Independent running shops are dying, and it’s us runners who are killing them. The first thing I did when I had my arm twisted into running the Blenheim Half three years ago was to find a shop locally that would sell me some running shoes properly. They checked my stride, sold me some shorts as well and generally made me feel welcomed so, I consequently went back again, and again, and again. In fact if I do the maths in my head I think it works out that I have bought maybe 10 or 11 pairs of trainers from them and each time I have been made to feel like a VIP. I wrote sometime ago about my running support network and they were included along with my supportive friends, physio and coaches at the running club. It was a sad moment when I knew they were shutting, what made it even sadder was the sorry tale which led to this.
Nicky who lives behind the counter loves running shoes, she tolerates people quite well too and when those people are buying running shoes the conversation and tea can just flow. Well while in there, once again slipping into my standard Saucony footwear just to check my feet hadn’t decided to do something strange in the last few months, she told me a story which explained a little while the shop was closing. I am sure that if you go to any running shop they will have similar tales and this is the reason why many smaller independent shops are shutting down.
A customer will come in gratefully accept a cup of tea and explain what kind of running they do, road, trail, marathons or a once a week parkrun. The owner, being a lover of trainers and running, will then produce an array of carefully selected boxes all containing different styles and makes of shoe. Various amounts of cushioning, different amounts of ankle support, balance, weight… you get the idea. From there each pair is tried on and the customer is sent to the treadmill where they run in front of a camera and their running gait is analysed. The process is repeated with as many pairs as it takes to find a shoe that is both comfortable and capable of preventing injury. The process can take an hour or more. The weekend gone for example I think I tried on about 7 pairs until I found the ones that suited my purpose ( I wanted a pair that were more all terrain than my road or trail shoes ). So far so good no problem here and everyone is a winner, it is what happens next which causes the problems. Sometimes the customer doesn’t buy the shoes, they take note of the make and name and say they will think about it and pop back later, never to return. Some customers are at least a bit more honest about it. They will whip out their phone right there in the shop, google the shoes and ask the vendor to match whatever price they find. Yes, they will take up an hour of time, use someones specialist advice, find a shoe they like and keep them running safely only to haggle over a few quid at the point of sale.
You see the problem. A small independent shoe shop cannot hope to possibly match the price of an online shop. There are overheads and staffing costs they need to meet which are not there on an online outlet, how is it going to be possible to match prices. Now the customer could have gone straight to the internet and bought the shoes from there but they didn’t. They accepted the expertise, time and tea of the retailer and then didn’t accept that implicit agreement that is made. I maybe wrong but to me it’s like going into a restaurant and ordering a fish and chips, waiting for the food to turn up and then haggling over the price. “The chip shop down the road does it for £2 less I don’t want to pay anymore.” If you wouldn’t do that in a restaurant then why do it in a running shop. OK once you have found shoes that suit buy some more online if you must but, after that first fitting if you have been in and drunk the tea and taken the advice at least have the decency to buy the shoes.
Does this matter or am I just ranting? Well I believe it does. My shop shutting down is the second in the area. I am lucky, about a half hours drive away there is another shop that I think may give me this level of service but there
may come a time when that is not there either. One strand of the support network for all the runners in the area will be gone. We all need help however much of a selfish sport running can be it is not possible to be that selfish without support and running shops that can give expert advice are one source of help.
My clubs local running shop is so important that on our learn to run course one of the evenings is spent running to it so that the new runners know where to go when they are ready to be fitted for their first proper running shoes. If all runners end up buying stuff online then we will have nowhere left to go and our learn to runners will be left with badly fitting shoes and shonky injury prone athletic careers.