Where do you plan to buy your next pair of running shoes? With hundreds of retailers ranging from local businesses to big chains to online shopping, combined with to-do lists more intimidating than your weekend long run, you may choose to the simplest, most convenient option. If that option isn’t your local speciality running store, you may want to reconsider. With personalized service and advice along with community support, shopping speciality is a win-win situation for all involved.
“It’s easy to dismiss custom shoe fitting as the critical difference between shopping at a specialty running store and a big box/online retailer. There’s much more to the equation than simply measuring a runner’s foot though,” Dave Zimmer, CEO of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago, says. “The value is that we look at every customer as part of our community and not just as a potential transaction.”
Specialty running stores’ employees develop relationships with their customer, and strive to ensure the runner leaves with a shoe suitable for their unique needs and goals.
“Customers will be fit properly by someone that will have a genuine conversation with them about their needs and past experiences, as well as their goals and expectations for running,” Joel Feinberg, owner of Universal Sole, says.
By providing a gait analysis and a functional movement assessment while also discussing their customers’ current training regimens, prior injuries and general experiences, specialty running store employees offer a fit process that doesn’t exist online or at big box retailers. This level of engagement results in a unique shopping experience for everyone.
In addition to their personalized attention to customers’ specific needs, local retailers provide for runners and the community in many ways.
Dick Pond Athletics. Dick Pond Athletics, located in five different suburbs, currently hosts a Walk 2 Run program every spring, summer and fall.
“We’ve had people come through our Walk 2 Run program that are leading much healthier lifestyles now than they had in the past,” Debbie Crawford, manager of Dick Pond Athletics’ Carol Stream location, says. “Many of our participants didn’t know each other before, but they have since formed lifelong friendships.”
The stores also host marathon and half marathon training, a youth running program in the spring and weekly Fun Run programs for runners of all abilities. Customers can donate their slightly used shoes to the store’s Share Your Soles program, which provides shoes to Chicagoland residents in need.
Fleet Feet Sports. Fleet Feet Sports Chicago’s six locally owned and operated locations offer at least one free event per week—group fun runs, seminars, training sessions—to help improve community members’ lifestyles. The store also provides free gear and shoes to people in need through charity programs like Back on My Feet.
“Furthermore, Fleet Feet owns, manages or sponsors over 50 races a year in Chicagoland, and every single one of them has a charity partner that benefits from the race,” Zimmer says. “By supporting Fleet Feet, customers will also support those in need in all parts of the city, even if they are not runners.”
Geneva Running Outfitters. By overseeing local children’s races, including its Healthy Kids Running Series, and sponsoring local elementary school running programs, Geneva Running Outfitters promotes health in Chicagoland youth.
“We have also created free training runs for beginners, focused on everything from 5Ks to marathons,” owner Eric Ott says. “And we support local athletes through shoe donations, via foundations, as well as on an individual need basis.”
Often Running. Located in the Bloomington-Normal area, Often Running currently leads free, workout-centered group runs. The store is also involved in local schools’ track and field and cross country programs, providing affordable shoes for children of low income families as well as discounts for student athletes.
“We have also held various fundraisers that support our local food pantry, and have donated slightly used shoes to the local Mission Mart,” Clint Wells, assistant manager at Often Running, says. “We also send some of our shoes to Africa through the MORE Foundation Group.”
Running Excels. Running Excels currently sponsors three races: The Tombstone 5K, which donates proceeds to the Maeve McNicholas Memorial Foundation; the Emerald Isle Mile, which donates to the South Side Irish Parade; and the Frankfort Half Marathon, which donates to the Frankfort Historic Business Association.
“We also offer group runs out of each store, which bring people together from Chicagoland,” owner Beverly Lynch says. “Running with others is motivating, as many lifelong friendships have been formed as a result.”
The Runner’s Edge. The Runner’s Edge sponsors multiple races, including Girls on the Run 5Ks, by providing prizes, shirts and support staff, and assists nearby running groups with in-store events and product demos.
The store also helps local high school cross country and track and field teams, hosting events to show coaches how their student athletes can be properly fitted for shoes to improve their odds of avoiding injuries.
“For years, we have also supported Share Your Soles, a local, non-profit organization that provides gently used shoes to people in need throughout the world,” Steve Tanaka, director of business development, says. “So far, we have sent hundreds of used and new shoes to the non-profit, and will continue to do so in the future.”
The Runner’s Soul. The Runner’s Soul currently supports the local community through Souls In Motion, a sister company that provides biomechanics foot and gait evaluations to Chicago area corporations’ employees at their offices or worksites.
“Our staff will look at the shapes of employees’ feet while they walk, as well as how their feet absorb forces,” David Myatt, director of strategy and business development, says. “This information allows us to determine the type of athletic shoe that is most appropriate for employees’ fitness goals.”
The store offers presentations to high school athletes’ parents with regards to the importance of gait analysis and proper shoe fit.
“We also work directly with coaches to speak at their pre-season parent meetings, and we provide discounts to families as they select their training shoes,” Myatt says.
Universal Sole. Universal Sole hosts weekly fun runs year round, sponsors local running events such as Proud To Run, and hosts events like the Four Mile Classic, which donates to Chicago Run, a non-profit that is focused on decreasing childhood obesity.
“Specialty running stores can really be an epicenter of community involvement,” Feinberg says. “Whenever customers purchase products at local running stores, they are not only helping their community members retain employment. Their purchase also contributes to programs that promote communities and build better places for all of us to live, work and play in.”
The Benefits of Specialty Running Stores for Beginners and Advanced Runners
According to Clint Wells of Often Running, beginners tend to notice the following benefits at specialty running stores:
Fitting techniques. Store employees will fit beginners into their new shoes using a range of techniques, from treadmill to visual analysis, to ensure their purchases will provide long-term comfort and stability.
Direct questions. Oftentimes, beginners have lots of questions, either about gear or the sport as a whole. At specialty running stores, experts can provide answers on both of these topics.
Clubs and programs. Beginners will also learn about local running clubs, group runs and beginner running programs where they can meet and socialize with other community members that have similar interests.
Advanced runners can benefit from the expertise specialty stores provide as well in the following ways, according to Wells:
Insider knowledge. Not only can advanced runners learn about the latest races and running trends, they will also receive the inside scoop on the newest shoe models and running gear—brands and products they can’t find anywhere else.
Loyalty programs. Joining a store’s loyalty or discount program can lead to potential long-term savings, particularly for runners who often need to purchase new shoes or gear.
Physical therapy. Running stores can provide information on local physical therapists that specialize in whichever type of injury or issue a runner may experience. Therapy can also help prevent future injuries from occurring in the first place.