Saturday, December 10, 2011

Back to Bend

Rob, Melanie, Max and I are just back from Austin, Texas where we attended the Running Event. This is an annual conference and product expo for the specialty running industry. It is primarily a gathering for independent running stores (like FootZone) and the vendors that we buy our product from. This was our third year attending and it is always an opportunity to not only see product for upcoming seasons, but to meet other great people in the industry, learn new things, and share ideas. There are some great running stores out there and many that I greatly admire. As you might expect, all stores share similarities but are surprisingly diverse at the same time. It's not really surprising since running can be really different depending on where you are. Some of that is simply geography and climate. Where there are lots of trails, people run on the dirt and ­runners want trail shoes that don't sell in big cities, while in Florida, warm tights and Yaktrax aren't much of a contemplation. In Bend, it’s difficult to overemphasize how fortunate we are to have so many trails and beauty around us to be explored.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that stores really do seem to have a personality. I had another store owner from back East tell me that he had been in FootZone last year while visiting Bend and how impressed he was with our selection but mostly what a great “feel” the shop has. It’s not the first time I’ve had customers and folks in the industry compliment the comfortable “feeling” of FootZone. Of course I beam with a bit of pride when I hear such things but I’m also trying to put my finger on what exactly that “feel” is. Not sure I’ll ever know entirely but I think we have two advantages that I don’t see everywhere.

First, we live in an amazing community with a very sophisticated customer who places value in something different. Many have chosen Central Oregon over someplace else for a reason and they appreciate what makes this community different from every other place in America. We hope that FootZone is a tiny part of that or at least that the person who is drawn to Central Oregon is also drawn to a local, healthy, fun running store.

Second, we work to treat our customers with the respect they deserve. Even as I type it, that comes off as a very generic and benign statement but I’m speaking from the perspective of creating a culture at the FootZone where that respect is constantly at the forefront. Sounds easy and in some ways it is but the longer we’re in business and I note all the examples around me, I realize what a complicated thing that “culture” is. First of all, you can’t fake it-- people are smart. Secondly, it is obviously all about the people who work at FootZone and the fact they are good people and very much valued in this equation. I wish I could say that they are all incredibly well-paid and will eventually live well on their FootZone retirement plans. That would be a stretch, but working at FootZone provides a livable wage which is shockingly rare. A decent wage is an important start, but it’s only a start. The essential part is not taking for granted the modest success that we have. Thinking of each customer as an individual deserving our time and respect. We often joke that it would be so much easier to get things done at FootZone if we didn’t have all these customers interrupting us. That ironic twist is what reminds us that the customer is the ONLY thing that matters. Everything else we do is meaningless by comparison. On every level at FootZone, we believe in that idea. We certainly make mistakes but at our collective core is the understanding that we have a simple job to do. If we get people in great products that will help them enjoy their running, walking and fitness, they will keep coming to see us. That gives us the opportunity to work in an environment with fun people supporting the activity we love. Plus, we get to live in a place we want to be. Hopefully, somewhere in there is that “feeling” that we often hear about. Of course, it could just be a great downtown space with brick walls and wood floors. Either way, we’re grateful for the opportunity. Cheers-Teague

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