The inaugural Run Specialty Digital Town Hall, organized by Running Insight and The Running Event as a means to connect the run specialty business in the age of the COVID-19 Pandemic, was held yesterday afternoon via Zoom Meeting. Attended by 90-plus run retailers around the country, the Town Hall featured presentations by consultants Parker Karnan and Jim Dion and was moderated by RI’s Mark Sullivan.

Sullivan laid the groundwork for the interactive discussion by sharing these two facts from the recent Running Industry Association survey of its members (see page 28 for the full story on the report).

  • 69 percent of stores were closed; 10 percent stores were still open and 15 percent were opened with fewer hours.
  • As for cash on hand, 51 percent of retailers had enough for one-to-three months and 29 percent had enough to get through only one month. Sullivan opined that running stores are in better shape than a lot of other similar size businesses.

(Note this study was wrapped up by March 27 and estimates are that more stores have closed and furloughed employees since then.)

Dion, who was a psychologist in his prior life before becoming a retail industry consultant, explained that uncertainty is what is scaring people. “We are very frightened of the unknown and the unseen,” he said.

“This is creating an awful lot of stress in people’s lives. You know what that leads to? It leads to toilet paper,” he added. “This obsession with toilet paper is an example of when we feel out of control, we have to get that control back to get us sane. Buying toilet paper is that attempt to begin to feel safe.

“Control is what today is all about,” Dion continued. “There are a lot of things that we can be doing today. We can’t let inertia take over, but when there is this uncertainty, it is so easy to dial it back.”

His advice: First and foremost, you need to have a plan — a best-case plan, a worst-case plan and then a most-likely plan. 

Dion suggested stores spend this time going back and studying POS data. “Study the information you have in your systems that you probably have not had the time to do before,” he said. “Do as much as you can to learn during this time about your best customers. When we get back to normal, you will be ready to go.”

Another idea: Take the time to educate your staff. “Imagine if you didn’t run for six months and then tried to get out and run. Then imagine your staff not doing anything all this time and then going back to work.”

Karnan went on to share some of what he has been doing with stores he works with in terms of cash flow and other aspects of retailing. To be totally honest, he said, most stores he is working with have not been thinking about a 26-week plan — most of his conversations have contained four, eight- and 12-week scenarios.

“In times of crisis, the best decisions are the short-term, quick ones that are made loudly,” he said. “We control what we can based on the information we have today. These are leadership positions we can take.”


Have A Plan of Action

He suggested four areas to explore and question:

  1. With 75 percent of the population under stay-at-home orders, what is your sales plan when they are not out shopping?
  2. What is your marketing message. How do you make sure you are the catalyst for your community? How do you advertise and communicate that you are still available?
  3. How do you take care of your team?
  4. What do your finances look like? What should you do in talking to your creditors and what is going to be available for you from the government stimulus?

In response to a question from a retailer at the virtual gathering, Parker was asked if retailers should go to their landlords first in seeking relief.

“There’s no harm in asking,” he said. “So, yes, probably the first place you want relief from is your landlord.

“Asking the landlord for abeyance on rent is the challenge many retailers have faced,” continued Karnan, who pointed out that some landlords are basing rents on percentage of sales while others are agreeing to any rent abatement by adding it on to the end of a lease.

A wide-ranging discussion among the retailers then covered topics ranging from Payroll Protection Programs, maintaining employees, what to do with all of the down time now and how to invest resources and time now (redo website, design virtual fitting technology, create instructional videos, explore government resources, offer delivery Options, create virtual events).

“I am spending money I need to spend now as quickly as I can while I still have it,” said Rich Wills, of Fitniche in Lakeland, FL.

The Digital Town Hall was at its best with store owners sharing their knowledge of current events in real-time, which was invaluable since these events were being updated hour-by-hour as well.

“The sport of running will come out of this very solid,” concluded Sullivan. “Running participation will be up for sure and the sport will be strong. But races, particularly large events like the Chicago and New York Marathons, will be different from past years, and the specialty retail will have changes forced upon it.


Running insight will be hosting more of these Run Specialty Digital Town Hall events in the coming weeks. Any retailers interested in participating should contact Christina Henderson at [email protected]