When Pacers Running stores in the Washington, D.C. metro area closed on March 16, Kathy Dalby knew her team would have to take quick action to stay afloat in a new retail climate. With six stores and about 30 full-time employees in their D.C. and Virginia locations, the team at Pacers was forced to innovate during the coronavirus pandemic.
The stores already had an online shopping platform powered by Fittedrunning.com. Just as thousands of restaurants and small businesses did, the shops pivoted to contactless curbside pick-up of running shoes and gear to keep sales going. Pacers kept customers updated via social media and email newsletters, but the usual in-store experience was gone for the time being.
As the Pacers stores show, running retail is undergoing enormous transformation during the pandemic. It’s also a sign that how you buy your favorite running gear is going to change a lot.
After the start of stay-at-home orders and calls for non-essential businesses to close, the Running Industry Association (RIA) surveyed retailers to see just how much the coronavirus pandemic has affected the market.
Terry Schalow, executive director of the RIA, said no other time compares to what stores and brands are going through at the moment. “There have been disruptions before, but the sport of running and running retail has been resilient in the time of economic downturn,” Schalow said. “Running has always done quite well. This is unprecedented, though.”
Running stores and brands hit hard
One of the most jarring findings of the RIA survey in March: 31.1 percent of store owners surveyed said they could manage to keep their business going for 1–3 additional months under essential business orders (26.7 percent of stores said they should be able to operate, in some way, indefinitely).
From an operations standpoint, 68.4 percent of stores said they had to close, while 14.7 percent remained open with reduced hours. Nearly 50 percent had to lay off or furlough staff, and more than a quarter of stores said they expect their year-over-year sales projections for April to be more than 80 percent down.
Through platforms like Locally.com and Fittedrunning.com, specialty run retailers can create an online shopping destination quickly if they did not have one before the shutdowns started, said Mark Strella, vice president of client success at Locally. Related Story
Another benefit these e-commerce portals bring to small retailers is that they are also interconnected to running shoe brand pages—Saucony, Brooks, and Hoka, for example. You can use the “store locator” option on these sites before making a purchase to support your local business and buy from their inventory. Plus, you can get your new shoes via curbside pick-up or delivery within a couple of hours instead of waiting for them to be shipped.
And as the in-store experience has been shuttered, it’s drastically shifted consumer buying habits for runners online.
“We’re seeing Black Friday level volume of sales every day through our platform,” Strella told Runner’s World. “We’re doing everything we can to facilitate all these new ways to shop.”
And for brands like Saucony, supporting the stores that move their product is important right now as well. A sale is a sale, whether it’s a direct-to-consumer purchase or an item shipped from your local specialty store.
“When all this started, we were doing everything we could to knock down any barrier and support all the retailers with ways to reach the consumer,” Toth said.