Updated July 16, 2017.
This is the first in a new series of interviews that we will be doing with managers of running retailers across North America. We have been discussing, internally, our concern over the recent changes in the running culture, among them, the glut of running races, the lack of support of local running store culture and the mass movement, by some brands to lessen support to the local running store culture.
Our first interview is with Kris Hartner, the founder of Naperville Running Company. Opening NRC in 2000 was the fruition of a life long dream for Kris. His store has developed an amazing following in the local area, and the Naperville Running Center has been acknowledged as one of the finest running stores in the country for nearly a decade.
All successful stores have guiding lights, local champions, who inspire their staffs and also know that 1) they can not do everything and 2) need to find people who do the tasks needed better than you can do and let them do it.
Kris Hartner is an example of local running store culture that continues to thrive. All stores have challenges, but it is how the store and its staff respond to those challenges. In this interview, we also delve into NRC’s relationship with New Balance, one of the brands that has continued to grow in this challenging market, but also, support the local running store.
What became clear, during the responses, was that New Balance had learned how to work with local running stores, as Kris Hartner can attest.
This is a good read for not only other running store owners and staffs, to appreciate another apporach to keeping the local running culture strong, but also for the brands who either take local running stores for granted, or have forgotten that running shoes are sold, one pair at a time.
RBR, # 1. What is your first individual running memory ?
Kris Hartner: Not being able to run the entire 600 yards in the Presidential Physical Fitness test in 6th grade. Having to walk really bugged me. So I started running the next year.
RBR, # 2. How did you get started in running?
Kris Hartner: See number 1.
RBR, # 3. Do you remember buying a pair of running shoes when you were running early in your running career? What was the experience like?
Kris Hartner: Oh yeah – it was a pair of NB 620’s. It was a big deal. They were $60 and we didn’t have much excess spending money. And running was a new thing for me. So these were my pride and joy. I wore them on a camping trip, they got wet, I put them by the fire to dry out, the blown rubber outsole shrunk due to the heat, the shoes were ruined, I was crushed. Seriously.
RBR, # 4. Where did you first sell running shoes?
Kris Hartner: Garry Bjorklund Sports in Minnetonka, MN in 1983.
RBR, # 5. What was that experience like?
Kris Hartner: Wow, how much time do you have? It was my dream job. I was 16, my mother told me I needed to get a job. I had just applied at McDonalds and the same day was at GBS Sports hanging out and the owner asked me if I wanted to work there – and boom. Lots of great experiences, but I was a poor employee – we had no training, my leaders were running 120+ miles per week and slept in the back on cots. You learn from what you see. I would so fire me if I was like I was back then – late all the time, on the phone all the time, just generally not a good employee.
RBR, # 6. How did you get involved in Naperville Running Company?
Kris Hartner: In 8th grade I had to make up a business and create a business card for printing class, I created one: The Complete Runner, owned and operated by me. It was truly the start of my dream to own my own running store some day. So, since 8th grade it had been my dream. On May 27th, 2000 I opened NRC.
RBR, # 7. How has your involvement evolved?
Kris Hartner: From doing everything – quite literally – to helping direct 38 people to make sure the business can run very well even in my absense.
RBR, # 8. How has the view of a successful running store changed over the past 20 years?
Kris Hartner: It is much more service, customer and experience focused.
RBR, # 9. What do consumers come to Naperville Running Company for now?
Kris Hartner: The energy, knowledge and caring of our team.
RBR, # 10. You have developed The Underground, tell us about that?
Kris Hartner: It’s partnership between New Balance and Naperville Running Company to provide a one of kind gathering space dedicated to young runners and track & field athletes.
RBR, # 11. How does New Balance fit into your local running culture?
Kris Hartner: It’s the brand that most closely matches our spirit – a privately owned, mom and pop business that cares about running and doing the right thing.
RBR, # 12. Do you have favorite local running routes you publicize?
Kris Hartner: Yep: http://runningcompany.com/running-routes/
RBR, # 13. What type of group training efforts do you offer?
Kris Hartner: Running 101, 201, Marathon and Half Marathon Training, Good Form Running, various other fun runs
RBR, # 14. How big is multi sport in your business?
Kris Hartner: Used to be bigger. Now it’s pretty much tri shorts and tops, wetsuits and goggles. We have several tri shops in the area, they have a tough time with apparel, so they are always selling it all at 40% off.
RBR, # 15. How Does New Balance help your store provide better services to the local running community?
Kris Hartner: They sponsor the Naperville Running Co Twilight XC Invite (a night XC race under the lights for 1,200 local HS athletes and about 2,000 spectators), the Underground, having our number 1 and number 2 running shoe!
RBR, # 16. What are the favorite NB running shoes in your store?
Kris Hartner: 880 is our #1, 860 is our #2. Overall.
RBR, # 17. Is it harder for running brands to break into the running specialty business today than in the past?
Kris Hartner: Absolutely. The main vendors have upped their game, expanded their lines, refined their top products.
RBR, # 18. What, do you believe separates successful run specialty stores from the less than successful?
Kris Hartner: Successful stores are equally passionate about running as they are about running a smart business.
RBR, # 19. Are there too many road races out there?
Kris Hartner: Have we reached our limit? Yes. Please, instead of doing another 150 person 5K that barely raises any money, creates unecessary work for many, and closes roads – do a golf outing fundraiser instead. That sounds kind of snarky, but it’s based on non-alternative facts.
RBR, # 20. How do you reach out to local high school and youth running clubs?
Kris Hartner: With team nights in the Underground – nobody can beat that. And A1 service and selection once they get here.
RBR, # 21. We see more and more cross fit type programs where running becomes part of their culture, is this where new runners are coming from?
Kris Hartner: Not really. Maybe a few, but very little to no impact.
RBR, # 22. How do local running stores communicate their value and the value of the hands on running purchase experience?
Kris Hartner: By nailing customer service, blowing people away and those people communicate it for us. It’s the most legitimate way to get the message across – testimonial.
RBR, # 23. Your store uses instagram, twitter and FB, how does that help you communicate to your stores?
Kris Hartner: We have a full time Director of Digital who is all in to keep us current with all of the demographics we serve. We’re really ramping up the more personal connections – YouTube is a key focus right now, along with Instagram.
RBR, # 24. What does NB do for your store that no one else does?
Kris Hartner: Makes shoes that can only be sold in brick and mortar stores (and nb.com). That’s huge. They also have the best team across the spectrum of who we deal with, from: Hillary to Trevor to Sean to Kevin to Jonathan to Rob to Jim to Keith to Chris to Claire to Tom to Tom to Dave. Seriously, each person in their respective roles is the best in the business. What a team.
RBR, # 25. What is your favorite NB running shoe?
Kris Hartner: The 860 – the first ever brick and mortar only running shoe (yes, even going back 40 years – this one can’t even be sold in the back of a magazine).