Jan. 29, 2021

What The Running Industry Needs

What The Running Industry Needs


Running + Entertainment = Runutainment

Footwear News asked a few Presidents and CEO's what the biggest trends in fashion/retail would be in 2021 and Ankur Amin, CEO, TGS Holdings (Parent company to Extra Butter) said, “It will be experiential retail. Brick-and-mortar retail will need to be more disruptive.” Saucony’s President, Anne Cavassa, said, “My big predication for retail: Experiential retail will win the day and the local shop will have a heart-warming renaissance.”

This was music to my ears, because I have been creating running related content since 2013.  Experiential retail aka Retailtainment is starting to catch up, better late than never. My thesis was simple, running was boring, stuffy, elitist, it excluded a large swath of the population and it was not viewed as cool.  And if the aforementioned was not enough it was misogynistic, this was the same sport that tried dragging Kathrine Switzer off the Boston Marathon course in 1967.  It would take another five years before the Boston Marathon officially allowed woman to compete.


My professional background

As a former Sr. Case Manager in East New York Brooklyn, I ran a Drop-Out Prevention during the crack epidemic. I created incentive programs that engaged young people, giving them a reason to want to attend school. Being intimately involved in the hip hop culture, I used that knowledge to create a Life Skills course at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. My four-year tenure at Boy's and Girl's High School working closely with my mentor, the late Frank Mickens, prepared and inspired me to want to make a difference in the world.

My management career in retail started overnight at Kinko's, making copies. Work-life balance was vital to me, but my actions were not congruent with my beliefs. So, I decided to take a break from working in Brooklyn to spend time with my children. During that time, I started a Bow Tie Company called Knots In A Box. It was a metaphor for my life. I walked into Kinko's to have some thank you cards created for the business and immediately saw the possibilities when Bob, the Assistant Manager behind the counter, presented me with an employment opportunity.

Ability to recognize opportunity 

Bob offered me $8.00 with a .50¢ night differential. I took the job in three months I was running the training and development for the Long Island region. Eighteen months later, I transitioned to a Manager In Training role where I helped open three locations, including my own in New Hyde. My district manager promoted me to a Sr Center Manager role and challenged me to turn a struggling underperforming store around. And we did under extraordinary circumstances. After the horrific 911 attacks, businesses were scrambling to make cuts, but not my location.

My qualifications a proven track record of producing results

I rallied my team's support. I presented my team with a vision of what I thought our store could be. I told them this was our time to prove the naysayers wrong. We turned the Garden City location around, making it the #1 Branch and the Most Improved Branch in the region. We did this by creating a world-class legendary experiential retail in our location. Gary Kusin, the CEO at the time, made a trip to our hub branch to witness what we had accomplished in Garden City. After speaking to the associates, he said, "Derek, I do a ton of these visits all over the country with the regional and district teams. We meet in the parking lot go over a few numbers, and they tell me all of these great things about the location, and then I leave them aside and speak with the team members individually. I've gotta tell you after speaking with your team, what you've done here is a testament to your leadership." It was a bittersweet moment validation on the one hand and empty victory on the other. I had climbed the ladder of success only to realize the ladder was leaning against the wrong building, and to make matters worse; there was no one to share in my success.

My “why” for becoming a running ambassador 

Running was not a part of my life when I didn't start running until 2010. Before 2010 the only running I did was to get Haagen Dazs butter pecan on sale or escape the rain.  After I experiencing peace from running, I made it my mission to spread the running gospel. I did this by writing a running related rap song every week for two years and shared it online.  I did not realize it at the time, but I was writing my way from pain to peace. The journey will be a released in my book, Write Outta Hell.

Running helped me create experiences on the asphalt with my children, use my why to raise funds for Best Buddies of Connecticut and Shoe4Africa. When we put the call out for our Unicorn Hunting Project-(a cross country documentary in search of ordinary people where doing EXTRAordinary things within their communities) NUUN Hydration and Honey Stinger were the two brands that stepped up to the plate.


Connecting the dots

My 15 year retail management experience coupled with my 15 years working within the NYC Public School system and my passion for running/endurance sports positions me as an expert in experiential retail.  If running shoe brands are going to thrive they need to develop an online and instore strategy, Hoka is one brand who does an excellent job of partnering with non traditional running ambassadors.  Adidas launched a podcast featuring Martinus Evans.  Brick in mortar locations should consider partnering with running influencers who have a mission or cause they're passionate about that aligns with the brands mission. 


Potential strategies for driving sales while build community and inclusion among BIPOC

Local Running Shoe Stores should produce branded podcast where they highlight customers share tips and build a sense of community.  New Runner's initially gravitate to Runner's World Magazine, but there's a been a steady migration away from the magazine because BIPOC do not see themselves represented in the brand, which represents an opportunity for brands to redirect some of their marketing spend into BIPOC publications such as Long Distance, MidStrike and RUNUTAINMENT Magazine.


Trends within the BIPOC running community

BIPOC sold out the Publix Marathon through the power of a Facebook Group.  There are BIPOC who are race directors and coaches and the running industry has taken them for granted, rather than complain they have created their own spaces, enter TheRace.  The New York Road Runner Association has come under fire in recent months for harassment allegations causing the formation of "Rebuild New York Road Runner, Current & Former Employees Appeal For Change." 


The running shoe review landscape is primarily white males who I know and they do an amazing job at Believe In The Run and Road Trail Run. There are BIPOC and females who are sneakerheads Kixie Jixie is a perfect example.

If experiential retail is going to win the day local running shops will need to create an amazing in-store and online strategy that speaks to the needs of their surrounding communities.   


Case Study

In Connecticut alone with a 167 towns on the Gold Coast, the state represents a tremendous opportunity for running/endurance related brands to drive sales by offering a phenomenal in store and online experience by specifically targeting BIPOC and non traditional marathoners/triathletes.  In my opinion Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, New Haven, Danbury, Waterbury, Meriden, Hamden and Hartford represent a huge opportunity for brands to partner with local running influencers and content creators with a mission to create a sense of community.  The role of the tech representative needs to be redefined and a community partner role needs be introduced.  All brands stand to win in this scenario and the local running stores have a vested interest in having more BIPOC and non traditional runner's and triathletes shop locally. 

For example in Stamford CT., which is the second largest city in Connecticut there used to be a Fleet Feet Sports and now the only place you can purchase running shoes is Scout Adventure, directly next door to is JuiceKing, this would be the ideal place to start and end a run.   

I’ve partnered with SoundRunner, Pacific Cycling and Triathlon, Marathon Sports and Westchester Road Runner to turn that dream into a reality. 

Download a FREE Podcast Launch Checklist Be the first in line to receive a copy of Write Outta Hell: “Write Outta Hell!” Is the story of a man who wrote 104 running related raps/short stories over a two years by only using the notes app on his phone and a microphone. In the process he delivered inspirational messages of hope to thousands of people all over the world, discovered his voice and found peace.