Looking to find ways to make run specialty a more sustainable business – while at the same time finding a solution to the ongoing challenge of product returns – Pacers Running has co-founded a company called Relay to transform returns into a revenue opportunity. Relay was launched by Pacers Running in partnership with Patton Gleason in 2021 to receive, refurbish and resell high-quality returns to value-savvy consumers and reduce waste along the way.

Relay, which is an e-commerce site operated by Pacers Running, currently counts Brooks, Altra and Saucony as vendor partners, with 80 percent of the top 12 footwear brands expected on the platform by fall as the concept takes shape. 

“Returned product has long been a challenge for both retailers and brands and as retailers we want to provide the best experience possible to the consumer, which means we often provide very flexible return policies,” explains Chris Farley, president of Pacers Running, adding that the brands it sells support it by offering the same returns flexibility. 

“It’s great for the consumer, but it leads to a lot of headaches on the back end and can create waste and sustainability challenges,” he adds. “With Relay, we have a solution that is a win for retailers, vendors, the consumer and the planet.” 

Here’s how it works:

• For consumers, the Relay website provides a trusted place to purchase quality shoes at attractive prices. With a strong quality assurance program combined with a run specialty level of customer service, consumers can feel confident in their purchase.

• For vendors, Relay converts returns from an expensive liability into an opportunity to drive sales and dramatically reduce the amount of supply chain waste. Also, by keeping returns in the run specialty ecosystem Relay helps keep those shoes off of third party marketplaces and grey markets. 

• The product is contained on the retailer’s website as if it is in their inventory, but it is fulfilled out of Relay’s inventory. Currently the returns come from the brands, but the plan is to eventually receive returns directly from the retailers on the brands’ behalf. The product is a mix of vendor returns, retailer RAs and off-MAP models. 

• For Pacers Running, Relay is part of its growth plans and helps to fulfill its mission to help as many people as possible through running. Relay gives it a new way to do just that by making affordable, quality product available. 

• The eco benefit is realized as run specialty vendors continue to make sustainability is a priority. By providing an outlet for their returned product, Relay keeps the supply chain much more efficient by getting shoes off of pallets in a warehouse and onto people’s feet.

Farley stresses that Relay is a solution for retailers and vendors who have already invested tremendously to refine their refurbishment process through years of experience handling returns. 

“While it’s a very unique challenge that requires a heavy lift, we think the solution will benefit everyone,” Farley says. “Brands will be able to have a trusted source for returns that keeps shoes off of grey markets and third party marketplaces while retailers will be able to tap into the Relay inventory and be able to sell a new category to their customers without the logistical pain points.”

Gleason, co-founder of Relay, emphasizes that returns have long been a challenge without a great solution as every year tens of thousands of premium running shoes go to waste sitting in warehouses because they were tried on once and returned. Some will get donated, destroyed or sit on pallets at the back of warehouses forever. Many of these will end up on the grey market, causing havoc for brands and retailers.

“Relay is the first channel-specific returns solution that helps athletic shoe brands reclaim lost revenue, attract new customers and reduce waste,” Gleason points out. “Our quality assurance process converts over 90 percent of returns into a re-sellable product with a suite of a la carte services designed specifically for athletic footwear brands.

 “My team brings a decade of experience handling returns and refurbishing athletic footwear,” he adds. “We have the infrastructure, the people and a best-in-the-world process. The missing piece was a partner with a passion for the cause and could tie it all together between the brands, retailers and, most importantly, the consumer.” 

That’s where Pacers Running comes in with its commitment to the customer experience and the understanding of the challenges that are specific to run specialty. “With our combined forces, we are thrilled to be tackling this huge challenge that creates positive outcomes for all parties and the planet,” says Gleason.

“Pacers’ vision is to help as many people as possible through running and Relay is an exciting opportunity for us to create more runners and to work with our brands and run specialty partners to put more shoes on more people,” adds Kathy Dalby, CEO of Pacers Running.” This is a major investment as we continue to build one of the largest omnichannel retail solutions in run specialty.”

Relay’s next project is to make the entire catalog of refurbished inventory available via a custom product feed for run specialty retailers to sell refurbished shoes on their own sites. Approved retailers will be able serve customers without having to deal with sorting, refurbishing, storing and fulfillment with the assurance that every unit goes through a rigorous 10 point quality assurance process, with only the best being made available for sale.