It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love being in running stores. I love the walls of bright shoes, the racks of various pieces of apparel in various versions of technical fabrics, the assortments of fueling options and accessories. But, most of all, I love the people, the guys and gals whose job it is to make sure that you get the right pieces of equipment to best enjoy your running experience in a healthy, and hopefully chafe-free, way. More often than not, running store employees are runners themselves, often at a very high level at one point in their lives, so they not only know about what they are selling you, they know a thing or two about how you are going to use it. This summer, and continuing through the present, I had the opportunity to become one of these people, and it has been a fantastic experience.
The store that I work at is Greater Boston Running Company – Andover (Facebook), which is about a quarter mile walk from our house. I started getting to know the people who work there when the store opened up last November and was immediately impressed by how readily the store supports the running community it is a part of. When I mentioned to Tom, the store’s manager, that I had a running blog, the first thing he did was tell me to email him the address, after which he had the store “Like” the blog’s Facebook page. Sure, doing so required roughly 2 minutes of effort, but it’s attention paid to a customer that many stores simply wouldn’t do, and it left an impression. The store also hosts packet pickups for races and is generous with gift certificates for charitable endeavors. Where there’s a way to help a community event, Tom and his staff will find it. With Rebecca’s blessing, I took a shot in the dark and inquired whether they might be able to use some weekend help over the summer. I got an enthusiastic response back and soon found myself back in the retail world.
Now, retail is nothing new to me. I’ve worked at Structure (Express now), J. Crew, Pottery Barn, and the Tufts Bookstore as well as waiting tables at Bertucci’s and Papa Razzi. I’ve gotten a long well at these jobs because, as it happens, I like people and have a fairly high tolerance for the sometimes insane people one might find at a retail establishment. At those jobs, you are always on the hunt for the “upsell.” Why have a cup of coffee when you can have a cappucino? Don’t you need a belt with those pants? I struggled with the upsell because I didn’t think I was adding anything to the customer experience, just the bottom line. Thankfully, I have never encountered that pressure at GBRC. Are we encouraged to remind customers about certain potential needs? Sure, that’s retail. But I’ve never been reprimanded because I wasn’t able to add on a pair of socks to a pair of shoes. We encourage customers to consider our socks not because it adds to the ticket, but because many are running in pure cotton socks, or, as I like to call them, “white blister-causing shoe liners.” The goal of the store is to give the customer a great experience and have him or her leaving confident that they were properly outfitted and, if for some reason their purchase doesn’t work out, we’ll make it right.
Every store has their own philosophy on the shoe fitting process. We use video analysis to help us get you in the right shoes. The first step is to find out what you’re currently wearing and whether or not you are happy with the shoes. We’ll ask questions about current training and future plans. Then, we put you in a neutral shoe that won’t correct any gait imperfections and put you on our treadmill for about 8 seconds, during which we record you from the waist down. When done, we can go through frame by frame and see whether you are a neutral runner or supinate/pronate. Next we bring you a selection of different models that fit your gait and make sure you end up in the one that feels best. It’s just that easy. Some customers are looking to start their running lives, or get back into them after an injury layoff. Some are looking to PR, some BQ. Whatever their goal, it’s a great feeling to be a part of helping them on their way to attaining it. I can honestly say that price plays no part in the shoe I recommend to a customer, especially given that I’m always forgetting how much each shoe costs anyway. I know how I’d feel if I knew someone suggested running sneakers based on their own ulterior motives. Customers trust our advice and they deserve unbiased opinions.
Of course, if I worked with lousy co-workers the experience would be a lot less fun. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by people that just love the sport. I think Rebecca appreciates the fact that I can go somewhere and talk about the latest Diamond League meet with Eric and Tom so that she doesn’t have to try to be interested in what Nick Symmonds’ last race was like. Can I see myself quitting the law game to work at the store full-time? Sadly I don’t think my student loan overmasters would be on board with me changing my payment schedule to last the next 1000 years. Still, I love the gig. Working with great people, talking about running, and helping runners? What more could a guy ask for in a weekend job?