The Running Event Part 2; The Finish Line/Running Specialty Group meets independent run specialty, by Max Lockwood

We asked Max Lockwood to reprise The Running Event 2014. In this second part of Mr. Lockwood's coverage, he discusses the presentation by Finish Line. This was, by all accounts, perhaps the most controversial programming of the show. 

Finish Line Presentation, 
photo courtesy of 4 Media

In speaking with several RSG owners, many are offended by the very presence of the Finish Line group. Some do not consider them a part of the specialty channel. One key observer noted to me: "  The Finish Line group is not running specialty, period. The biggest issue is that they do not even understand what real running stores do." 

RunBlogRun understands the concerns and comments from traditional RSG stores. But, in order to appreciate the changes in our channel, one must understand the economic forces and perception of the running channel. Mark Sullivan of Formula 4 Media should be congratulated for bringing in the Finish Line team. 

At the end of the day, it will be a seminar that is not soon forgotten. 

Updated on January 5, 2015

The Running Event Part 2; The Finish Line/Running Specialty Group meets independent run specialty.


Glenn Lyons, FinishLine, Mark Sullivan, Formula 4 Media, Bill Kirkendall, Finishline, photo by Formula 4 Media

 "The formal learning opportunities are outstanding. There's always a good mix of industry experts and owner-experts presenting on various topics.  The informal learning opportunities are endless too though, with ample time to give and receive learning with colleagues outside the presentations."  Says Rich Willis, the the owner of Fit Niche in Florida...

As noted from Rich Willis's quote above, the presentations give owners access to information and cutting edge subjects and ideas that can help them determine where they want to take their respective businesses.  One of the most publicized and biggest attractions for this year's Event was a presentation given by the Finish Line/Specialty Running Group's executives Bill Kirkendall and Glenn Lyons. One of the most significant changes over the past 4 years in the specialty running channel has been the emergence of the Finish Line, a public company, specializing in chain store retail, as a key player buying up independently owned and operated stores and making them part of their Specialty Running Group. Finish Line is a known throughout the United States for its very successful brand of shopping mall oriented sports retail stores.  Specialty Retail is new for them as is running as a specific athletic category.   Currently, the Specialty Running Group has 50 stores under its direction with the long-term goal to reach 200 stores, the majority of them, acquisitions and some being brick and mortal originals.

The reason for the presentation was, of course, to get Kirkendall and Lyons in front of the independently owned and operated specialty running store retail crowd and provide them with an opportunity to make a pitch to purchase stores from owners looking to sell. 

Moderating the discussion was Mark Sullivan, the President of Formula4Media.  At the outset, both Kirkendall and Lyons were able to provide a little background about themselves and their short and long term goals with the Running Specialty Group. 

Both men, well groomed and dressed in business suits, presented a case that the Running Specialty Group is a genuine interest of theirs and that the Finish Line, with its buying power and highly developed management and operations systems, is in a unique opportunity to purchase stores, upgrade their inventory and management systems and improve on the outstanding customer service and community outreach work the stores currently perform.  

Said Lyons...."I got my start as a shop keeper and at my core, this is what I am. I want to work with you to carry on the outstanding work you have done to serve runners in the stores and in the respective community."  Though this is certainly a good thing to say and makes sense, the actual implementation is an entirely different story and it is clear that as the presentation went on Lyons and Kirkendall shared a different understanding of the meaning of the specialty running store to both the owners in attendance and perhaps, to their customers.  Clearly, their background and current roles in bigger box athletic product and retail, though invaluable and truly worthy, is not the same as the small independent retailer where the heart and soul of the store owner and his or her key staff is expressed day in and day out in order to keep the store going, remain innovative and ensure that the vital creative qualities are expressed on a regular basis.

The overall presentation was entertaining to say the least and left me feeling that The Running Specialty Group does indeed want to continue to serve runners and provide outstanding product selection and community support. However, it is not clear they know how to do this using a corporate or top down management model and more importantly, whether they will succeed.  The current group of Running Specialty Group stores can be found via this accompanying link...

Next Part Three, The Running Event Trade Show

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