Keeping pace with the industry, Running Fit opens store no. 7
The $2.3 billion running industry is growing across the United States, and Ann Arbor’s Running Fit is keeping up with the pace.
Running Fit just opened its seventh store in Michigan on Jackson Road, just west of Zeeb.
The building - a remodeled church, which the company’s owners bought early this year- also serves as the operation’s corporate headquarters and a reminder of its potential to grow even further.
“We’re just going to be able to offer so much more to the running community,” co-owner Randy Step said.
The new building’s 5,700 square feet replaces a 3,500-square-foot warehouse located nearby.
About 40 percent of the building will be used for retail space. Running Fit’s events staff and corporate employees also are housed on site, as is some inventory storage.
But the building - and the potential to expand it to 9,000 square feet - also allows Step and co-owner Steve Angerman to consider adding ancillary businesses on site that complement their running operations, like running classes, yoga for runners, and sports massage.
“We’d like this to be ‘running central’ in Ann Arbor,” Step said.
The business is more than a running shoe retailer, Step added. It offers shoe fittings for medical referrals, and sells products and services for all aspects of both running-related and other sports. The company also retails Endless Pools, and offers stroke analysis clinics and product demos.
A separate division is focused on running-related events.
“We’re an event company and a retail company,” Step said. “ We’re making running exciting.”
The events side employs five, he said, and their functions include setting up classes for runners - from beginners to triatheles - and organizing 22 major races in several states. A recent Woodstock run included bands playing for the three-day event; today’s Big House Big Heart 5K run is an example of an event that has a philanthropic aspect.
Source: National Sporting Goods Association.
The new store was added to the Running Fit portfolio after several years of searching for a non-downtown location in the region. The company owns and continues to operate in downtown Ann Arbor.
Step looked at several properties over the years and even made an offer on another property on the Jackson Road corridor before striking a deal for the former Church of the Nazarene, located near such major retailers as Meijer Inc. and Lowe’s.
Step said many people advised him to tear the building down, but he decided to remodel at a higher cost.
“Everyone told us it wouldn’t be smart to use the old church,” he said. “ But we walked through and kind of liked the building.”
He also liked the idea of “keeping it out of the landfill,” he said, as he planned its transformation with Vanston/O’Brien, an Ann Arbor construction firm.
The expansion was powered by a $1 million federal Small Business Administration loan, Step said.
After the $875,000 property purchase and nearly $400,000 in renovations, Step said, he’s well-positioned to capitalize on the growth of the running industry.
Gross sales have increased every year for the 24 years Running Fit has existed, Step said. Revenue has grown 25 percent every year for the last three in the event division.
“We’ve been very fortunate on the running side that the sport itself has had very strong growth,” he said.
Running Fit employs about 100, and that number will grow by about 11 over the next year, Step said. Hires will be on the event and retail sides.
The retailer also made some changes to its other locations, including moving stores in both Novi and West Bloomfield to higher-profile shopping centers.
“We’re constantly looking at ways to improve our business,” Step said. “Everyone here is a pretty passionate runner. We’re trying to create the kind of events that we want to run in and share our excitement in the sport.”
Paula Gardner is business news director for AnnArbor.com. Contact her at PaulaGardner@AnnArbor.com or 734-623-2586.