Monday, 22 December 2014

Lack of running shops?

Right now there seems to be a complete lack of running shops around here.  I'm not aware of there ever has been a proper running shop in the Luton and Dunstable area.  It bothers me.

What bothers me even more is that a couple of really good running shops have folded in recent years - in Harpenden and St Albans (both prosperous places).  I prefer to shop locally whenever I can, so it's all a bit depressing.  I appreciate seeing what I am buying and knowing it's spot on and right.  I like having a chat about running, cycling, food etc.

The excitement with a new pair of running shoes!

I know in London there are quite a few to choose from: Runners Need, Run and Become, Sweatshop and undoubtedly plenty of others as well.  Other large conurbation's will probably have some running shops but all this has got me thinking about the local scene.  Here's a few thoughts....

Why communities need a good running shop
  • Gait Analysis.  A decent running shop will be able to assess your footfall to make sure you get the right kind of shoes for your feet.  This could be because you under or over pronate.  Having the right pair of shoes makes all the difference in your running comfort.  A Gait Analysis is sometimes done by filming someone on a treadmill and playing the film back in slow motion to expertly examine how the foot falls and rolls forward.  You can't do this by mail order!
  • Advice from people who run and know their stuff.  This can cover shoes, clothing, injuries, nutrition, local routes, nearby races and giving encouragement
  • Trying on the clothing to get a good fit
  • Could be the focal point for runners in the area; the base of a club for instance
  • To promote running as a healthy sport and lifestyle.  Success breeds success: the sight of more runners is likely to be an encouragement for more and more new runners
Reasons why running shops might go out of business
  • Running can be a cheap sport.  Once someone has invested in a pair of shoes (typically £60+) they might not need to buy anything else.  A "fully equipped" runner might invest up to £1000 if they are taking the sport seriously - two or more pairs of running shoes make sense, clothing for different seasons, a Garmin and a selection of water bottles, energy gels etc
  • People can buy via mail order from a whole wide variety of outlets.  Myself I like Wiggle and you can even take a look via my affiliate link for their latest gear
  • Town centres in decline: the traditional High Street has had quite a pounding over recent years. More locally in Dunstable there are many boarded up shops.  Naturally many people expect to buy their "trainers" for £20 and cannot understand why other people splash out four or five times that for running shoes.
  • Making the books balance: the overheads for a shop could be crippling for a small business by the time Business Tax has been paid.  Plus there's employer costs, utilities, bank charges, stock, fixtures and fittings, cash-flow and probably a whole host of other things even before a profit is drawn from the business
  • Suppliers charging high prices (due to low volumes, limited credit?)
  • Lack of commercial experience and skill.  Being a good runner does not translate into being business-savvy.  
What could make a new running shop successful?
  • Being sure there are existing runners around.  Any running clubs or other keep fit clubs?  Is it better to have a big slice of a small cake, or a small slice of a big cake?  Hope that makes sense.
  • Are there many fitness clubs, gyms etc where people already go?  Where do they buy their gear from?  Could a shop offer a discount to local runners in a club?
  • Being and looking a convincing advocate of the sport
  • Contemporary design - bright, eye catching, prominent
  • Becomes known for great service - gait analysis, helpful staff, inspirational staff
  • Has the right brands at the right prices
  • Nearby other related businesses where potential customers might visit - bicycle shop, health food shop, fitness club and "sharing" customers
  • Having a great on-line presence.  Any shop without a good website and e-trading has to be seriously out of date.  At the very least an ebay store can help keep the cash flowing, even if the profit margins are not high
  • Having a customer base over a wide area i.e. not only the local town.  Something to make people call you from a far-off distance or to make it worth their while in travelling to you
  • Independent -v- franchise -v- chain.... perhaps they all have their pros and cons
Is all this a fair assessment?  If only there was a running shop nearby!

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