Anyone looking for evidence as to the health of the run specialty business would have been thrilled to be at Fleet Feet Inc.’s annual conference, held last week in Carlsbad, CA. The energy, accolades and good vibes flowed and CEO Joey Pointer provided the numbers to back it all up.

2019 sales are projected to reach $230 million, up from $210 million in 2018 for the franchisor, which now has 186 stores in 37 states. Fleet Feet is also making major investments in growing its online business and using digital marketing to drive traffic to its stores.

“The retail business has never changed this fast and it will never change this slow again,” Pointer told the assembled franchisees and vendors as he took them through Fleet Feet’s plans to become a “transformational, rather than a transactional retailer.”

The two centerpieces of that plan are enhancing the in-store experience and building brand loyalty and driving store visits through digital marketing. A Fleet Feet App that was introduced in February already has 100,000 users nationwide.

Much of the chain’s in-store focus centers on its Fit ID process, which includes 3-D scanning of customers’ feet. To date the chain has captured more than 1.3 million customer foot scans and used 100,000 of them to develop the fit and design new Karhu shoes, which Fleet Feet sells exclusively in the United States. Many of those store owners in attendance rocked the green Karhu Ikoni (in photo), which they said privately was the best shoe developed by Karhu since the exclusive partnership was signed in late 2016.

Pointer took great pride in pointing out that various aspects of Fit ID have been copied by Road Runner Sports, Nike, New Balance and Stride Rite, which has introduced a fitting process for children at Zoos.

Fleet Feet is also determined to increase its apparel business in the coming year. The conference featured the rollout of Zelus, a line of basic apparel that will be sold only at Fleet Feet. And more than 20 stores in the Fleet Feet group are now selling Lululemon apparel through arrangements with their local Lululemon stores.

The conference also featured quite a bit of conversation about Fleet Feet’s footprint in the digital landscape. While most retailers talk about their “digital strategy,” Brent Hollowell, the chain’s CMO, takes a different viewpoint.

“We don’t have a digital strategy, we have a brand strategy,” Hollowell said. Over the past year, Fleet Feet has increased its number of digital impressions to 186 million, up from 40 million the previous year. Hollowell also touted the chain’s app, which features two different ways for consumers to interact with the brand through their phone.

The first is what Hollowell describes as a “spend and get” aspect whereby consumers earn $15 in store credit for every $150 they spend. The second aspect allows consumers to earn “miles” by running and participating in Fleet Feet store events such as pub runs and clinics. The “miles” are measured by interfaces with Strava and Garmin and then customers can use the miles to bid on experiences provided by key Fleet Feet partners, such as trips to the London Marathon and the ability to travel to the Swiss Alps and build and live in a yurt.

The app also allows stores to create their own local experiences and tie in with businesses in their hometowns, such as yoga studios and coffee shops. “Our goal as a brand is to be Hyperlocal with scale,” Hollowell said.

The link between the stores and the digital marketplace is the brand’s website. Orders from the website are fulfilled by 103 of Fleet Feet’s stores. Average delivery time is 1.6 days, according to Hollowell, and this past year there was less than a one percent error rate. “That speaks to the pride and attention to detail our stores have.”


Brooks nabs two vendor awards, but ‘it’s complicated’

The best line of the conference came from Brooks CEO Jim Weber, who upon receiving the “It’s a Privilege to Serve” award for Outstanding Customer Service said “It’s complicated.” Of course, Weber was referring to the massive delivery snafus Brooks encountered starting late this spring with its shift to a new distribution facility in Indiana. “It’s a move we had to make to get better and we will get better it’s just taking longer than we thought.”

Brooks VP Mike Billish echoed Weber’s sentiments, saying “my commitment to everyone in this room is to get this ironed out and I’ll be on a plane to Indiana Sunday night to work on it.”

The voting on the Customer Service Award and other vendor honors took place in April, just before Brooks made the move to the new facility and the delivery problems began.  Speaking after Weber, Fleet Feet CMO Brent Hollowell said “Are we happy with Brooks right now? Hell no, but we believe in them as a long-term partner and are rooting for them to get back on track quickly.”


Other award winners at the Conference:

Operational Excellence Award: New Balance

Marketing Partnership Award: Hoka One One

Emerging Vendor: On

Accessory Vendor: Superfeet

Footwear Vendor: Brooks

First inductees into Fleet Feet Hall of Fame

Chris and JD Denton, Fleet Feet Davis

Jan and Pat Sweeney, Fleet Feet Sacramento