t’s hard to escape technology these days, a reality that rings especially true for small business owners such as run specialty retailers looking to fulfill customer demands, run efficient, contemporary operations and capture results in a competitive marketplace.
So while the personal touch remains the hallmark of run specialty in 2022, shops across the U.S. – both large and small – are tapping into technology to enhance the in-store experience, drive customer service and propel sales.
Running Insight highlights four running stores and a technology each has incorporated of late to become a better, stronger and more responsive retail operation.
MyFootBalance @ Georgia Game Changers
Interested in taking its customer experience “to the next level,” Georgia Game Changers in Richmond Hill, GA, began using the MyFootBalance 3D foot scanning service from Finnish company FootBalance earlier this year.
“We wanted to give something more to the customer that was really personalized to them,” Game Changers manager Zach Fitzgerald says.
After a 15-second scan of a customer’s feet, MyFootBalance provides key measurements, such as length, width and instep, and a biomechanical analysis to understand one’s foot type and degree of pronation. The system then translates those data points into specific footwear recommendations aligned with Game Changers’ inventory.
“This is an additional tool to help guide shoe selection and it also gives us some added credibility because it puts objective, hard data behind the recommendations we’re making,” Fitzgerald says.
Additionally, Game Changers can produce $75 custom inserts in five minutes using the MyFootBalance technology. Fitzgerald says many of the store’s military customers immediately toss the insoles into their boots or shoes because “they see the value.”
“This system allows us to offer a high-quality insert at an incredibly reasonable price, and that’s where we’re seeing the biggest lift,” Fitzgerald says.
Waitlist Me @ Playmakers
For years, Okemos, MI-based Playmakers tested different waiting list systems to bring ease and efficiency to its busiest days, especially as the 40-year-old run shop insists on a one-on-one shoe fitting for every customer. When pagers, texting and a card system fell short, store leadership turned to Waitlist Me, an app designed for managing restaurant wait lists.
Playmakers created a host stand inside its front door. When customers arrive, a greeter checks them in on Waitlist Me, capturing their name and recording descriptive features (i.e., red sweater, black baseball cap) which will later help a staff member find the individual to start the fitting process.
“This is all about putting the guest at ease,” Playmakers co-owner Brian Jones says. “If they see a busy store, they can be intimidated by that and we want to bring calm to the apparent chaos.”
If the wait list is active – Jones puts the average wait time on a Saturday with 24 shoe fitters at two-to-three minutes – guests can roam the 25,000-square-foot store, which includes a water feature and a clearance section on the mezzanine level. When a shoe fitter finishes up with one customer, that staff member then approaches the host stand to receive their next customer. A monitor behind the shoe wall, meanwhile, provides a live feed of the waitlist.
“We see a lot less anxiety from customers because they know we are aware,” Playmakers co-owner Andy Marsh says.
In addition, Waitlist Me provides valuable data Playmakers leadership can put into action. If wait times are consistently high on specific days, for instance, management can adjust staff scheduling accordingly.
Waitwhile @ Running Lab
Though Waitwhile is most popular in restaurants and healthcare settings, Running Lab owner Ken Larscheid began testing the virtual waitlist and queue management app for his Brighton, MI, store before the pandemic to strengthen its online appointment booking.
While Running Lab does not require customers to schedule an appointment for a shoe fitting, those who do book an in-store fitting online – a simple two-step process that only requires customers select a time and provide their name and mobile number – receive priority upon their arrival.
“Customers like to know they have a defined spot and that we are valuing their time,” says Larscheid, who, like Playmakers, relies on one-on-one service. “The appointment also adds credibility to our retail experience, too.”
Larscheid often utilizes appointment booking as a call to action in his marketing and a way to get people to commit to a Running Lab visit – and for good reason, too. He says the average sale among customers who have booked an appointment easily trumps the average sale of walk-in customers.
As traffic levels have accelerated at Running Lab, Larscheid has adjusted in response to staff feedback. Today, there are no appointments on weekends nor appointments near closing time, which has reduced friction for staff on the frontlines.
“It’s important with any tech to listen to your staff and make sure it makes sense for them,” says Larscheid, who also uses Waitwhile to manage a waitlist during busy periods.
MOTOTV @ Charlotte Running Company
After first being introduced to MOTOTV at The Running Event late last year, the Charlotte Running Company (CRC) began trialing the customizable in-store television network at its Dilworth store, though the five-store chain has since installed the system at other CRC locations as well.
MOTOTV provides a rotating display of current running-themed branded content while also allowing run shops to incorporate their own store-specific advertisements and announcements.
While CRC initially relied on stock imagery and videos from many of its brand partners, CRC general manager Harry Chandler says the store has increasingly integrated more CRC-centric content.
The Dilworth store, for instance, uses MOTOTV as a digital billboard of sorts to share an array of relevant community news around packet pickups and local events.
Directly from his computer, Chandler can mix and match already loaded photos and videos alongside customized CRC content. The system also automatically syncs with CRC’s Instagram and Facebook pages to relay the freshest content.
“Our store is huge on information and education and this is a way for us to get information to our customers and even our staff in a straightforward way,” Chandler says, adding that the engaging visuals also serve as a customer diversion tool when the store is busy.