Reflection on 2020 … Changes were pretty drastic at Ridgefield Running and none will go away. Since March 16, the last official day the store was open before the Connecticut shutdown and before it reopened on May 20th. Ridgefield Running Company set up delivery and curbside service, instituted fittings outside and officially became an online retailer, using the RunFree Platform, that went line within days of closure.
More 2020 Changes … The retailer also changed its POS system to Heartland, allowing it to become iPad mobile, and took out its entire cash wrap and converted to 100 percent iPad devices for 3D scanning, gait analysis to check-out. This enabled it to have the client work with one employee from greeting to departure and it now has an Opto Kiosk that can roll around if needed. Even better, this allowed the store to gain about 100-square feet of space.
Wait, There’s More … The changes continued through the year as Ridgefield Running adopted Touchless Pay terminals and took out a no-longer-needed dressing room and moved a wall to gain a bigger back room for the staff to move around. They also replaced carpet in the back with a more hygienic wood surface and removed all four-ways to make space. They also took apparel down to a size run per SKU, to slim down and make room for loss of four-ways.
Enter Darien Running Company … As if that wasn’t enough change, in July owner Megan Searfoss opened Darien Running Company in Darien, CT. The store was designed to allow a customer to move around the store freely without anything but its FitStation, treadmill, fit benches and stools on the floor. “Both stores feel open and allow for a customer to see everyone in the store, creating a safe environment,” Searfoss says.
Safety Protocols Rule … The stores started with a greeting station in which temperatures are taken and masks and hand sanitizer are available. They followed all guidelines that the CDC and the state set forth and in November were able to take down the greeting area. Everyone must still wear a mask and they do limit the amount in the store at a time, but the need to police has been removed and both stores are very open.
Any Positives? … “The pandemic caused us to innovate quickly and as a result we got creative and have created stores that are super shoppable,” Searfoss says. “If anything, it caused us to really think about selling spaces and how customers can interact without bumping into another person.” The pandemic also forced them to act on upgrading technology more quickly than Searfoss had planned, but it worked out for the better in the end.
Marketing in a Pandemic … Ridgefield Running Company is very community-oriented and like everyone else was forced to reach its customers in different ways. At the start of the shutdown it did a Buy- One-Give-One initiative for the Bridgeport Rescue Mission providing over 100 pairs of new shoes for homeless men and women. It later partnered with the Open Door Shelter, a non-profit that serves the homeless and provided 100 pairs of new shoes and clothing for their free store.
Giving Back to the Community … During the pandemic RRC has focused on give-backs for the many non-profits that lost their races, or fund-raising vehicles by using its stores to create awareness for them. “The concept that although we are all in the same sea of the pandemic, everyone’s boat is a bit different really struck home for the staff,” she explains. “The stores took a hit, but I was able to keep people employed and we were able to give to those that are really struggling.”
Getting Social … Social media continues to be a large part of the two stores’ marketing; however, reaching its customers through segmented emails is much more personal and the open rate remains high. Integrating its POS system with its email platform and social media has been a game-changer.
Vendor Partnerships … For the most part, Searfoss says her vendors were awesome. Offering extended terms and holding product while the stores navigated their “time-off” and then return-to-business was critical. “Our reps stayed in touch and were super helpful from afar,” Searfoss says.
The 2021 Outlook … Searfoss says she remains “cautiously excited” about 2021. “We are going to continue to innovate and push what we can do safely,” she adds. “If there is a positive from the pandemic it is that people are outside moving and many have found the mental and physical benefits of running for the first time. Our virtual programs and small group meet-ups are growing and when racing and high school sports open back up, I think we are all going to experience an uptick. It’s been a long recovery period and athletes are ready to go.” N
Ridgefield, CT, and Darien, CT (opened July 2020)
Owner: Megan Searfoss
History: Opened in October, 2014, moved to the heart of downtown Ridgefield in March, 2019. The new location is a 100-year-old building with lots of history that allows for curbside pick-up, outdoor fittings and run meet-ups
Every customer goes through RRC’s Fit Process, a comprehensive evaluation, 3D foot scan and Dynamic gait Analysis, before trying a pair of shoes, whether they are looking for a walking shoe, a shoe to stand at work all day or a shoe for a championship race.
In Their Words: “We support the active community through sponsorship, scholarship and education. Through a strong partnership with our Ridgefield Library, we have hosted Deena Kastor, Scott Jurek, Diana Nyad and many top orthopedics from HSS. We have donated over 200 pairs of shoes to our local homeless shelters during the pandemic.”
The Award: “The Best Running Stores recognition this year is especially sweet. The RRC team has never worked so hard to ensure a customer feels welcomed and safe in our store. Our 100 percent iPad integration ensures the customer works with one team member. The RRC team treats every customer like they are the secret shopper, ensuring that all are treated with the same respect and attention, from a gel purchase to a GPS watch. We are proud to be able to say that we are a Best Running Store! Through the pandemic, RRC quickly became omni-channel, offering virtual fittings, curbside and delivery. Our staff has worked hard to adapt to the changes and our fit process, now available by appointment, will become an integral part of the business moving forward. “