With one stroke of the pen on September 1, 2022, Frank and Stacey DeJulius’ running specialty empire in Cincinnati swelled — and swelled substantially.
The owners of four Fleet Feet locations in and around The Queen City, the DeJuliuses’ ambitious deal with Fleet Feet corporate included absorbing four local JackRabbit shops — retail outlets originally founded under the Bob Roncker’s Running Spot banner. Overnight, the decade-long Fleet Feet franchisees saw their unit count double from four to eight, their employee count surge 50 people and millions of dollars in inventory come under their charge.
“We’re so excited to move ahead and implement our model in more communities around southwest Ohio, which means inspiring movement, creating healthy lives and connecting with other local businesses,” Stacey DeJulius says.
Growing in Cincinnati
It’s been an enterprising decade for the DeJuliuses, who moved to Cincinnati in 2012 in order to purchase the 11-year-old Cincinnati-Blue Ash location from Fleet Feet corporate.
“I remember being so jazzed to get to Cincy, but also being scared to death of Bob Roncker’s stores because he was the running institution in Cincinnati,” says Frank DeJulius, an alum of Fleet Feet’s Operating Partner Development Program designed to groom future franchisees. DeJulius worked at Fleet Feet stores in Cleveland, Nashville and suburban Chicago before acquiring the Blue Ash store with Stacey.
When Roncker sold his four namesake running stores to the Denver-based Running Specialty Group (RSG) in late 2013, Frank DeJulius remembers wondering how that deal might impact his fledgling business. At the time, RSG, an operating segment of The Finish Line, Inc., was on an aggressive purchasing spree that would come to include JackRabbit stores in New York City, the Boulder Running Company in Colorado and Garry Gribble’s Running Sports in Kansas among others.
Frank DeJulius, of course, had no idea what resided ahead, so he and Stacey hustled into the future determined and committed. They opened additional Fleet Feet stores in 2014, 2019 and 2021, the latter being a novel retail presence at the Fifty West Brewing Company campus in Cincinnati.
“I’ve got an entrepreneurial mindset and knew I wanted to grow,” he says. “Plus, we didn’t move to Cincy to be second best.”
An Unexpected Opportunity
In late 2021, Fleet Feet leadership approached the DeJuliuses with rather stunning news: they were in talks to acquire 56-unit JackRabbit, RSG’s rebranded specialty running unit that included the four former Bob Roncker’s retail locations.
Fleet Feet leaders noted the overlap in Cincinnati, where the DeJuliuses’ four Fleet Feet outlets rivaled the four JackRabbit locations. The two parties held numerous discussions about potential paths ahead and the DeJuliuses examined a range of different options. In the end, though, the couple decided to acquire the four JackRabbit units from Fleet Feet corporate and convert them into DeJulius-owned franchised units after a brief cooling-off period in the first half of 2022 to square up issues with leases, landlords and employees.
“Once we decided to do it, there was no pause,” Frank DeJulius says.
Charging Ahead Into 2023
Earlier this year, the DeJuliuses began building out their organizational chart to support eight stores. They hired an HR manager as well as floor and assistant managers and recently moved their distribution center and corporate offices above Bob Roncker’s flagship store in Cincinnati’s O’Bryonville neighborhood.
“I came up on the fit stool and know how to be an employee and a manager and make customers happy,” Frank DeJulius says. “Now, it’s about making employees and management happy and learning how to be more of a leader, so that’s been a shift.”
The DeJuliuses intend to build upon the heritage and history of Bob Roncker’s four stores – there are, for example, ideas to revamp Roncker’s famous shoe collection and officially christen it Roncker’s Shoe Museum to honor the Cincinnati running legend – as well as plans to modernize each location.
“We truly enjoy building amazing retail stores, so we’re going to take hammers to all of them and create eight really cool running stores here in Cincy,” Frank DeJulius says. “If we can mix great environments with the level of customer service we deliver, we’re excited about what the future holds.”