Most people would expect great service and the best new shoes and gear at their local running store. But what about a Strava leaderboard that highlights local challenges, a custom footbed service, the chance to get some physical therapy work done, plush leather chairs to hang out in and, oh, free coffee too?
Just as recreational running and retail buying patterns have changed in recent years, so too have running stores. While there are still many mom and pop type stores that thrive as they did 20 years ago, the most modern of running specialty shops in the U.S. combine leading-edge elements of design, technology, functionality and comfort and to engage and sustain its local running community.
Instead of merely being a place to buy shoes and apparel, the best running stores in the U.S. are becoming places to hang out and interact with other runners—through events like happy hour fun runs, athlete Q&As, high school spike nights, local training club workouts and even running book club gatherings.
In a nutshell, that’s the vibe behind the New Balance Run Hub store that was unveiled recently within Flatirons Running Company in Boulder, Colo. It’s a unique set-up to be sure. While one side of the store sells shoes and apparel from numerous brands, the other side is essentially a massive New Balance concept store. It’s a unique mix that blends everything a running shop normally sells from a wide range of brands—shoes, apparel, accessories, nutrition—with an amazing, state-of-the-sport New Balance showroom, a comfortable sitting area, complimentary coffee bar, treadmills for gait analysis and training runs and physical therapy and massage treatment rooms.
It’s not the first running shop to combine some of those elements, but few stores rival the stunning layout, atmosphere and amenities of this one.
The newly redesigned store held its grand opening party on Feb. 6, but the idea has been in the works for more than a year. Flatirons Running opened in August 2014 as a 3,000-square-foot shop, but with the addition and remodel the entire space is now about 7,800 square feet (including backshop storage and offices). New Balance invested heavily in the makeover and expansion of the original shop (made possible when a fly fishing store moved from the adjacent space), but Flatirons Running owners Henry Guzman, R.L. Smith and Tricia Vieth are the ones responsible for making it profitable.
“It’s all about community,” Guzman says. “But it’s more than just selling shoes and gear. It has to be. You want people to feel comfortable so they can meet other runners there, sit down and talk about a trail run, plan for a race or just hang out and stretch for a bit.”
The exquisitely re-designed shop includes locally sourced fixtures—including a reclaimed wood New Balance sign and coffee table—and local scenic imagery that highlights Team New Balance athletes (and Boulder residents) Jenny Simpson, Emma Coburn and Mirinda Carfrae. The Flatirons Running New Balance Run Hub also features the custom footbed business of Flatirons co-owner R.L. Smith, who had operated his InStep business in the original space since 2009.
While the newly remade store is still focused on community, it’s also aimed at gaining a bigger foothold in the competitive Boulder marketplace, as well as serving as a testing ground for initiatives and products New Balance could develop on a national or global scale, said New Balance executive vice president Chris Ladd, who helped oversee the project.
“For us as a brand to re-establish our leadership position in running in an iconic town like Boulder that has so much great running heritage and history, it’s really important to build that community, re-connect with consumers,” Ladd said recently. “And what a better place to launch our innovative products and what better partners than the team at Flatirons Running to help us do it.
Boulder is a smallish city with a population of about 100,000, but it is known as one of the most active cities in the U.S. It’s been one of the country’s most influential running hubs since the early 1970s, when Olympic champion marathoner Frank Shorter made it his training base. Boulder has three other great running shops with notable prominence: Boulder Running Company, the large flagship store for the Denver-based Running Specialty Group’s national network of stores; Fleet Feet Boulder, recently purchased by Boulder Track Club boss and former Australian Olympian Lee Troop and being redesigned with the help of Fleet Feet’s corporate team; and the stunning Newton Running shop on Pearl Street mall, which is operated by Newton’s Boulder-based world headquarters.
One of the most fascinating elements at the remodeled Flatirons store is a new digitally enhanced running community New Balance is rolling out in various communities later this year. Called The New Balance Run Club powered by Strava, it will feature digital and physical running community experiences, in which local runners will be encouraged participate in group and individual training programs for key running events, weekly challenges and local running routes. Runners can compete with peers within the local Boulder running community and see the results on a digital leaderboard inside the store.
New Balance plans to roll out more Run Hub stores in the near future, including one partnered with the New York Road Runners adjacent to Central Park in New York City.
“We have bold aspirations of being a top-three global athletic brand that has its core, its heritage and its authenticity in running,” Ladd said. “What we love to say is that all athletes run in their sport, whether it’s for training or while competing. If we continue to establish our leadership position in building great products for the best athletes in the world, then we can compete on that level.”