Running on 40
By Emily Kochanek
40 years ago in a little, refurbished apartment on Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, a little running shop opened. The owner, Howard Sagrans, saw a need for a run-specialty store prompting him to open in 1975. Today, as the store celebrates their 40th anniversary, that little run shop has transformed into the ever expanding company of Marathon Sports while still holding true to its original, small business feel.
Currently, Marathon Sports has 13 locations, stretching from the Greater Boston area, to the Cape, and to Worcester, with two locations in Connecticut under the Sound Running franchise. The company is also part of a new project in conjunction with the Boston Athletics Association (B.A.A.) and adidas: an adidas RunBase featuring B.A.A. memorabilia and Marathon Sports employees.
With all Marathon’s accomplishments, including their place in Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” hall of fame after winning the title 14 times, their success stems from one man’s desire to bring healthy running to the running community of Boston: Colin Peddie. In 1992, a young Peddie with a physical therapy background bought the small store in Cambridge. At the beginning, Peddie implemented his physical therapy training as part of the store. However, injuries as a professional runner changed his viewpoint and selling method.
“Colin had a lot of injuries back then while he was running professionally and thought that bringing that to the masses would be very beneficial for the running community,” said Brand Manager Dan Darcy. “So Colin implemented a process called the “right fit” process.”
The “right fit” then became a philosophy for Peddie. “Collin saw a link between shoes and people having issues in terms of injuries. People were always looking at the symptoms and and trying to treat the symptoms and never looking at the root cause of those problems.”
Treating customers’ causes of their symptoms took the form of introducing quality running shoes and having the employees pick the shoes for the customers. This process is now a staple at every Marathon Sports and is what sets the company apart from other athletic and running-specialty stores. “We take a look at a runner’s biomechanics by watching them walk. We look at their arches and the ankles, taking a look at their bone structure and their stature and their running history,” said Darcy. Running history can be a great implication of which shoes employees will offer customers. Past injuries as well as the type of running, whether long-distance or short, and terrain, can indicate certain needs. Employees will also watch the customer walk barefoot then run in each shoe they choose to ensure each customer has the right fit for his or her foot.
“When it comes to the correct mechanics and being able to correct somebody if they are over-pronating or getting them into the right shaped shoe if they have a low arch, it’s very important for the health of that person whether they run or walk,” said Darcy. Marathon’s motto, “Keeping your life in motion,” clearly represents the philosophy of the company as they tout themselves as a run-walk store. “They see the name marathon sports and they think running because of the name when in reality we consider ourselves a run walk store,” said Darcy.
But purchasing the right running shoes for customers from walkers to elite runners is a necessary element of the process. The buying team will look close at the design of each shoe from they vendors. Quality is a necessity. “we are not going to look at a shoe that’s not made in the proper format or wont work for our customers,” said Darcy. “We’re not going to bring a shoe in just because it’s the new, popular thing. We’re going to select their shoes based on the relationship that we have with our vendors along with the quality of that product.”
Even with their personalized service, Marathon has been competing with other stores that use technology to analyze gait. But the company is confident their in-person experience will prevail. “There’s no real benefit from going about doing it that way than going about doing it the way Marathon Sports does it which is watching a person in person instead of video taping and relying on technology,” said Darcy. “We think [the Marathon Sports method] gives a more valuable and true sense of what a person is actually doing when they’re out on the roads.
As for selling online, Darcy believes the in-store experience is still more influential. “How do we go about offering the same customer service and guidance online as we do in the stores? And it comes down to that is is absolutely impossible,” said Darcy.
However, the company has started to offer a limited amount of products online. “We want a customer that has been in the store before and has been fit for shoes before to give them that capability to go online and replenish those shoes that they had purchased in one of our brick and mortar stores. It gives it more access to that,” said Darcy.
As for expansion, there are no current plans for more Marathon Sports stores but the company is focusing on their new venture: the adidas RunBase, the first in North America. The Boston Marathon RunBase is an adidas store that not only houses the B.A.A.’s paraphernalia but also serves the run community of Boston by providing lockers, showers, and run groups.
“The B.A.A. wants a way to engage and give a front door to the public of the rich history the B.A.A. has always had,” said Darcy. As for Marathon Sports, their goal is to implement their philosophy in the store. “We’re bringing that run speciality feeling to this store,” he said.
Although still a store, the format gives Marathon and the B.A.A. the ability to serve the run community, and that’s the purpose of Marathon Sports. “We’re in the business of making sure we are serving the running community as best we see fit.”