At TC Running Company in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, general manager Kurt Decker considers the essentials category, well, essential to the success of the five-store operation. From energy gels to injury prevention products, sunglasses to safety, these essential accessories significantly contribute to the bottom-line performance of TC Running.

“With accessories, it’s easy to overlook how much you’re selling until you stop and look at the numbers,” Decker says. “Eight dollars here and $10 there, when you get a lot of these in the day, it adds up.”

Yet more, the presence of various essentials makes TC Running a destination for anyone on the move and spotlights different products that can make a run more enjoyable or help individuals lead healthier lives.

“All the different categories make the whole picture come together for runners,” Decker says.

Running Insight highlights four prominent essentials categories and asks a standout running store what they do to excel in the category. 


Fleet Feet PNW, a collection of six running stores in Washington state, sells an assortment of recovery and injury prevention tools from the likes of Roll Recovery and TriggerPoint, including rollers, percussion devices and massage balls. 

Listen and suggest. Fleet Feet PNW co-owner Wade Pannell prioritizes staff training on injury prevention and treatment at his stores and also encourages active listening on the sales floor. By asking questions and listening intently, staff can learn of different physical ailments a customer is facing and then use their training to suggest relevant solutions. 

“We have staff who are confident in recognizing pain points and suggesting products capable of helping customers and that’s absolutely paramount to selling this category.”

Facilitate a “test drive.” Fleet Feet PNW places demo products such as massage balls or percussion devices near its foot stools. The mere presence of the items prompts frequent questions and invites customers to trial products themselves, which Pannell considers key to fueling sales. 

“It’s like test driving a car. We can’t just talk about a product, but need to let customers experience the benefit themselves so they are more likely to make the purchase.”


Boosted by a hefty array of products from Tailwind, Skratch Labs, Maurten, Nuun, Gu and UCAN, Decker calls nutrition a “darn good” category for TC Running and one that drives the five-store chain’s overall performance.

Options A, B, C and D. Recognizing there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and that an individual’s taste or tolerance for a specific item can shift over time, Decker says TC Running carries a diverse and varied assortment of nutrition items to offer its customers. “No one wants to search here and there, so we offer a lot of options.”

Personal experience. Decker encourages staff members, a number of whom are active marathoners and ultrarunners, to leverage their personal experience and insights when discussing nutrition products with customers. “It’s important we can speak to differences in tastes and textures.”

Thinking beyond the long run. Nutrition isn’t solely the domain of the marathoner. In fact, Decker seeks to broaden the applicability of nutrition to both staff and customers and show how nutrition can fit into even the recreational runner’s journey. 

“All of us have the occasional long day at work and face a workout on an empty stomach. Nutrition items can be just as useful for that person as the one putting in a 20-miler.”


Headphones, once a fringe offering at running shops, have emerged a growing category in the digital age and running retail stores such as Philadelphia Runner have capitalized on the surge sparked by improved offerings from the likes of Shokz and H2O Audio.

Keep talking. Philadelphia Runner places a Shokz display and demo set near the cash register in each of its four stores. The bright display sparks curiosity, invites questions and spurs trials, during which Liz Pagonis, Philadelphia Runner’s marketing manager, makes a point of continuing a conversation with the customer. “This way, people immediately see the benefit of bone conduction headphones. They hear the music and hear me.”

A category point person. One of Philadelphia Runner’s staff members is a Shokz ambassador. That individual is steeped in the product’s technology and shares that knowledge with the entire Philadelphia Runner employee roster. As a result, Pagonis says, she is constantly learning about different features, battery life, capabilities and how the product interfaces with other tech.

Noting safety. With all of Philadelphia Runner’s four locations sitting within population-packed metro Philly, safety is a priority anytime people are running, walking or biking outdoors. “Whenever someone mentions they listen to music or podcasts, we mention bone-conduction headphones, which is easy to tie into the conversation from a safety perspective.”


When the weather heats up in the Bay Area, sales of hydration belts, vests and bottles from brands such as Nathan, Salomon and Naked accelerate at the San Francisco Running Company’s two stores. At its height, hydration can account for upwards of 20 percent of store revenue, San Francisco Running Company GM Mecque Tucker says.

Probing. When Tucker worked for Apple retail stores, she learned about approaching the customer, asking probing questions and listening for clues. She applies those same principles to her work at the running store. “When I find out someone is running their first 50k, I’ll ask ‘What vest are you wearing?’ It’s about having the courage and comfort to have a broader conversation.”

Heightening hydration. The San Francisco Running Company doesn’t hide hydration in a corner of the store. In fact, Tucker places hydration products near two high-traffic areas of the store: its footwear wall and its register. “Those are two places virtually every customer in our store is guaranteed to visit. We want to make hydration accessible and visible, so people don’t have to squint to find it.”