
We were extremely fortunate to be in a position to open a second store in the midst of a pandemic. Though, as others who have been through that experience can attest to, I’m sure, it can come with some growing pains. It’s been really encouraging to see how our staff has grown over the last year — both in their adaptability and dedication to our shared mission as well as our sheer numbers. Our staff have more than doubled in size and it’s such a privilege to work alongside such talented and passionate individuals.
What is your “typical” day like these days?
One thing that can be counted on is that you’ll find me fitting customers for shoes – and run bras – at MCR & SCR every week. As part of City Running’s Executive Leadership team, I’m writing regular communications to our staff, identifying training initiatives and dreaming up ways to continue to serve the runners of our community. Outside of that, there’s a variety of things that I oversee at the shops.
Tell us a little bit more about your Bra Shops.
The project that sits closest to my heart has been bringing the Bra Shop to life with the support of Brooks.
Please explain that a little.
Opening SCR presented the perfect opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity to a new community of runners in the form of a bra shop — a space where all are welcome and there are no barriers to running. I was given the exciting task of helping bring this vision to life and have spent the year continuing to dream up ways to connect bra-wearing customers with the support they need, figuratively and in the form of a great run bra.
What else stands out when you think of 2021?
One of the exciting parts about 2021 was that there was a lot that was atypical. I got the chance to connect with folks in the industry as a featured guest on Brooks’ Run Bra FIt Expert virtual training event as well as getting out of the Twin Cities attending events like Runchella. Collaborating with brand partners to put on unique events like the Twilight 5000 with Tracksmith and bringing Olympians from the On Athletic Club to SCR were certainly highlights too.
You just received the Brooks Run Happy Award at The Running Event. Congratulations. I am told you were surprised by it. Is that true?
The rumors are true! It was a total surprise and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Jeff, Bekah and my manager counterpart, Sam Cusack, were already slated to attend TRE in full. I was meant to be holding down the fort back home.
How did that come about?
I’ve since been told that as soon as Jeff learned I had been selected, he hatched a plan to get me down to Austin. Long story short, with the help of carefully selected secret-keepers there were a few white lies leading up to a 24-hour trip to Texas and a priceless video captured by Jeff as I realized (Brooks’) Rick Wilhelm was describing me up on stage.
We would love to see that video. Anyway, what does receiving that award mean to you and your store?
As Rick described when introducing the award, it’s meant for someone who embodies the Run Happy mantra — bringing a positive attitude to their work and going the extra mile to help customers and staff. I think it goes without saying that 2021 was a tough year for a lot of people, myself included. There were moments that bringing that glass half full outlook was a challenge. To have my efforts recognized in such a big way was extremely validating.
I imagine the connection with Brooks made it even more special.
Having the Bra Shop recognized by Brooks in particular carries a lot of weight. I don’t think it can be overstated how much love I have for the Bra Shop and how critical Brooks’ support of the endeavor has been. From a young age, my mom instilled in me the importance of a good sports bra, telling me she wanted to feel “stiff as a statue.”
I guess that’s one way to describe a good run bra.
As silly as that may sound, I think it effectively shines a light on how essential run bras are to runners. By leaning into stocking top-tier products, carrying an exhaustive size offering, and driving home how run bras are a necessity, we were able to take away one more barrier to running for hundreds of bra-wearers in our stores last year.
What makes your local running community unique?
Our Race Team is truly one of a kind. We’re known as the “big friendly army.” Runners who are training for their first 5K race in the same singlet as teammates that are competing in U.S. championships. While, of course, a love of running and chasing down personal records initially brings them together, the culture of our Race Team has taken on a life of its own.
Where else could you hope to find a rag-tag group of teammates to establish a Race Team band and play their instruments of choice at various Team races? I’m willing to bet nowhere. Heck, if someone has a lead and can point me in the right direction, I’d love to check them out too!
We’ll let you know if we hear of any others.
Even as the Team has grown, we’ve tried to preserve the connectedness felt in the earlier days and maintain traditions like our annual Race Team prom. Those that haven’t taken the plunge into Race Team membership can still be found running from the store on frigid Minnesota winter mornings with the promise of fresh flapjacks at the end of it.
Now here’s a question that gets various responses: Do you view yourself as a woman in the run specialty business or simply a professional in the run specialty business?
I view myself as a woman in the run specialty business. I believe that my experiences as a woman give me a unique perspective and enhance what I can offer to the industry. If nothing else, it seems to have been an asset in my pursuit of earning the nickname “the bra whisperer.”
Many people feel that run specialty is actually more equal in gender participation than many other businesses. Just look around The Running Event and see how many women were walking the aisles and working in the booths. Do you agree with this?
I’m not sure how it compares to other businesses. At City Running we’re lucky to have a strong ratio of women on our leadership team, but there’s still work to be done. Having the opportunity to attend empowerun and meet so many changemakers to seek inspiration from is wonderful. I wish more young women who are in entry level roles got a glimpse of what’s possible. I got into this business by chance looking for a summer job. My hope is that young women will seek out their local run shop as a gateway to explore a future in this business more often.
What do you think you bring to your business with a woman’s perspective as compared to your male colleagues?
I’m not even sure it’s so much my gender, but instead the type of runner I am that has widened the perspective of our team. Where most of my colleagues, and I believe industry peers, competed in high school or college track/cross-country, I got my start running more recreationally. I’ve been as beginner as they come and gone on to train for marathons all while working in the business.
Do you think having a woman running the business has helped your store reach more female customers?
I don’t think a singular woman’s perspective can encompass the desires of all potential female customers. However, the variety of voices within our organization only improves our ability to serve our community with greater compassion and empathy. No doubt, the Bra Shop is the easiest example to point to that has bolstered our offering to female runners.
What advice would you give to other run specialty retailers about reaching out and merchandising to female runners?
Among our top priorities with the Bra Shop was really being able to deliver on size inclusivity. We still have strides to be made on the rest of the apparel in the stores, but I’d recommend committing to diversifying the size offerings in your shop. We sought out to make ourselves the trusted destination for run bras and have been able to achieve that by not having to turn anyone away for not having their size.
Also, what advice would you give to any young (or older) women considering following a similar career path in the run business?
I’d encourage anyone considering a career in the running space to absolutely give it a shot. I’ve encountered so many empowering individuals in my years in this business. Whether or not you see yourself in run specialty forever, it has equipped me with innumerable transferable skills in leadership and customer service and has left me with a vast network of positive, driven people. Hitch your wagon to organizations that conduct their business with care, that listen to their community, and make your voice heard.
Finally, what are you expecting for you and your store going into 2022 and what is it going to take to achieve that?
It goes without saying, 2022 has even more run bras in store. New styles are hitting our shelves and we’re revisiting our ‘Bras for Bros’ training to make sure everyone knows their stuff. Beyond that, City Running believes that the Race Team is the heartbeat of our running community and we look forward to continuing to expand the programming we offer to our most loyal customers.