A Philadelphia running store received the “Retailer of the Year 2013” award by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, a recognition honoring small businesses in the region. It seems like a well-deserved trophy. Operating three local stores, the company successfully competes with national sports store chains such as Foot Locker, City Sports, Lululemon and Athleta—all of which have shops within blocks of its Center City store.
At a time when customer service, experience and engagement are big topics in retail, what can retailers learn from them? Here are some distinguishing features.
Customer service and store team: The owners and staff are very knowledgeable about running gear, especially shoes, and give advice based on a customer’s running history, goals, workout plan and gait analysis. They are friendly, take time and are not aggressive salespeople. Because many are lifelong—often accomplished—runners, they understand and connect well with customers. The store records purchases for future look-up and offers a generous return policy. But the service goes beyond selling: An online reviewer reported that the store not only gave her a list of local Thanksgiving races when she asked but “Google-mapped directions” to one of the races—without a purchase.
Athletic, educational and social events: Besides free weekly group runs, the store has established a popular Valentine’s run and social for singles, trail races and urban scavenger hunts. It co-founded the Team Philly race training program and has organized an Olympics viewing party and meet-ups for runners after local races. In-store events for new runners on injury prevention and fashion shows are informative and fun. They make the store more than just a selling space and engage customers with the staff and other like-minded people.
Community involvement and partnerships: It has supported a range of local organizations by promoting races, donating to a nonprofit running program and organizing a holiday run as a toy drive. It has also teamed up with physical therapists, massage providers and a gym. In addition, people from the store participate in local races.
Informative, engaging communication: The store publishes an e-mail newsletter and is on Facebook and Twitter. The content is mostly informative (e.g.: about races and interesting articles) and partly store-related (e.g., new merchandise and sales), and it is presented in a conversational, fun way. Social media posts often engage followers—for example, through questions like the recent one about people’s New Year’s running resolutions. Someone responded wanting to run a sub-four-hour marathon. The store’s reply: “You go sub-4 in 2013 and your next shoes are on us.”
Localization: Everything the store does is tailored to the local market’s needs, interests, current happenings and opportunities. It’s this degree of customization that distinguishes it from many competitors.