Reflections on 2020 … During March and April things were pretty tough due to COVID-19, reports Michele Allen. “We did not want to lay off any of our full-time staff, so we worked on things that always seemed to get pushed to the back burner.” During this time, the staff began updating its policies and procedures and its website while launching an online store.
The Customer Contact … iRun Texas staff also personally reached out to their regular customers through phone calls and texts to see if they could help with any of their running needs. In addition, it launched virtual fittings and provided phone ordering with curbside pick-up and home delivery. “This kept us in close contact with our regular customers and kept them happy, even when our doors were shut,” Allen says. “We were also able to allow those individuals with medical prescriptions into the stores for shoe fittings following CDC guidelines.”
The Remodel .. iRun Texas had been planning to remodel its first location (opened in December, 2009, so it definitely needed a face lift) and decided during pandemic-mandated restrictions would be the time to really do it. The remodel was completed before the end of the year.
Merchandising In A Pandemic … In the first quarter of 2020 iRun Texas launched its online store, which continues to be a very important part of its business. Virtual fittings are also something that will continue to be offered customers if that works better for them.
Merchandising Post-Pandemic … iRun Texas plans to continue its online shopping, curbside pick-up, home delivery and virtual fittings as the pandemic hopefully loosens its hold on Texas.
Any Positives in 2020 … Allen points to the remodel, the new website and the online store as positive developments in the past year. A closer connection with customers was another, unexpected result. “I think that our customers really tried to support us and local businesses during this pandemic,” she says. “I think they often just shopped even when they didn’t need something right then just to help our business.”
Another Benefit … Allen points out that with people working from home and gyms closed, iRun Texas has also seen many new customers who have just started or got back into running and walking outside.
Marketing In A Pandemic … iRun Texas did not introduce any specific marketing initiatives in 2020 because of the pandemic, but Allen believes that future marketing efforts will be more successful and better thought-out because of the staff’s ability to tie in all aspects of how customers interact with it on their phones or laptops. And because it now has a distinct tie-in with social media to its website advertising it will be able to target customers with more intention.
The Racing Business … While the retail side of its business has fared well enough through all this, its training programs and race management company have not Ñ iRun Texas has not had a live race since February. “Training classes and races are a huge part of our business and they give people goals to keep running,” Allen says. “I have faith that by Summer 2021 we will start to see events come back and social gatherings and training classes will be able to resume.”
Getting Social … During the challenging year of 2020, social media allowed iRun Texas to keep in contact with its customers, an effort that really evolved as the year wore on. At first, it seemed like its customers turned to social media for basic information, Allen explains Ð such as whether the stores were open, any adjusted hours, capacity limits, that sort of thing Ð and that allowed it to connect with little updates rather than publishing them monthly in a newsletter. Daily, and sometimes even hourly, it put up information about how the stores could continue to help customers.
Getting Social, Part 2 … “As our plans progressed and we found our groove, Mitch and I posted a video (or two) talking directly to customers,” says Allen. “We’ve never done that before, but customers really appreciated the intimate feel of the owners of ‘their running store’ talking directly to them.” Adding the online store and updating the website during this time has allowed iRun Texas to view social media in a bigger scope Ñ from directing people to the online store to shop, to figuring out how to track website traffic, it has learned a lot about the advantages of technology and social media in today’s small business.
The Vendor Connection … Allen gives her vendors an A+ for their efforts during the pandemic. “It was definitely a balancing act for them trying to get product out, pushing back release dates and all kinds of shipping issues that have happened due to the pandemic,” she says. “But as partners we have worked through this together.”
Looking Ahead … Allen and her team are very hopeful for what 2021 will bring to them. “We have learned a lot, enhanced our online and social media presence and figured out new ways to manage our business,” she says. “We are resilient. We will continue to adjust and grow with the ever-changing world we live in.”
Three locations in San Antonio, TX
Owners: Michele and Mitch Allen
History: In December 2009, iRun Texas opened as Run On! San Antonio, a partnership with owners Michele and Mitch Allen and the owners of Dallas-based running stores, Run On! In October 2012, the Run On! stores in the Dallas area sold, necessitating the name change of the San Antonio store. Rebranding as iRun Texas and buying out the partnership in December of 2012, the Allens opened their second location in May 2012. The third location opened January 2015.
In Their Words: “We strive to encourage runners and walkers of all ages and abilities in achieving their highest level of health and fitness goals through our staff, comprehensive product line and quality training programs. Our excellent, educated staff is committed to fitting you in the right shoes. We also feel our bra fitting process is just as extensive and important as fitting for shoes.”