Her Background: Pam Hess met her husband, Ryan, in 2012 while working at RunTex in Austin, TX, a shop that had been around for 25 years, and they opened The Loop six years later. In the meantime she worked at lululemon for close to three years, one year in the event industry and then two years for an interior and commercial design startup. She says the lessons she learned from all of her job experiences before opening The Loop gave her the foundation for operating a run specialty retailer. Her role at the shop now is co-owner, apparel buyer and store merchandiser along with running its social media accounts. She and Ryan both wear a lot of hats.
Tell us more about that lululemon experience.
I worked at lululemon during the see-through pants blip, a time when the CEO unfortunately made crazy comments about women's bodies. Customers would just walk in and be mad at me for no reason, as if I did these things to them. Beyond giving customers a great shopping experience, beyond learning how to strategically merchandise a store and beyond unapologetically selling great athletic apparel at a premium price, I learned how to deal with/treat people who often are self-conscious when it comes to purchasing athletic apparel.
How about your Events job?
The event industry taught me the importance of true organization, time management and paying attention to the smallest of details. Events was a high-stress industry, with stressed out people who have lots of demands. Despite those things, I found that people who work in the industry absolutely love it. It became clear I was not one of those people.
And then your time at a commercial design startup…
Any person that has worked for a startup has seen hyper growth, will inevitably learn a lot about work ethic, fast pace pivoting and usually innovation.
How has the past year been for you?
It’s been a wild year! 2020 blended personal and professional life more so than any other years, especially the first six months. One of our employees did not feel comfortable working at all in a retail setting during the pandemic and the other moved home after college to pursue another career, so Ryan and I spent the first six months running the shop and online shop completely solo. When we eventually had someone jump in part-time, I was able to breathe a bit more.
Has that changed in recent months?
Nothing has slowed down during COVID. We run a very tight ship and it has spilled over into our personal lives quite a bit. We’re willing to continue down this road to save costs for other bigger projects we have in the works. With that said, Ryan and I are usually pretty tired. It would be a horrible situation if one of us were to be a harder worker than the other. Fortunately and unfortunately, we both work really hard towards our big picture goals. It can beat us up, but it doesn’t stop us.
So what’s your typical day like these days?
I run and train with a group here at 5:30 a.m. three days a week. Every morning I allow for about an hour and 20 minutes to roll out of bed, drink my coffee and study French. On run days I finish my run just past 7 a.m. usually and head home to shower. Ryan typically drops me off at the shop around 9:30 a.m. while he goes and gets his run in.
And then the workday starts?
Since we don’t open the store until 11 a.m. I use that time to fulfill online orders and remerch/clean. I typically take the morning to mid-afternoon shifts and Ryan does afternoon to evening.
And how does the day end?
After a long day we usually go home and take our vizsla on a wine walk. A wine walk is when you go for a leisurely walk in the neighborhood in silence with a glass of wine in your hand. It’s life changing really.
Let’s back up a bit. You study French every morning?
I started studying French in December of 2019 after Ryan and I had been invited to Annecy, France, by The North Face. I was so excited for the opportunity – and also it being the first real time away from the shop – that I wanted to learn the language. I’ll never forget getting that email from Brett Rivers gently breaking the news that the trip was cancelled because of COVID. Two days later the U.S. went into lockdown. Studying French in the morning has been a fulfilling hobby because it’s something totally for myself and it doesn’t involve running or working
Let’s switch gears a bit with a different type of question: 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 professional in the industry. For those that know me well, they are probably used to my bluntness, decisiveness and often unapologetic opinion sharing. I find that this can come across quite shocking to people at first, as if they expected my role to have more of a backseat. I’m fiercely protective of The Loop and our brand. I would imagine some men I’ve worked with aren’t quite ready for my ability to tell them exactly what I want and what's on my mind. My mom says that I’ve always been this way.
Many people feel that run specialty is actually more equal in gender participation than many other businesses. Do you agree with this?
Although there might be more women in the industry than ever before, it doesn’t mean they are being treated with equal respect as men. I cannot tell you how many people call the shop to, “speak to Ryan.”
Any recent examples?
Oh yes. A few months ago there was this small vendor that kept calling because they wanted us to bring them into the shop. They called almost every day around the same time to, “speak to Ryan.” Every day I would answer the phone and remind him he isn’t here at that time, but that I am actually the person he needs to speak to about this. One day the man called three times in one day and I happened to have been there and answered the phone for all of them. I finally picked up the phone and said, “Although you want to speak to Ryan, I am actually his equal at The Loop. We co-own the shop together and as co-owners we do different things. I am the buyer for this accessory and you need to speak to me.” I gave him both mine and Ryan’s emails so he could just send us his information there. It felt so good for Ryan to be the first to reply and simply say, “Since Pam does the buying, I’ll let her decide if she wants to bring in the product.” Needless to say, I declined his offer.
What makes the Austin running community unique?
The city of Austin has a lot of runners. The entire city is centered around Lady Bird Lake and if you run north or south of it you start going gradually uphill. I picture Lady Bird Lake as the center of a trampoline. When something sits in the center of a trampoline, everything gravitates towards it. Whether you’ve lived in Austin forever or you just moved here from the East or West Coast, which is more and more common these days, you quickly realize the importance of running in this city. It becomes everyone's preferred choice of exercise. Besides that, the city of Austin has really fast runners that often surprise newcomers.
What do you think you bring to your business with a woman’s perspective as compared to your male colleagues?
Other than Ryan, we only have two part-time employees — both male. Personally, I bring my experiences of customer service when it comes to selling apparel. The men of the store don’t have retail experience outside of run specialty, where a majority of their sales have typically been footwear. I’ve had to teach them how to sell apparel well.
Do you think having a woman running the business has helped your store reach more female customers?
Well, when we started creating The Loop’s branding, our logo, our voice, our design, we did it with a friend of ours who had opened a luxury menswear store. I wanted the same guy who shopped at a luxury menswear store to want to buy and shop for his athletic gear from The Loop. I wanted his experience to be just as great but even more so warm and inviting. The tone of The Loop’s voice on social media also is gender neutral. Our following is a 50/50 gender split on all social channels. My goal for the business has never been to attract more female customers. It’s always been to attract both female and male customers who are into cool brands, good vibes, and unique product selections.
What advice would you give to other run specialty retailers about reaching out and merchandising to female runners?
I think at the end of the day you can merchandise your store the same for a male runner as you would for a female runner. All customers like a clean store, nicely folded apparel, cohesive color and outfit stories and great customer service. Female runners have more apparel options out there than men, so it’s more important to be curated with great selections.
What advice would you give to any young (or older) women considering following a similar career path in the run business?
I would advise to always continue making connections. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with people outside the industry. Learn to work together with others in the industry who are like-minded. Ask for what you want and hold to it. Don’t compromise your vision.
Finally, what are you expecting for you and The Loop Running Supply in 2021 and what is it going to take to achieve that?
We have a big dream project in the works and the future has never looked brighter. It will take Ryan and I continuing to work hard every day. Stay tuned.