Providing for his family and making the world a healthier place was Michael Gotfredson’s inspiration to revolutionize the running and fitness industry. Gotfredson, also referred to as Mike G., or Chief Runner, founded Road Runner Sports in September 1983, and today it is the largest running specialty retailer in the United States. His creation led to his induction in the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame Class of 2022.
In 1983, Gotfredson had a wife and four kids under the age of five when he lost his job, forcing his family to live on a tight budget. One day, he went into a running store and was appalled by the high cost of shoes and poor customer service. He believed he was not alone in his frustrations, so with an MBA from Fresno State in direct marketing, he decided to solve the problem.
His vision in the pre-Internet age was to mail catalogs to consumers with detailed descriptions of the features and benefits of running shoes and fitness products, and to sell them at fair prices, something that was unheard of at the time.
One of his first big hurdles was to open business accounts with the big running shoe vendors including Asics, Brooks and Adidas. However, vendors only sold product to brick-and-mortar retail stores back then and Gotfredson couldn’t afford to open his own store.
So he did what any entrepreneur would do and stretched the truth. He told vendors he sold running shoes out of his brother’s car rental company to travelers. They bought it.
The vendors came on board and Gotfredson’s fledgling company began. On the first day of business, they took seven orders. Within months, Road Runner Sports experienced explosive growth, and the excited shoe vendors asked Gotfredson to open as many “running shoe car rental shops” as he could.
Gotfredson had to come clean and admitted he mostly sold product out of a garage solely through catalog mailings and “Fit Experts” taking calls from across the country. The vendors were shocked, but had to agree the concept was valid and decided to keep supplying Gotfredson with product.
The growth continued as did the number of employees. The Road Runner Sports Customer Care Center grew from one Fit Expert to almost 200 within a few years. And Gotfredson to this day shares he has personally taken more than 50,000 phone orders and wrapped 50,000 packages.
By the mid-1990s, the Internet was born and Gotfredson pioneered the first online sales of technical running shoes. He followed that success by entering the brick-and-mortar space in the early 2000s. Road Runner Sports now has 41 physical stores focused on all facets of running and fitness.
As Gotfredson’s success grew, he felt he needed to give back to his community and those less fortunate than him. So, in 2000 he founded Athletes Helping Athletes, a charitable organization that gives handcycles to children with permanent physical disabilities to help them be active and healthy. The charity has given away 1524 handcycles, amounting to over $2 million, at no cost to families all across America. Some recipients have gone on to become Paralympic medal winners and now inspire thousands of others to reach for their dreams.
From the beginning, the importance of family and teamwork played an essential role in the company’s growth and success. Gotfredson’s family and kids all chipped in to help along the way. Today, three of his sons work for the company, with his oldest now carrying the torch of success as the new president.
Road Runner Sports now has distribution centers in San Diego, California, and Columbus, OH. There are neighborhood retail stores throughout nine states with more on the way.
The Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame was created in 1955 by the NSGA Board of Directors to honor the pioneers, innovators and leaders who built the sporting goods industry and to help recognize and encourage excellence within the industry. Inductees are recognized at the NSGA Annual Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit.
Candidates must be an industry manufacturer, sporting goods retailer or team dealer or an industry influencer.
The criteria for Manufacturers to be elected to the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame include the development and successful production of products that significantly improve sports performance and the introduction of important safety factors for sporting goods products. All innovations must be substantiated.
Retailers/Dealers must demonstrate innovation and leadership as well as participation in industry-wide activities. Monetary success is not a determining factor.
Industry Influencers must have made a significant contribution to a program, organization or service directly impacting the sporting goods industry or have promoted the public’s awareness and appreciation of the importance of sports participation.