I was talking about the start of Run On! with Brother Jack on a morning dog walk so I thought I’d share it with those of you who are interested and can read at a third grade level. Jack only asked because we were walking on the uphill trails and he was out of breath, having lived at sea level all his life.
Probably in 1992 I was working at Athletic Supply and talking to Chris, our Nike shoe rep at the time. We discussed opening a running store and agreed to put a plan together. His idea was to buy Phidippides, a local shop that was not doing well. The store was located in Old Town Shopping Center at Greenville Ave and Lovers Lane. The major problem was that neither of us had a nickel to our names. We spoke to Fran Moore, the store owner, and he wanted way more money than the business was worth.
The reason we had to buy an existing business was that Lukes owned the specialty business and threatened every rep not to open any new competing businesses. We put together a business plan, went to every bank in town begging for money. All the banks responded the same way; they didn’t respond. None of them even gave us a “hell no.”
After about a year Chris and I gave up. Another six months passed and I received a phone call from Fran saying he was serious about selling. I called Chris and he had received the same call. Chris was no longer interested. Being a person of superior intelligence but being totally stupid I decided to talk to Fran. We agreed on a price of $40K. No problem, except I still didn’t have nickel. Or even half a nickel.
Having been rejected by all the banks, I went soliciting friends. Apparently my friends were poor or smart or both. Eventually I came up with about $20K. The agreement was always the same. There was a set interest rate that was paid monthly. After the first year we would start paying back principal plus interest. OK, then. So things were at a standstill. One night Rebecca and I were at dinner with our friends Larry and Nancy. He asked me about how the business plan was going and I told him what was going on. He flicks me a check for the missing amount. His father had recently passed away and he had some extra cash. Talk about a true friend or a total nut case. Not only that, he paid for dinner.
Off Rebecca and I went to Fran, cash in hand. Our agreement was that at closing Fran had to come with a list of all the vendors and the money he owed them. Checks would be written for those amounts and he would be responsible for any amounts that were not disclosed. He walked away with about $5K and Rebecca and I had a key to a shop that was full of old inventory, a business name that nobody could spell or pronounce and total annual sales of $180K. The good news was we had avoided the local reps being threatened by Lukes and new signs were not that expensive. Right? In early March 1995 Phidippides became Run On!
A Little Paint Never Hurts
Luckily, Rebecca had a real job as a dental hygienist, which allowed us to eat at home if we had the time and energy. My good friend, Brent Trammel, took a week off work and helped me replace 30-year-old peg walls with slat wall, fix holes in the ceiling and walls and paint the place — all during business hours. As a novel concept we even relocated the phone from the dressing room. There wasn’t much business that was interrupted as we worked through the week.
How do I pay back a friend for that? Not with cash, I didn’t have any. How about an endless supply of stale kale and tofu or a lifetime supply of sarcasm. He could not make a decision, so I did. Kale is a seasonal item and sometimes difficult to find.
Having a clean slate of accounts we were able of purchase current inventory. In our first full month of business our sales were a whopping $30K. Our staff was me, Steve (Gonna) Goodman and Eric (Mumbles) Mountin, both part timers. Rebecca would come in at lunch time and after work and pay the mounting bills, work the register or sell shoes.
Luckily for us we had a timing business and we moved the packet pick up from Athletic Supply to the new Run On! and generated a lot of potential sales traffic. It also meant that Wednesday nights were late nights getting race numbers ready, Friday nights were late nights setting up for races, Saturdays were 4 a.m. starts setting up for races. Of course, we also implemented new store hours that included being open on Sundays! Boy, what a concept.
The Training Thing
One of the things I quickly learned working the floor every day was how little the runners knew about training. Every day people would limp in, shoes in hand, wanting to get some shoes that wouldn’t injure them. It was like the shoes had set their training schedule that took them from running three miles twice a week to running 70 miles a week including hills and mile repeats on the track in a few weeks time.
Being an astute business survivalist I started our training classes. I could see that we would lose our entire customer base of runners in a year if I didn’t help them train correctly. It became one of the cores of our business, when my only goal was to keep the doors open. So add the training classes to late nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays and early Sunday mornings. The working hours were rapidly adding up, the sleeping hours rapidly declining.
One of the first running classes for the experienced runners was training for the White Rock Marathon. We had purchased on old red Chevy cargo van with no power steering, no air conditioning and unfinished plywood planks in the bed of the vehicle. We would use the vehicle to get runners to the start of their run and to pick them up if they had a bad day.
One early Sunday morning I took the crew in the van to White Rock Lake to start their training run. It was one of those miserable fall days, cold, wet and windy. My crew stood around moaning and groaning in anticipation of the three hour run. After a while (three or four seconds) I’d had enough of it. “Shut up and run!” I yelled in my most encouraging tone. At the end of the year I received a poster, signed by everyone in the group, headed by “Shut up and Run!” Humbly, I was a known to be a very supportive coach.
The next unplanned advance to the business was moving locations. We were running out of space, and quickly. The inventory storage area could hold about two weeks of stock. We literally had crates that we would store outside during business hours because we had no room in the backroom. One day the Fire Department came in for a safety inspection. Luckily the emergency exit was completely covered with shoe boxes and we passed the inspection. A close call.
Right behind our store was an empty suite. Our lease was running out after we owned the shop for a year. I pleaded and begged to get a lease on the extra space. Nothing happening. The space had been vacant for years, but with my outstanding financial record it was out of my reach.
We moved to Mockingbird Lane, a far better location and the business kept improving, just like my already outstanding good looks and humbleness. I should have been a politician. The move to the new Mockingbird location was memorable like everything else we did. Call on friends, customers, employees and bystanders. Load up your car after we locked up the doors for business, drive down to Mockingbird, unload and repeat. There may have been some pizza and beer consumed.
Turn on the Lights
You’ve all heard of putting the cart before the horse — that was us in our early days. We opened up the new location without having electric. That’s right, no electricity. I’m sure I had called the power company to have the service switched. Luckily we had generators we used for our event timing business. We had wires running all over the place for a whole week. If the lights or register started flickering, someone had to run out the back and refill the generator and we were back in business. Such a sophisticated operation. Eventually we had power and Run On! was normal for a few minutes.
The new Run On! location was opened, the old one forgotten. Fly by the seat of your pants, work 80 to 100 hours a week and hope for the best. Not a great strategy but it worked until Calvin stepped in and helped us steer the ship. If it wasn’t for a truck full of luck, some unbelievable employees, Brent Trammell and other friends, customers and Calvin’s guidance we would have been another long forgotten business.
Such are the makings of small business.
Thank you for the fine editing skills of Rebecca, Brother Jack and my four legged friends Rocket and Bullet.