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Written By Rob Smith - April 29 2018
This has become somewhat of a tradition. Each April I spend a good portion of the month reflecting on the past year. What did we do that really worked well? What did we do that didn’t work so well? This April was for the most part the same with many thoughts returning to when Beck and I decided to pursue Vancouver Running Co. The day I finally quit my job, the first day we opened, our first online order, the first Flight Crew Thursday, and our first employee...oh what it felt like to have a day off. Throughout our time our focus has been on the customer experience, how we operate both with customers and our retail partners, the products we offer, and how we can contribute to the culture of running and the people that love this sport. This past year was beyond expectation and it took many dedicated people to make it happen. Clare and I run our day-to-day operations with the help of some amazing friends filling in part-time hours here and there, and with the help of our ambassadors (who lead high-functioning lives of their own), Beck and I are able to execute our vision exactly the way we set out to. I feel like we are right where we should be in our current stage of growth and truly feel like we are finally changing the course of run specialty, which has been one of our main goals from day one. The strange thing is we weren’t totally sure our direction was correct until year three began.
Let me explain.
In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s running began to gain popularity with the mainstream public. Shortly thereafter the concept of a run specialty shop was born to serve this increase in recreational running. By the early ‘90’s the run specialty shop was in full cycle operation, serving the running public with footwear and apparel that was tailor made for their pursuits. This helped fuel the increase in runners now seen regularly in cities and towns across North America, and so the growth realized in both the number of people taking up the sport of running and the revenue generated by the shops serving these runners went sky high. But then that retail model got stuck. By the 2000’s run specialty was riding the high and throughout that decade it forgot to evolve with the runner. It stopped innovating. Instead it kept doing what it had been doing for the past 20 years - perhaps this was in fear of shaking things up and losing customers or maybe they just got lazy, but either way it did not identify with me personally in any way. Purchasing a pair of running shoes began to feel like running an errand - it just had to be done every few months alongside going to the dentist. I couldn’t relate to anything about the shops occupying the space or the products they carried.
I still vividly remember my Dad purchasing a pair of Nike Pegasus 5 for me. They were white with a bit of blue and some grey accents. I loved those shoes and how they made me feel when I tied the laces up - like I could run any distance, conquer any hill, keep up with Dad. Why couldn’t that feeling exist as an adult? Why was buying a pair of running shoes like going to the dentist? That feeling of putting on a pair of shoes and running any distance is the feeling we wanted each of our customers to have - whether or not that was actually purchasing a pair of shoes.
So for our first two years we spent a great deal of time building our community and carving out our space. We created unique activations, solidified amazing retail partners in adidas, Nike, On Running, Ciele, and Stance, built even stronger relationships with our industry partners lululemon, Myodetox and Red Bull, and kept doing the things we thought run specialty should as it moved forward into its next phase. And, as all of this was happening it still felt like we were going left while others in the industry were going right - like we were pioneering a new era for run specialty alone. This excited me but also made me wonder; there had to be similar retailers in the industry that felt the way I did and had similar intentions to evolve the scene, or were we maybe going to far left? Turns out there were, I just hadn’t met them yet.
Just as year three began for us I noticed the shift and the connections starting to happen. In April 2017 Steven Artemiw and his partners opened Bond Running in Toronto, then it was Pam and Ryan Hess with The Loop in Austin last December. Retailers at the forefront of independent run specialty like San Francisco Run Company opened more locations and Mill City was continuing to own the way run specialty evolved in the Midwest, among others in North America and Europe. For the first time since opening our doors I finally felt like there is a group of retailers that see the industry the way we see it and instead of politics and who gets what, we share ideas, take care of visiting runners, and work with like-minded brands that understand what we’re all getting up to. We all understand the importance of building our collective and realize without community, emphasis on brand, the willingness to go big into the unknown, we are just a shop. I have no intention of ever making Vancouver Running Co. just a shop. Our intention is set, and it is to be the best we can possibly be in our space.
Moving into our fourth year of operation I am filled with drive to do better for everyone around me. In the eyes of the business world we are still young, but to me that just means we aren’t weighted down by past experiences - we are uplifted by future possibilities. We have some bold and exciting plans for 2018/19, some of which are well underway now.
As we continue to evolve and work towards our vision know that we always have our run collective in mind, and what we ask from you is to always expect the best from us. The future is here and we want you along for the ride.
Rob SmithCo-owner & FounderVancouver Running Co.
Great post, Rob! You and the whole Van Run Co gang continue to inspire me to forge ahead in my own running specialty adventure. It’s not always easy to rise above, but I’m a believer in rising tides raising all ships. Working together is the only way we all truly succeed. Keep up the amazing work!
Well said dude, I love everything about it. Before I moved down to Vancouver a bunch of people told me to come and check out Vancouver Running Co. and I’m sad that it took me nearly 4 months after moving.
I didn’t know what to expect and was stoked when I met the community and found so many like minded people. Keep it up you guys are doing an amazing job with everything.
Inspiring words…love your store and how you position your brand…hope to cross paths again soon.
Beauty mate, well put. Passion and perseverance are a potent combo.