Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Tale of Two Running Stores

ORN; 4.6 total w/ 5K time trial of 25:59 (8:21/mile)...felt good
Hang with me here...this is story mostly about people and business, set in a running context.  It's quite a contrast between two running stores and two approaches. 
On April 27, I blogged about the offer I had from the folks at New Balance-Harrisburg.  In short, they offered to send me a free pair of running shoes if I would a) post a link to their store for a year and b) write about the shoes they sent me.  As I have a keen interest in digital marketing, I said yes to the offer. 
I posted the link.  But, to briefly recap, problems began when I asked the marketing folks to help me decide which NB shoe would be the best for me, a big, hulking overpronator who really likes my Brooks' Beasts.  I got no response from anyone who knew about shoes.  At all.  So, resorting to my own research efforts via the web, I "guessed" a pair of New Balance 1123 motion control shoes.  Just a few days after I ordered them, they arrived, just as promised. 
I wore them for about three weeks.  My initial response was "Man, is that a straight shoe!"  Whereas most running shoes have a more or less inward curve, this shoe looked like a 2x4 with laces on top...dead straight!  I put them on and they felt a bit awkward, but motion control shoes do that anyway. 
After 50 miles of running in the 1123s over three weeks, I was disappointed.  My legs and feet never got comfortable.  Of more concern, as I began to see a wear pattern develop on the shoe, it was obvious the shoe was way less effective on controlling my overpronation than the Beast.  So, I pulled it from my running shoe rotation.  The shoes do, however, serve me when I mow the yard. 
Still, I wondered, what would have happened had someone really wanted to help me select the right shoe? 
I found out, once again, last Tuesday while in Chicago taking son Matt back to Wheaton College for his junior year. 
After getting Matt settled (and a tough good-bye it was for this Dad!),I drove a few miles south to visit Naperville Running Company.  I first learned of this store from blogging buddy Waddler and wrote about them in February, 2007 after my first visit.  As described in the link, John deduced Brooks Beast would provide relief from the ITB pain I had.  Since then, I've purchased more Beasts via mail order from the store.  But I wanted to take another hard look at the Beast... Brooks has slightly altered the design... is it still the best shoe?? 
I had emailed Kris, the store owner, a few days earlier and asked if I could see someone on Tuesday afternoon.  He said they'd all be there, so when I walked into the store around 3pm I was thrilled to see John again, the same guy who helped me 2.5 years ago.  
I brought three pairs of Beasts with me and, as he did in February 2007, he first combed the soles of the shoes for clues to my foot pattern.  It was like watching a crime specialist at the scene... no detail was too small. He asked me about my running pattern... he was surprised and complimentary to learn I'd run 10 marathons since we last talked.  He then asked about changes in my running, weight, other factors.  He pronounced the wear pattern "good" but was also empathetic to my concern about knowing if the Beast remained the best shoe for me. 
After all this talk, he disappeared to the back room finding what he thought would be the best candidates.  The Beast was one, of course, to serve as a "control".  He brought the Asics Gel Foundation as well, which I suspected was also a good candidate.  But, most ironically, he also grabbed the New Balance 850!  I laughed to myself and thought "this will be interesting"; I had mentioned nothing of my contact with the NB store. 
We quickly dismissed the Asics shoe...the posts just didn't feel comfortable.  The Beasts felt very good.  But the NB850 was very nearly as good as the Beast!  John let me try both of them and then we went to the treadmill.  They had a video camera set up at the rear of the 'mill recording the street-level view of my running gait.  John reviewed it, and let me watch in slow motion, analyzing each foot's strike in each model. 
Bottom line:  the new model of the Beast looked perfect.  The NB 850 looked almost perfect.  Only the slightest of difference at foot strike was observable.  Both John and I agreed the NB 850 would probably work fine if we had had any concerns with the Beast.  But it was not wise to throw out the incumbent unless there was a much stronger alternative. 
I walked out with a new pair of Beasts.  More importantly though, I walked out with strong level of confidence I was wearing the model of shoes best suited for me. 
Contrast these two running store experiences.  Just from the conversation we had, John pulled out the 850s as a possible shoe for me.  Surely someone at the NB store could have figured out the same thing for me.  Had I tried the 850s, I would have given the NB Harrisburg store a much better review.  But no one did...and thus, you get the scoop like this.  This is how digital marketing works...nothing gets hidden. 
Mega thanks to Kris, store owner, and John, a terrific shoe fitter at Naperville Running Company.  Retail is tough; retail for a hobby is very tough; retail for a hobby in a recession is super tough.  But, from the looks of all the activity in the store on a Tuesday afternoon, this team is doing all the things they need to do.  Customer service sets this store apart and far apart are they set.  If you are anywhere near Chicago...and if you aren't, phone or email them, they might still help you.   
This is great marketing.  The brand of Naperville Running Company lines up with Brands that Matter, as described by my favorite marketing dude, Seth Godin.  There may be lessons here for your own business...consider it carefully.
Thanks for hanging with this long post.  But I'm impressed and I can't tell you how grateful I am. These guys have persevered and sure help me do the same. 


Backofpack said...

That's good business alright! Nice plug for people who go the "full mile".

Darrell said...

Those guys there in Naperville are doing things right.

Wes said...

I still run in my 768s that I got from New Balance, although I have pulled their ad after their year was up. I am still undefeated when it comes to running shoes, as I have yet to find a pair I don't like :-)


IronWaddler said...

I love the people in there and it's always an exceptional experience. Jen that works there is also awesome. she has done multiple Ironman races and is doing Madison in a couple of weeks. She has given great advice. Good luck with the new shoes.


David said...

Good review and market study. Next stop: Naperville.

Bob A said...

Thanks for the blog, Joe. It wouldn't have taken much for the NB store to at least recommend something. But, my preference is always to have someone actually look at my feet when they make a recommendation. Kudos to Runner Bill's store in Midlothian, VA for their great service in this respect.

Unknown said...

Joe, As always an interesting post. I had a similar experience at Fleet Feet in Cincinnati. I could not believe the time the guy took with me. I finally decided on asics gel cumulus IIs. They now have 144 miles on them and my black toe nails have gone away as well as knee pain. Maybe I could save 10 bucks or so on line, but I think I will pass. After just about finishing Born to Run I may chuck the shoes altogether! Just kidding -- but I do believe that some times less is better. --- Mike