Even in the midst of a pandemic – and the accompanying mandated shutdowns, safety precautions and changing consumer buying habits –run specialty stores continue to persevere and, in some cases, expand. That’s certainly the case for Running Lab, the nine-year-old store located in Brighton, MI, which recently revealed plans to expand its 2750-square-foot store on Main Street to a 4400-square-foot location conveniently located right across the street.
Owner Ken Larscheid tells Running Insight that he started thinking about the move, which is scheduled to take place in April, two years ago as he and his staff of 12 pondered where they saw the company in the future.
“More space was always at the top of our priorities because our space was becoming increasingly too small for the shopping experience we wanted to provide,” Larscheid says. With weekly group runs growing quickly – often 60-80 runners would show up for Tuesday night runs pre-pandemic – the store’s size was restricting its ability to hold community events and support races.
“When talking to other retailers, we learned we had reached the max dollars per square foot and a bigger space was needed if we wanted to continue our growth trajectory,” he explains. The store first opened in July, 2011.
The plan was always to make the move late in 2020 or early 2021, but of course COVID-19 got in the way as the store had to shut down for two months earlier this year. With customer support remaining strong, the decision was made to make the move, with the only downside being the unexpected increase cost of the buildout because the cost of materials have jumped 20-30 percent.
Larscheid points to a number of advantages of the new location. Most importantly, it offers more flexibility in the shape of the sales floor.
“The old space was a traditional old downtown building that had a narrow profile and because of this we could not have any floor fixtures, and we had to merchandise everything on the wall,” he explains. “This limited the shopping patterns for the customer in the store.”
The new store will be more of a wider rectangle shape, with the sales floor space doubling from 1100-square feet of selling space to 2200-square feet.
The new store will also have a meeting room that can flex into extra customer fitting space, packet pickup and community events on the weekend. This will gain it an extra 200-square feet on top of the 2200 when need ed.
In addition, with the increase in its e-commerce business during the pandemic and its incoming shipments growing, Running Lab will now have a dedicated shipping and receiving area in the back room. Currently all of that is being done out of a small room that is also the office, break room and supply closet.
“Shopping patterns have changed and COVID accelerated our e-com business immensely, but we were already growing online and ready for the increased business,” Larscheid explains. “We had been tweaking our online experience for a couple years and it will be nice to have more space and be more comfortable for our customers to social distance, but we were planning the expansion regardless.”
Other upgrades of the new site include:
- Significant improvements in lighting, which it had cut out to save money 10 years ago in the current store.
- Adding a second fitting room, which will help it put more emphasis on apparel.
- The new store will have two bathrooms, along with the flexibility to have an additional register when needed.
“We are looking to future-proof our store for at least the next five years,” says Larscheid. “We know with technology and the constant change in shopping behaviors it would be impossible to anticipate beyond that.”
To spread the news about the new location, Larscheid and his team created four marketing pieces. The first was an announcement via its social and email channels, including a landing page with pictures of the new store that teased some of the improvements.
That was followed by signage in the current location and large window wraps on the new location. Then came a public relations effort and, finally, a three-month campaign with its social media marketing firm, DRIVE Social. The DRIVE Social ad will focus on educating its customers about the relocation and expansion, while the ad will also direct customers to the new store landing page.
Alas, there will be no big grand reopening in April, but that is the only downside at this point.
“Thankfully the location is across the street and we have plenty of overlap with our lease in the current location,” Larscheid says. Since we purchased the building for the new store, there was no lease to negotiate in the new space.”