The mood is brightening for run specialty as retailers across America slowly reopen – or plan to reopen – amidst government-imposed restrictions, customer and employee safety concerns and a realization that their business will never be the same.
A definite “we are all in this together” spirit pervades and, as consultant Parker Karnan stressed in a recent Virtual Town Hall sponsored by Running Insight and The Running Event, retailers need to follow some plain and simple advice as they welcome customers back into their stores.

“First thing is managing the virus and the spread of it and making your employees feel safe,” he said. “Your store has to be an environment that your employees feel they can work in.
“And you have to manage the fear of your customers,” he added.
How to do that is the question of the day for run specialty.
(One positive that many stores reported was that the number of transactions are down, but stores that have had scheduled appointments are seeing the average sale up 10-20 percent. That, Karnan, added, raises the question of what role appointments will play going forward and is there a place for scheduling appointments that hasn’t been there in the past.)

Bob Dyer, of Running Niche in St. Louis, MO, reported in last week’s Virtual Town Hall that when they reopened on May 18 it was one of the two best weeks the two-year-old store ever had. “People are coming in with intent, they aren’t messing around,” he said. “They are coming in and getting out.”

The momentum admittedly slowed in Week Two, because there was initially such a heightened awareness that the store was open and people needed stuff — especially hydration product because all water is shut off in local parks. Even with the slowdown Running Niche will end the month up 10 percent from last year.

The store’s Jennifer Henderson explained that the first hour of the day is reserved for appointments only, which means that every person is getting one-on-one service. “That is going great in terms of sales because people are waiting to come in,” she said, reporting that recently two ladies came in and spent $1200. “People feel very taken care of in that situation.”

Michelle Allen, of iRun Texas, reported that the situation in Texas has been strong — they have been open for three weeks, with up to 25 percent capacity in the store at any given time, which is a fairly normal percentage for the store anyway.

“If it does get crowded we have a signup sheet and a greeter who will call them when we are ready for them,” she said. Face masks are required and extended cleanings are the norm, but they have not gone with scheduled appointments yet. “People are glad that we are open back up and are excited to be shopping,” she said, adding that both their number of transactions and average dollar value per transaction are looking up.

Meanwhile, in Maryland Josh Levinson, of Charm City, said that after a few false starts that hurt morale – and sales – two of his seven stores opened three weeks ago and its biggest store opened May 22 with two fitting stations inside and two outside. “We are ready,” he said, reporting that after an initial surge online fittings have dissipated but certainly won’t disappear. “That will be a part of our future to bring our service to their living room,” he said.
His employees have been enthusiastic, “but to say that people aren’t nervous at all would be a lie. But they are very excited and most can’t wait to get to work.”

He, too, reports strong conversion rates even during the pandemic. “Now people are being very intentional about where they go and when they show up they want to be there and they want to buy,” Levinson said. “They aren’t coming to Charm City to kill time; they are coming to do business.”

Anders Brooker, whose Runner’s Edge in Missoula, MT was closed for the entire month of April, reopened his one store on May 1 with appointment-only selling even though the state of Montana allows for a bit more — a conversion rate coupled with a transaction jump that was up $40 eased the pain a little. “It’s been a success for us,” he said.

Tyler Hart, of Marathon Sports, which owns stores in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut, must adhere to three different sets of opening rules. “There’s a paradigm shift and the now normal is face masks and queuing,” he said. “We aren’t doing appointments, but we’ll take your name and call you when we are ready.”

Even though Nick Walker’s three locations in Victoria, Canada, are fairly isolated with few COVID-19 cases being reported recently, the stores remain closed as they prepared to reopen. “We are taking every precaution before we open up,” he said, before speaking for everyone when he added: “It’s good to see we are all in the same s****y situation.”