What is the Best Way to Buy Running Shoes?
In a recent article, we talked about some of the potential cost savings when shopping for running shoes online. While many of us (myself included) keep a pretty close eye on our bank account balances, there are numerous benefits to heading to your nearest specialty running store - and we are pretty lucky to have some amazing choices in just about every corner of the Twin Cities metro area, as well as all around the state.
For a better idea of the many benefits provided by shopping for your running gear in a brick and mortar store, we reached out to shop owners near and far - and here is what they had to say.
It is likely the most obvious reason of all, but walking into an actual store allows you the opportunity to try on a multitude of different running shoe options. Besides simply walking up to a wall of shoes and trying to figure out what might work for you (which really wouldn’t be that different from shopping online, other than being able to reach out and touch the shoes), getting a custom shoe fitting and gait analysis is where brick and mortar really shines.
As you shop for running shoes, don’t be afraid to start a conversation with your salesperson - let them know about your running and injury history, try on a variety of shoes, and definitely take them for a test drive! Most of the running stores we have stopped in have a treadmill or two handy (complete with some form of videography, so that you can review your stride), and in the warmer months there is the option to take your shoes outside (picture me running intervals in front of Mill City Running with the legs of my jeans rolled up). We have highlighted River Valley Running’s shoe fitting and gait analysis process in a previous post, and we are a firm believer that going through something similar makes all the difference in the world.
Group Runs And More
There are certainly plenty of different groups and group runs all across the metro area. Specialty running stores factor into the mix, offering a convenient starting/finishing point (and if you forgot something, odds are they have it) and often some form of refreshment. Want to wrap up your week by getting your Friday run out of the way early? Stop in to Mill City Running for Flapjack Fridays at 6:30am. Are Monday evenings more your style? Pop by either River Valley Running location at 5:30pm for a group run followed by drinks and snacks. Add in Thursday evenings at Excelsior Running and Saturday mornings around Lake Harriet with Gear Running, and you likely wouldn’t have to ever run another mile alone.
What do group runs mean to a specialty running store? Mill City Running co-owner Jeff Metzdorff has an idea:
We’re proud to say we’ve had everyone from Olympians to folks who’ve never run a continuous mile. Our entire staff works hard to make sure everyone feels welcome because at the end of the day, a 12 minute mile is just as far as a 6 minute mile. We realize it takes a lot of courage to show up to a running store for a group run if you’re new to the sport, so we are especially excited when an individual who’s newer to the sport attends a run. We want them to know there’s a place for them.
Beyond just your basic group run, Mill City Running has even taken things one step further with their semiannual Donut Run. If you are the kind of runner who would ever sport a t-shirt saying “I run so I can eat donuts”, then this is likely your kind of event! Mill City Running has also become known for their activewear fashion shows (and if you missed this video from some of the MCR staff, go check it out now - we’ll be here when you get back), and for their very informative Tuesday Talks (covering things like Yoga for Runners, Running 101, Racing Psychology, and much, much more).
Manufacturers Get Involved Too
Some brands believe that their products are pretty straight forward, or that traditional advertising and store displays are enough to move product. Others in the running shoe space have found that specialty running stores are their best marketing partner, and Newton is a great example. In April of 2015, it was announced that Dick’s Sporting Goods would begin carrying several models of Newton running shoes in select retail locations and online - a move which Newton touted at the time “will create more of an opportunity for runners to FEEL Newton Running, which will lead to broader awareness and increase sales among all of our retailers”. Ultimately, it seemed to instead be proven that a brand with something unique to offer (like Newton’s Action/Reaction Technology) was better served by passionate specialty running store employees who could help explain the pros and cons, as well as offering real world experience with the product - and that is where stores like Gear Running come in. Since Paul Horan and his business partners took over the store in 2009, they have sold more pairs of Newton running shoes than any other storefront.
Kurt Keiser of River Valley Running sums up the manufacturer/specialty running store relationship well:
When somebody blindly purchases online and has a bad experience with their shoes because it’s the wrong type of shoe for them, for example, that may reflect poorly on the brand. However, if that same consumer visits us and we recommend that same brand but in the correct type of shoe, suddenly the tide changes with brand perception. There is no better representative for a brand than a premium specialty store.
To further help with the marketing efforts, many shoe manufacturers will sponsor “test runs” at local stores. These events allow us as runners to check out new shoes and chat with the manufacturer’s representatives, and gives the reps a chance to get their product in front of a bunch of eager runners. Add in some refreshments afterwards, and it’s still quite a bit cheaper than a magazine ad (which you hope will get even a few percent of the people who see it to come check out your product). Most of the stores we talked to said that connecting with them on Facebook is the best way to be aware of upcoming test runs - as an example, here are some of the events which Gear Running has coming up.
Doing Good In The Neighborhood
More and more, individuals are choosing to make a difference with their dollars. While shopping local is gaining traction with many people, the idea of also being altruistic when buying something you would have purchased anyway has a great allure for many.
Last year, Gear Running Store was involved in a partnership with Adidas and Warrior Edge Athletics to help provide running shoes to young runners in Kenya, sending 200 pairs of new shoes. In 2016 Paul Horan and Co. are again stepping up, this time donating $5 for every pair of regularly priced shoes purchased at their store between now and the Run, Jump, Throw Down Cancer event in Edina to help support the Randy Shaver Cancer Research Fund.
Shoppers at Mill City Running also have the opportunity to support Mile in my Shoes, a volunteer organization sharing the power of running with residents of a local homeless shelter.
Locally-Owned Businesses Are Good For All Of Us
Whether considering the taxes paid, the people employed, or the supply chain used - locally-owned businesses tend to spend money in the same geographies where they made that money. As an example, one of my favorite stocking caps for winter running actually comes from Theresa Buege’s company HOODAHATZ - which I likely never would have heard about without seeing her products proudly offered for sale at the checkout counter of Mankato’s River Valley Running.
RunMN owner Kelly Mortenson sums it up pretty well for us:
When shopping at a Brick and Mortar store you get the experience of all the runner geeks that work there. Expert fitting, video gait analysis, tech questions, training questions, group runs, vendor demo runs, can try on numerous shoes at one time. Most running specialty stores are a one stop shop for everything running.(My son is also a sucker for the child play area next to the dressing rooms and the lounge area with fireplace and couch - nice touches Kelly!)
Have you been to a running specialty store before? What was your experience? Share your thoughts with us below!