For specialty running retailers looking for new ways to stay competitive in today’s market, running clubs can help.
According to RunningUSA, the number of serious runners has skyrocketed over the past decade and today there are nearly 19 million runners who have entered and finished an organized event.
Local running clubs offer benefits for all involved. Being a part of a community makes participants feel special and included. For retailers, successful running clubs provide the opportunity to:
- Build and strengthen relationships with current and future customers
- Gather customer data and product feedback
- Add value and improve the overall customer experience
- Drive in-store traffic and sales
Learn from five veteran specialty running retailers on creating an impactful running club to help boost business.
#1 Make your customers feel VIP.
Exclusivity makes participants feel valued. Make your participants feel like VIPs by offering unique discounts and other perks that are only available for run community members. Consider offering things like early bird access to events, educational resources, members-only newsletters, a unique loyalty program, etc.
RICS client Playmakers offers discounts to five local races for members of their Premier Coaching Club, a run club that offers tailored one-on-one training under the guidance of experienced running coaches. Additionally, Playmakers is adding 1,500 square feet of community space that will connect to their existing brick and mortar store. “This new space will serve as the home for all of our training programs, Good Form clinics, educational efforts, our fitness foundation, vendor events, etc.,” says Brian Jones. “We hope this will allow us to compliment the retail portion of our business without the special events and classes disrupting the retail space.”
It’s also important to make everyone feel welcome, so invite and encourage participation of all skills and ages to join. For example, Playmakers offers three free Good Form classes that cater to “all ranges of runners and walkers” as well as a free weekly injury clinic.
#2 Take advantage of free marketing.
Running communities provide a consistent source of free marketing content, so take advantage! Outfit your trainers and run club coaches in branded gear and be sure to list their bios on your website to educate participants of their expertise and credentials. Take photos that can be shared on social media, tagging individual runners when possible, to promote your run community and generate overall brand awareness. Position your organization as a local source of knowledge by publishing blogs on relevant topics like proper running form, training plans, buying the right gear, and nutrition tips. Promote a calendar of local running events to drive traffic to your website throughout the year.
RICS client, The Trak Shak, does a great job of capitalizing on content. They share course maps, list race results, create original blog/vlog content, and host their own race, The Trak Shak Twilight Retro Run 5K, to which Trak Shak run club members receive a discounted registration rate.
#3 Create a community of partners too.
Running community and event sponsorship is an easy way to offset any costs and drive additional value. Work with your retail partners and local small businesses to discuss creative opportunities. Strong participation numbers and growth statistics can be used to communicate value and help sell sponsorships.
For long-term partnerships, Running Central works with official partner Athletico Physical Therapy to provide three race training programs and also with the Illinois Valley Strides to host the weekly “run 309” public running group.
Though temporary, individual running community events provide more sponsorship opportunities. For example, Totally Running & Walking hosted a free trail run at a local park with the help of three brand partners. Participants were able to sample products, like trail shoes from Altra Running. As a result, profit from sales of Altra Running products increased 81% over the next month, accounting for 15% of all store sales.
#4 Incorporate technology to track the long-term success of your community and monetize ancillary programs, products, and services.
Like all other customer data, tracking participation in your running community is an important part of its success. “Not only do [participants] often become customers, but their friends and families do as well,” agrees Brian Jones. “They give us credibility and also serve as raving fans to the community at large.”
Retailers using RICS can easily export participant lists to help segment the distribution of targeted marketing campaigns. They can also use a variety of fields like Comments, Alerts, Frequent Buyer Plans, and Coupon Codes to help identify running club participants when shopping in-store, make specific product recommendations based on an individual’s training program, and apply unique discounts.
At Playmakers, the team considers the success of the running community just as important as overall ROI. While they have successfully monetized their running community by offering paid “Premier Coaching” programs at $50 – $100 per session, their greater goal is to “continue to build awareness of Playmakers and increase foot traffic while aligning with their mission of getting more people to move and to move better.”
#5 Location, location, location.
RICS client Columbus Running Company believes so strongly in the power of location that they have selected new store locations based on the viability for a running community. When expanding their footprint, the CRC leadership team used demographic information to seek out communities that will work well for their running groups. Since CRC opened in 2012, they’ve added nearly 45,000 customer names to their marketable database.
“When we opened our second store we looked at the area of town that was most underserved,” said co-owner Jim Jurcevich. “We wanted to be in a part of town where there were enough runners but didn’t have run specialty store yet.”
For their most recent store, the team chose a location on a two-mile stretch of runnable road that would be perfect for their run club. “We actually looked for almost two years before we found what we thought was the right spot,” said Jurcevich.
RICS is proud to partner with 50% of U.S. Run Specialty retailers, many of which host successful running (and walking!) clubs, training groups, and other relevant events.