In central Illinois, Running Central re-brands as RC Outfitters.
By Daniel P. Smith
Five years ago, Running Insight profiled Adam White’s last daring bet. That was when White and his wife, Marie, moved Running Central, a Peoria, IL, staple since 1977, into a 20,000-square-foot space in the city’s redeveloping Warehouse District.
In the $2.2 million project, the Whites transformed an111-year-old former hardware and lumber supply store into their version of a running specialty wonderland. More than 150 unique models of adult shoes, some 4000 units of women’s apparel and an RC Kids Zone stocked with over 100 boys’ and girls’ footwear styles sat in a lively space featuring exposed timber beams and reclaimed artwork.
“The running specialty industry didn’t present the model we envisioned creating, so we built it ourselves,” White told Running Insight back in 2014.
Now, White’s at it again, putting another fresh spin on the business he purchased in 2007.
“Darwin said we have to evolve and stay relevant,” White says, “and he’s right.”
A Fundamental Disconnect
Even amid all that euphoria and optimism back in 2014, White confesses something didn’t sit right.
“I said for a long time that stores with running in their name were at a competitive disadvantage and that included us at Running Central,” says White, a Peoria native and prep running star in the central Illinois city. “If you’re not a runner, but need to be properly fit, would you be comfortable at a place called Running Central? That was a barrier to entry and I knew it.”
Still, though, White hesitated to drop the name during that substantial 2014 project, one that also included broadening and diversifying the store’s inventory into more lifestyle categories. He retained the Running Central moniker, referring to a name that had been a community mainstay for 40 years.
“Quite honestly, fear got the best of me,” White says. “I stuck with Running Central and with sound reason for doing so.”
But as the last five years unfolded, White increasingly recognized a fundamental disconnect. The Running Central name did not fit with how the business had evolved both within its four walls and out in the community. Customers, nearly two-thirds of whom did not identify themselves as runners, failed to see Running Central’s broad offerings, which had come to include denim, dresses and wool sweaters in addition to the running staples.
“People weren’t seeing or aware of our offerings because they were, more often than not, just thinking running shoes,” White says.
With purpose and intent, White began dissecting where his business was and where it needed to go.
“If we are to be as successful as we want to be, then we have to make sure our brand connects with our community,” White says. “I became convinced that wasn’t happening as well as it could have or should have.”
The Birth of RC Outfitters
On March 13, White unveiled RC Outfitters, a modern, evolved twist on the Running Central legacy.
After closing for business on Sunday, March 10, White and his team spent the next 66 hours refreshing the massive downtown Peoria storefront for its new era.
On the walls, navy blue, teal, mustard yellow and gray tones replaced the store’s existing green and black scheme, while Ned, Running Central’s longtime on-the-run caricature, gave way to a new brand mark: a shield with the letters R and C cut by an ascending, feathery graphic design to mimic an eight-lane running track and the winged foot. It’s a clear nod to the store’s running-fueled heritage, but also a timeless logo that represents the promising future White envisions for his business.
The new logo, which sits prominently on an illuminated shoe wall at the rear of the showroom, is also present on a revised social media presence and an overhauled website, one that boasts a telling slogan: “More than Just a Running Store!” To that point, the diverse array of inventory from lifestyle brands like Toad&Co and Prana remains as White and his crew aim to outfit customers “for every occasion.”
With this, White announced programming designed to bring sustained activity to the store: twice-weekly happy hours that invite customers to relax and unwind with a chardonnay or beer as well as yoga and Pilates sessions and trunk shows.
“We’re doing exactly what we’ve been doing for the last five years, but throwing a powder keg on it,” White says.
Veteran run specialty retail consultant Parker Karnan, whose known White for a decade, calls the RC Outfitters’ re-brand “daring and smart.”
“In an evolving market, the smart people go back to what their customers want and that’s what Adam is doing here,” Karnan says. “He’s branding his business as the one it has become and what he believes it needs to be moving forward.”
The Running Heritage
During a four-minute Facebook Live session on March 13, White revealed RC Outfitters to the public and, in his typical candid and enthusiastic style, detailed what he did and why. In that soliloquy, White assured that RC Outfitters was not turning away from running at all. In fact, he pledged to “double down” on structured running activities.
To that end, RC Outfitters introduced a women’s running group called Sole Squad and announced three different weekly fun runs. On March 31, meanwhile, RC Outfitters hosted a free road race on Peoria’s riverfront to celebrate both its new era and its running DNA.
White says the fun runs, programming and road race represent pieces of his shop’s multi-layered, 10-week guerilla marketing effort designed to spotlight RC Outfitters’ new identity and its mission to be one of the region’s premier retail destinations.
Providing an Experience
“While people shop great apparel stores, they don’t shop specialty run. They buy specialty run,” White says. “We’re gunning to change that by providing a pinnacle, magical shopping experience alongside engaging events that are valuable to the Peoria community.”
Leading up to the re-brand, White selectively shared his ideas with colleagues and vendors at The Running Event and, later, with RC team members. The response, he says, was universally positive, confirmation for White that his gut was leading him in the right direction and that re-branding his business to better reflect its present reality and marketplace position was indeed a savvy move.
Now, days after the unveiling, White says he’s receiving validation from the most important group of all: his customers.
“It’s been an awesome, overwhelming response across the board,” he says. “People understand why we’ve done what we’ve done and are behind it, which just feeds the excitement and energy.”