Why Races Should Partner with Local Running Retailers

If you organize a running event, it’s likely that you have a relationship with an independently owned specialty running store.  Local running stores provide sponsorship, promotion and technical advice to countless events across the country.  With Black Friday coming and Small Business Saturday the following day, you have a terrific opportunity to support your running store partner – and your community – by shopping locally.

“[F]or every $100 in consumer spending with a local business, $68 remained in the local economy.  On the flip side, for every $100 in consumer spending with a chain firm, only $43 remained in the local economy.

Specialty running shops are about much more than running shoes and gear.  Most have clinics and classes designed to train aspiring and established runners on how to eat, train, and prepare for their upcoming race or event.  The goal of a local shop owner is for all their customers to achieve theirs.  The rising popularity of running has grabbed the attention of national sporting goods chains and online retailers.  The growth of running products in these channels has eclipsed the growth at specialty retail three years running.  These larger retailers offer similar products as specialty retailers at competitive prices but may not invest in the education and service found at specialty.  As a result, customers shopping outside specialty miss out on the expertise and customization needed to ensure the proper fit that leads to a great run and lasting fitness.  “What makes specialty special is the level of passion of each person working at the store,” says David Sobolik, owner of Fit Right, a local running store based in Portland, OR.  “We are all about the customer and getting it right, but we also want to motivate and inspire them as they walk out the door.”


Founded in 2006, the Independent Running Retailer Association (IRRA) represents the interests of these specialty running retailers within the United States.  The IRRA provides a voice for independent specialty shops as they compete to maintain running as a lifestyle within their cities and towns.  Through advocacy, education and member programs such as those provided by the IRRA/SignMeUp partnership, the IRRA strives to provide an even playing field for the ‘little guy’.  Local running shops are the heart and soul of running fitness in this country.  Other retailers can do it bigger but no one can do it better than specialty running shops.  Running is hard.  People quit every day.  Local retailers connect, and people need that connection to keep at it and stay motivated.

In 2013 the IRRA launches its nationwide Lace Up Local campaign. Through national advertising, social media, and in-store events, Lace Up Local strives to build awareness around the customer and economic benefits of shopping local.   The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics highlighted that for every $100 in consumer spending with a local business, $68 remained in the local economy.  On the flip side, for every $100 in consumer spending with a chain firm, only $43 remained in the local economy.  The local benefit of online purchases are far less than even chain stores since nearly all the money leaves the local economy and goes to the home territory of the online retailer.  Circulating money through the local business strengthens economies.  Shop owners patronize the same grocery stores, support the same PTAs, and contribute to the same local organizations as their customers.  Lace up Local illustrates that customer decisions matter, and their choice on where to purchase can have a far reaching benefit.

Do you make a point of shopping locally?  Why or why not?

Parker Kanan is the Executive Director of the IRRA.

3 thoughts on “Why Races Should Partner with Local Running Retailers

  1. Thank you Parker for a well written and accurate account of the difference between specialty retailers and larger box stores and do we even throw “online” stores into the mix?

    In response to Don’s statements, I’d have to respectfully disagree. If specialty footwear stores only focused on or catered to “elite” runners, we wouldn’t be in business. I don’t doubt that there may be an individual box store that may do a better job than another box store in terms of service when compared to one another, but I think the argument can greatly be challenged when compared to the local specialty retailer. As a whole, the independent channel is truly vested in each and every customer through community focused activities, specialty fitting processes, new hire and continuing education practices.

    A significant referral source for independent stores like mine come from the trusted medical community. These individuals truly see the added value in a proper fitting process and chose to send their patients into a place of business where the guests are truly cared for and provided with expert knowledge about all things related to running, walking and fitness. 90% of these referrals are non-runners.

    We, as independents, thrive off of helping individuals discover the sport we all love, we help them progress in the sport and ultimately we’re their biggest cheerleader when they come back and share their stories of success. We’re a community, they support us and we support them. This is something that big box and online retailers can’t accomplish. Regardless of skill level. They’re all individuals with a choice as to where they can spend their money.

    This is not a dig on those businesses, it’s just the defining difference between big box and specialty. The beauty of capitalism is that people have a choice and options. As an independent, my suggestion is to choose local. It just feels good knowing that you’re helping out your local community in doing so.

    1. David,

      Prior to working in a “big box” store, I purchased running shoes from all of the locally owned specialty stores. I know all the owners, even did some training with one. Both my wife and I had gait analysis done at these stores. I’ve spent lots of time in these stores. In other words, I’m very familiar with what they offer.

      When I began working at the chain store it was much as you say. However, partially due to my input and the input of other runners in the company, we have changed how we do business. Our stores now offer almost everything that’s available at specialty stores. We get customers who’ve been referred by the medical community as well. We recruit associates who are active runners, we train them in an ongoing manner, and we offer expert knowledge. I not only help ensure proper fit, but I also offer training and injury prevention advice. Vendor reps have told me I have as much knowledge, if not more, than any store they work with…including specialty.

      Is my store unique in our chain? No, there are others with very passionate and dedicated associates. Not every store in the chain has the same expertise, but we are working toward that continually.

      As a big store that caters to a wide variety of sporting interests, we support numerous activities and events other than running whereas a specialty store typically only supports local running activities. It’s possible we may put more dollars back in the community than all the local specialty running stores combined. We just spread it around in areas where they don’t.

      I visit the local specialty stores regularly. When people want particular items or products we don’t carry, I let them know where to buy them. My guess is this is not reciprocated, but I do it as a service because I want the guest to get exactly what they want even if we don’t have it.

      Can we do more? Certainly. I think we can all work together to complement each other. Neither type of business is right for every customer and getting it right for the customer is what it’s all about. Wouldn’t you agree?

  2. While many local specialty stores do offer more in terms of supporting local races and hosting clinics, it’s not true that some large chains are not investing heavily in training to ensure runners are getting fitted properly. The chain I work for has made huge strides in training all footwear associates. Many of my staff are actively involved in running and have extensive knowledge of how to fit shoes properly. We utilize video gait analysis and other methods to determine what type of shoe is best. We then are able to recommend various options across multiple brands.

    Some big chains offer top line shoe models at attractive prices, coupled with training to ensure fit. Big chains likely will not compete in the market for the hard core runners who need more specialized shoes like racing flats.

    Due to the volume of business some large chains may not be able to spend as much time with a customer. Specialty stores cater only to runners while large chains offer a much wider variety of footwear.

    While more money may remain local with specialty stores, for many recreational runners a large chain can often fit them properly at a lower price.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s