Last spring, Running Lab got a new home. This spring, the 11-year-old running store in Brighton, MI, added a new owner.
Veteran store manager Toni Reese has joined Running Lab founder Ken Larscheid on the retail shop’s ownership team, a thoughtful effort designed to strengthen Running Lab’s future and solidify Reese’s involvement in the business.
“To keep this ship moving in a positive direction, Toni needed a bigger role,” Larscheid says. “She’s been so critical to our growth and I wanted her to benefit from the success of Running Lab as much as I do.”
Years of Thought and Preparation
Larscheid first gave thought to inviting Reese onto the ownership team five years ago, largely seeing it as a path to retain an employee who had proven vital to the Running Lab operation since her arrival in 2015.
“Toni treated this place as her own from day one and she cared so much about it that I knew I had to figure out something long-term for her,” Larscheid says.
For her part, Reese was intrigued by the possibilities.
“Running Lab is Ken’s baby, but he allowed me great opportunities to grow and coached me along the way,” says Reese, an energetic personality who joined the run specialty world after working in foodservice training and development. “Ken had a vision for what he wanted Running Lab to be and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Larscheid started posing questions to other running stores with multi-owner arrangements, including those who elevated employees into the ownership ranks. He picked the brain of Naperville Running Company’s Kris Hartner and enjoyed numerous conversations with members of the ownership team at Playmakers, a fellow Michigan-based running store. Hearing other retailers detail the impact such moves had on their business and their cultures only intensified Larscheid’s interest in adding Reese to Running Lab’s ownership ranks.
“It was a matter of asking questions, thinking about what might work best for Running Lab and then piecing it all together,” Larscheid says. “There’s no reason you can’t start looking at what the future of your business will be and I was surprised to learn accessible ways to do this.”
After moving Running Lab into its new 4400-square-foot storefront in April 2021, Larscheid made Reese’s ownership stake a top priority. He peppered an accountant – the same professional who crafted Playmakers’ ownership arrangement – with questions and confirmed Reese’s interest.
“It was a no brainer for me to say, ‘Absolutely,’” Reese says.
Executing the Plan
Last November, things got serious when Larscheid and Reese, along with their respective spouses, sat down with the accountant to define the deal’s key parameters, which were then cemented over subsequent months. Reese received a discount on Running Lab’s valuation based on her contributions to the company’s growth with a down payment and remaining balance paid out with distributions.
When Running Lab announced Reese’s addition to the ownership team on April 25, an outpouring of well wishes and congratulations descended upon the store. For Larscheid, the response confirmed the wisdom of the move.
“I want Running Lab to be looked at as a respectable business in community and one that provides opportunities for people and has happy employees,” he says. “Toni is an unquestionable part of that vision.”
Holding bigger aspirations for Running Lab, Larscheid says bringing Reese onto the ownership team allows for many hands to make light work. Together, he and Reese will make decisions to bolster Running Lab and divvy up tasks to drive sustainable results and build a stronger culture. While Larscheid largely oversees back-of-the-house duties, Reese will continue to focus much of her time on the front of the house, including employees and customers.
“With business growing at this pace, why not try to put someone I can trust in a higher role?” Larscheid says. “It takes a special relationship and a special person, and that’s Toni.”