This special Virtual Roundtable discussion among some of the leading technology product and service companies servicing the market brings together the worlds of technology and the personal touch that makes run specialty special. Sitting around this virtual table, these men and women touch on some of the most pressing issues facing run retailers and offer advice on how to take advantage of available technology and where they are headed from here.

Sitting around the virtual table …

  • Rob Anderson, COO, Run Free Project
  • Kody Fitzjerrells, President, Omni Digital Group
  • Lance Muzslay, Founder/CEO, Optio
  • Scott Rakestraw, Chief Innovation Officer, Upper Quadrant
  • Amber Vanes, President, RICS Software
  • Ana Wight, Retail GM, Lightspeed

How would you rate run specialty retailers for their willingness to adopt new technology into their businesses? 

Ana Wight, Lightspeed: Modern technology has changed all aspects of running — from performance gear like shoes and apparel to wearable activity trackers that allow more athletes to monitor their progress and improve their efficiency. This is no different in the run specialty retail space. Retailers have identified the need to keep up with their customers to provide a first-class experience. 

Rob Anderson, The Run Free Project: Run specialty is very willing to adopt new technology, but decision-makers’ time is their most precious commodity. Technology that makes sense must provide a tangible return on investment while minimizing the additional overhead required to realize it.

Lance Muzslay, Optio: Run specialty is highly receptive to technology that tames the chaos of dealing with an overwhelming amount of data. There isn’t enough time to efficiently tackle all the buying and inventory management tasks that a store faces and they are thrilled to discover software that bestows them with superpowers.

Scott Rakestraw, Upper Quadrant: If the economics and business case make sense, run specialty is very willing to adopt new technology.

Amber Vanes, RICS Software: Run specialty retailers work in a world where technology and innovation are expected. They are passionate people striving to provide the best experience for their customers, whether that is through the newest model of a running shoe or the ability to meet the customers where they physically are. Our job as the technology provider is to provide a solution to support those goals.

Kody Fitzjerrells, Omni Digital Group: Overall, I would give them an eight out of 10. We see many, many stores adopting not just marketing technology, but also for their inventory and payment processing. 

What advice do you have for retailers who are perhaps a bit hesitant to turn to new technology? 

Rakestraw: Talk to your peers. Run specialty is a unique and connected community. No one is alone and there is a community willing to share. See what other people are doing and learn from their experiences. If you don’t know who to talk to, post to the RIA Listserv.

Anderson: My advice is two-fold. First, your customers are obsessed with participating in evolving technology and they want to do business with companies that can meet them there — not because of some deep underlying philosophical construct, but because many of these technologies make their lives easier and open up new possibilities while tending to further blend the digital and the physical. They’re going to shop and participate with retailers that exist in that space alongside them. This is particularly true for those who are 40 years old and younger. Second, seek insight from your peers about new technology that they consider to be worth investigating. You can cut through the noise by seeking recommendations from other run specialty retailers. Very few things are as powerful as an endorsement from a trusted friend.

Fitzjerrells: Study the competition. Not just the shoe brands, but other industries. What do they do that you can also implement in your business? What is common in one industry may be uncommon in another and give you an edge. 

Vanes: Change is hard, but change is good. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Technology can not only make you more profitable, but can also help you better serve your customers — a win-win!

Wight: It’s not easy to start and run an independent business, but technology can take a lot of the challenges out of business management. Most people start a business because they’re passionate about running or exercise, not about managing their digital marketing or updating their inventory. All of the automation tools can help when it comes to hiring or skill gaps in the labor market. Additionally, offering contactless payment, curbside pickup and online ordering also helps an independent retailer stay competitive in their local market. 

Muszlay: Efficiently operating a run specialty store is more complicated and technical than most people bargained for. Way too much time is spent exporting data from the POS system and manipulating spreadsheets. Recognizing that there should be a better system is a good first step. 

So who is your target market? 

Vanes: Retailers in the soft goods space. We have a large presence in footwear and apparel through run specialty and family footwear, but also serve fashion boutiques, western and work wear, Halloween stores and orthotic retailers.

Fitzjerrells: Our core customer is anyone in the run specialty retail segment with a POS system we can integrate with. These would include RICS, Lightspeed, Heartland and Retail Pro.

Anderson: Our target market is run specialty retailers. Project members actively shape the development roadmap for all products across the platform, ensuring our offerings account for the evolving needs of the industry. When a retailer joins the Run Free Project, we maintain an active two-way relationship with them and we seek to apply the same customer-centric approach to our business that our members apply to theirs.

Rakestraw: Run specialty retailers and brands with a passion for helping people through their running journey.

Muszlay: Primarily specialty running stores, but Optio works just as well for comfort shoe stores and retailers in other channels. Optio currently integrates with RICS, Lightspeed and Heartland.

Wight: Lightspeed retail is a fit for complex independent retailers looking to scale into omnichannel operations. 

What is the benefit of your technology for run specialty retailers?

Fitzjerrells: The benefit is twofold. The simplest and best way to grow sales is through existing customers. Let’s say you have 10,000 people in your POS system. What if you could get just five percent of those people to return more than they regularly would in a year’s time? That is huge to the bottom line of their business. The second part is to track how many people came back into the store and make a purchase so you as a retailer can see what is working via our dashboard.

Wight: Often with specialty retailers, the operators entered the business because they’re hyper passionate about their industry — in this case, running. These operators are looking for solutions that allow them to manage their business without having to be an expert at supply chain management, inventory, accounting and other back-end responsibilities. Lightspeed retail seamlessly integrates all aspects of their operation, from in-store point-of-sale, their e-commerce platform, inventory management across multiple locations, accounting and reporting and much more, ultimately helping to create a true omnichannel business. The Lightspeed platform allows retailers to keep their focus on providing the best customer experience possible. 

Vanes: Originally created 40 years ago for an independent run specialty store, the RICS solution mirrors business processes with software functionality. Our mobile POS is the solution for in-store, curbside, line busting or at events.

Muszlay: Optio makes revising future orders, composing at-once orders and all aspects of inventory management easy and precise. Higher profitability is achieved by driving higher inventory turn rates while spending far less time on laborious tasks. Being able to manage model stock levels by style, size and location is a powerful feature and is what drives the buying reports. For stores with multiple locations there is an extremely valuable transfer report. 

Anderson: The Run Free Project enables run specialty retailers to save time and money by fully automating their online presence. Our website builder gives retailers the opportunity to host their entire website, not just e-commerce, on our platform and our custom-branded mobile apps enable retailers to provide unique omnichannel experiences while maximizing customer engagement through social selling, gamification, and push notifications.  

Finally, what’s next in terms of new products and upgrades? 

Rakestraw: We are working to resolve customer identities to measure campaign performance across platforms with new identity management innovations. And our UQ Cadence industry intelligence and data sharing platform includes new marketing and buying tools that make retailer and brand collaboration super easy. 

Wight: Lightspeed has made a number of acquisitions over the past few years in an effort to take our product offerings to the next level and has integrated these services into one flagship platform that offers the ability to manage their business all within the Lightspeed platform. Perhaps most exciting is the recent launch of the Lightspeed B2B platform, a transformative new solution that will bring together thousands of the world’s best brands and retailers with a cutting-edge supplier network tool that integrates B2B orders directly into the point-of-sale system, eliminating the common inefficiencies of inventory acquisition and distribution. 

Anderson: While we will continue constantly engaging with the member community to develop new features and exciting functionality across our website, e-commerce and Relay endless aisle products, there is so much in store for the mobile loyalty apps. We’ve barely scratched the surface of potential in the mobile space and the overwhelming improvement in customer engagement across all things app-related is and will continue to be an engine for growth for our retailers.

Muszlay: A footwear model stock recommendation engine is the most recently developed feature and is very instrumental in determining the optimal distribution of stock levels in order to achieve a higher turn rate. Future plans include integrating B2B inventory data from more vendors and integrating with more POS systems.

Vanes: At a high level, our technology roadmap is designed to enable greater flexibility, more connectivity and a better customer experience through our mobile point-of-sale and across our entire platform. 

Fitzjerrells: We are expanding our technology and making it better on all fronts  — look, capabilities, more POS systems and more features that help shoe retailers grow. 

The Elevator Pitch ...

The Run Free Project provides run specialty retailers with turnkey websites, e-commerce and mobile loyalty apps on a single platform backed by 24/7 live support. It simplifies e-commerce by automating inventory, gift cards and orders through the point-of-sale system, while exposing shoppers to a wider variety of products with endless aisle options from top brands. Run Free’s mobile loyalty apps for Apple and Android devices ensure engagement through built-in gamification and push notifications while seamlessly tracking in-store and online purchases, event participation and activity. 

Powering the businesses that are the backbone of the global economy, Lightspeed’s one-stop commerce platform helps merchants innovate to simplify, scale and deliver exceptional customer experiences. The cloud commerce retail solution transforms and unifies online and physical operations, multichannel sales, expansion to new locations, global payments, financial solutions and integrated access to supplier networks.

Optio is a suite of software that optimizes buying and inventory management as well as enhances and fills feature gaps in point-of-sale systems. It strikes a balance between automating tedious and laborious tasks while allowing for quick and efficient decision making. Essentially, Optio integrates all relevant inventory and sales data in real time.

RICS Software provides retailers with a technology solution that includes POS, full inventory management and reporting, integrated payments and brand connectivity between retailers and brands through product catalogs, electronic ordering and inventory availability. It enables integrations of on-line sales and stock management with in-store efforts for a full omnichannel experience. 

Upper Quadrant partners with more than 300 retail stores and brands to provide them with technology, industry insights and marketing services.

Omni Lightning is a software that helps retailers leverage the data in their POS system, helping to get customers into the store again and again through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, email and texting.