To be successful, we needed to establish a reputation for providing an incomparable customer experience.
Running Central has been in business since 1977, and we have had the privilege and honor of leading the business since December of 2007. We were advised by many to not proceed with the purchase. The store had been around for 30 years, and by conventional wisdom, it was easy to argue the business had plateaued and capped what the specialty run industry would suggest a store can produce in a community the size of Peoria and its surrounding metro area. However, opportunity is around us all the time; it’s whether we see it or not. Running has saved our lives more than once, and we believed we could take our experiences, and—creatively and enthusiastically—inspire health and wellness for Greater Peoria.
A Timeless Mission
To be successful, Running Central needed to establish a reputation as a business that provides an incomparable customer experience. We needed our message to reach people who don’t run, but value and appreciate the highest level of customer service and being properly fit for shoes—a lost art in many footwear stores, and retail in general. From the beginning, we told our team that we were not competing against other stores that sell running shoes. Rather, we were competing against businesses like Disney, Apple and Marriott, whose consistent excellence has established a gold standard of distinction in the forefront of the consumer’s mind.
This could only be accomplished by establishing a mission that transcends the selling of durable products. Thus, our mission: “to help improve our customer’s experience in this journey called life, one step at a time.” Establishing a mission with the potential to create resonance with people of all ages and goals gives the opportunity for an organization to build a team around something that is timeless. It is with kindness, care, concern and compassion that our team seeks to thoughtfully engage with each and every customer who walks through our door to uncover their individual needs. From there, with abundant knowledge of all the solutions our products possess, we softly lay solutions at our customer’s feet. The heart of this practice is basic, unassuming and rooted in common sense; yet in practice, it requires extreme focus, persistence, diligence and dedication.
We understand that you have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. From day one, we told our team that in time, Running Central would be known throughout the specialty run channel as an industry leader. However, it was going to take time and a lot of hard work as a team to accomplish this goal. We immediately started our plans for the first move and began looking at possible locations. In August of 2011, we moved Running Central to Heritage Square in Peoria Heights, into a space of 4,800 square feet. Before we even opened the doors for business, we had capped the space, expanding another 1,600 square feet just 11 months later. Again, we filled that space immediately and started planning the “big dream.”
The dream was always to bring Running Central back to downtown Peoria for a number of reasons: its optimized central location, the surrounding area, nostalgia and the opportunity to help boost the redevelopment of downtown Peoria. In a meeting with Mayor Jim Ardis, City Councilman Ryan Spain, and Assistant City Manager Chris Setti, the former Illinois Antique Center was suggested. We did our best to hold a poker face during the meeting, and knew exactly what the other was thinking. Immediately, we drove down to Water Street, peered into the windows and smiled from ear to ear, knowing we were looking at the future home of Running Central. With the help of a great designer and building team, we were able to transform the 110-year-old building into a breathtaking space that can compete with the aesthetics of any retail space on Michigan Avenue.
Everyone knows shopping on the Internet can be less expensive, so we needed to enhance our product selection to continue to give customers additional reasons to come shop at Running Central beyond the traditional “running shoe.” Being downtown has given us the physical space to continue to evolve and stay competitive in a challenging retail environment by expanding our apparel department beyond traditional running gear to yoga, lifestyle and “athleisure” apparel, such as dresses, blouses and jeans. The expanded space also allowed us to create an entire kids footwear department with the scope and depth of any Von Maur or Nordstrom. These new departments have allowed us to expand owur mission and vision to children and additional areas of people’s lives beyond direct exercise.
Amplifying the Message
Another key component of our success and ability to tackle the investment of moving to the Peoria Riverfront has come from Running Central’s sister company, ShaZam Racing. My business partner, Brad Henz, and I ran against each other in high school and college and have truly experienced how running can transform a person’s life. From this passion, we started adding events to the race calendar. Like Running Central, ShaZam’s focus has always been on the customer experience. We believed that if we created exciting and fun events, we had the opportunity to inspire people to become more active and get involved—while doing something we both loved.
Over the past seven years, ShaZam Racing has created nine unique events of its own, and these races have undoubtedly spurred interest for other local organizations (mostly not-for-profits) to start their own races as vehicles to raise funds for their organization, gain awareness and help improve the health and wellness of the region. As a result, ShaZam has been trusted to assist these organizations in putting on first-class events of their own. In 2016, we will time more than 125 races—one of the fastest-growing timing and scoring companies in the Midwest.
The success of ShaZam Racing has been solely the result of an intense focus on providing the same great customer service that our customers receive inside of Running Central. This is done by making sure that every participant in every race receives a first-class experience, with the hope that they leave inspired to continue their journey of bettering their personal health and participating in future races.
At the heart of both these companies is the burning desire to help bring the opportunity for the highest quality of life for everyone in Greater Peoria and beyond. We believe that we do have a positive impact on people in immeasurable ways. God has blessed us with an extraordinary team of dedicated people who work tirelessly to fulfill our mission and vision. We are blessed to call this tremendous community home, and we are grateful to have an opportunity to serve individuals and organizations alike. iBi
Adam and Marie White are co-owners of Running Central, located at 311 SW Water Street in Peoria. Call (309) 676-6378 or visit runningcentral.com for more information.