What’s in a name? Apparently everything for a national chain of running stores. The Running Specialty Group (RSG), a Denver-based subsidiary of The Finish Line Inc., is unveiling a strategic marketing initiative this fall that will eventually entail re-branding all of its 76 specialty running stores in 17 states under the name JackRabbit. The gradual re-branding process will begin with its stores in the New York City area this fall and will continue to other stores over and at JackRabbit.com the next two years.

RSG began purchasing top-performing speciality running stores across the U.S. in 2012 and, with its own expansion of some of those stores, it now operates 76 running shops across the U.S., many of which have been among the most profitable and iconic shops within the running industry. The group currently owns the existing JackRabbit stores in the New York City area, Boulder Running Company stores in Colorado, Blue Mile and Roncker’s Running Spot stores in the Midwest, Raleigh Running Outfitters and Richmond RoadRunner on the East Coast, and numerous others.

It has maintained the branding of many of those stores, but it has also branded some stores with a variation of The Running Company name. For example, several of its Texas stores in the Houston and Austin markets are now branded under the name Texas Running Company. RSG’s original online running shoe sales site was organized at Run.com, but it later switched to a centralized consumer website at BoulderRunningCompany.com. (Run.com currently re-directs to BoulderRunningCompany.com, but the JackRabbit site has been revamped with a new look and logo too.)

RSG announced last week that it will begin its transition to the new branding with an omnichannel approach, which includes a new logo, e-commerce site, an enhanced social presence and “Where FIT Happens” community approach. The transition will occur in six store locations in the New York market in November centered around the New York City Marathon.

“We’re excited to have multiple locations in the region coming together under the JackRabbit brand,” Bill Kirkendall, president of Running Specialty Group said. “JackRabbit is a vibrant and distinctive name that evokes an active lifestyle. It speaks to running enthusiasts, coaches and friends and will elevate our consumer and community experiences at every touch point with a seamless, omnichannel approach.”

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“The evolution to JackRabbit will truly take flight within the New York community and we’re excited for this next chapter of our brand story,” said Frank Pruitt, senior vice president of brand strategy and experience at RSG.

JackRabbit activations this November will include a regional in-store and digital campaign surrounding the New York City Marathon with an elevated presence at the health and wellness expo. Following that, the company plans to roll out the JackRabbit brand across the country surrounding key running specialty events over the next 24 months. The new JackRabbit.com will serve as the e-commerce site for all re-branded stores.

”We will continue to invest in all of our stores throughout this rollout to be competitive and relevant to our customers,” Pruitt added. “Through this community-based approach, we will elevate the premium customer experience while incorporating core elements that align with our mission to inspire, connect and serve runners everywhere as they make “FIT” happen every day.”

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The running industry has been closely following RSG’s movements in the past four years, given the amount of leverage it has developed with its growing collection of stores. (RSG has also said it would like to expand its grouping of stores to as many as 200 in the next several years.) There are more than 900 specialty running stores across the U.S., but that level of business has been caught in the crossroads of greater competition from big box sporting goods retailers selling running gear, both small-scale and large-scale retail consolidation at the specialty level, internet sales from new vendors such as Amazon.com and Zappos.com and running shoe brands selling directly from their own online stores.

“To me (branding all of the stores under the JackRabbit name) seems like a convenient way to brand their stores,” says Kris Hartner, owner of independent Naperville Running Company stores in suburban Chicago. “But I’m kind of fan of local naming because it ties into our community and that’s why I have it in the name of my stores. I understand where they’re coming from, but I think it kind of furthers the gap that they have tying back into the local community. If anybody needs a local connection, it’s a national business.”

Hartner says he’s as optimistic as he’s ever been about operating a local running store amid the industry-wide consolidation that’s been happening and competition from online sales. The Naperville Running Company was named the Running Store of the Year in 2009 and 2013 and last year expanded with a second location. Good service, good product and a friendly atmosphere connected to the community are the keys to success, he says.

“I think a lot of people thought there would be a lot of stores closing amid this consolidation, but I don’t think that’s the case,” Hartner says. “Some have closed, but others have opened. From our end, business is good.”

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