Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Moorestown Running Company - State of the Union 2008

A lot of people ask “How’s the store doing?” I figured the end of the year would be a good time to do a status on our little endeavor…

We opened in May of 2007. We started the store with 4 goals:
- Make walking & running more enjoyable and fun for all of our customers
- Support running in our surrounding communities
- Create a comfortable environment for our customers and employees
- Create a sustainable long term business in a small town setting

I viewed the store as a good way to fit in with my overall goal of trying to contribute to Moorestown thru what I know best – running. It fit well with my volunteer coaching for the high school cross country and track teams as well as our efforts to build trails at the high school and now around town.

The first three goals all kind of boil down to helping runners and the running community. I can report that this has gone very, very well. Let me share some examples:
- We get comments every day about how our fitting process and shoes have really helped make people feel better. Whether it is a woman with bunions trying on a pair of Nike Vomero’s or a high school runner who has ITB problems because they were in the wrong type of shoe or the store clerk who is on their feet all day and need the extra cushioning and fit of our shoes. It sounds corny, but we love it when people come back in and say how they are enjoying their new shoes – and we get a lot of those comments!

- We definitely are a place for runners to come in and “talk shop”. Whether they are looking for some training or injury advice, or to share some pictures from their latest race we just love to talk about running.

- We had an Army Reserve unit get outfitted for a big team race. They gave us a picture of the whole team looking sharp that is hanging on our wall.

- The Thursday Night run is a great time and way to get together with other runners.

- The Moorestown Distance Running Project – this is something Ed and some of the hard core runners in town put together. It is a great training group and they have had fantastic success – with the co-ed team getting 4th place in the Blue Division in the Chicago Marathon this year! This group sees the store as their “hang-out” place, and we think that is fantastic!

- We’ve helped to sponsor and man the top local races – the Scott Coffee Moorestown Rotary 8K, The Moorestown Turkey Trot, our new July 4th Moorestown Mile, and our annual New Year’s Day Fun Run.

- We get a lot of college runners coming back and meeting at the store. It is cool to see the runners grown up from when they were in high school. As the store gets older and our customers get older we are looking forward as being a way to help people stay in touch.

- Our website has become an important place for people to find out about races – getting literally thousands of hits per month by people taking advantage of the largest racing calendar in the area. Likewise, our high school cross country and track coverage is the best in the area – and we get large spikes of hits on our results summary and links pages.

- The team we have at the store – Joe, Ralph, Ed, Marc, Dave and myself really do see it as our home away from home. You will find all of us at various times just “hanging out” there even when not scheduled to work. Meeting up to go for a run together or with others in the community.

Quite simply, we are having fun, and it seems like those that come to the store have fun too. It might be my imagination, but it just seems like more people are running in town. There are lots of reasons for this, but we are glad to be a part of encouraging the trend of health and fun.

The final goal is to create an on-going business on Main Street. To be honest, this is a challenging endeavor. The trends of business away from Main Street toward the easy parking of strip shopping centers and the on-line ordering play against us. The additional challenge of the economy is also playing against us.

Fortunately, we have a couple of things going for us. First, we are more of a destination that does not really require lots of browsers like those shopping carts at the Mall or Airport. We also benefit from the fact that people really do need help in selecting proper running or walking shoes and that knowledge seems to be spreading. But our most powerful advantage is plain old word of mouth and loyal repeat customers.

I really feel we are all kind of in this together, so I figured I would share some of the numbers…

Since the store opened 18 months ago, people have bought 4,639 pairs of shoes from us. Wow! This represents about 2,400 customers. Some of those customers have just bought clothing or other items – so we get a lot of people who keep buying shoes from us. This demonstrates that we seem to offer a good enough service that keeps people coming back. And we get the comment every day from new customers that someone had recommended that they come in.

We also have a pretty good spread of customers. About 37% of our customers live in Moorestown – around 900. That is roughly 5-10% of Moorestown who have shopped at our store – which is great. We even have a town council person who shops in our store! We have customers from all of the surrounding towns like Mt. Laurel, Delran, Cinnaminson, Riverton, Cherry Hill, and even beyond out to Medford and up towards Northern Burlington. So the word of mouth has definitely spread.

This kind of repeat business and word of mouth was very obvious as we saw our business expand dramatically year over year in the summer and early fall. For example in both August and September, our sales were up over 50% from the previous year! That is very cool and gives us a good metric that we are heading in a positive direction.

However, the economy since October has really cut into that growth. In October we grew about 20% over the previous year, in November the growth was down to 5% and we are flat even with last December.

For the year we had revenue of about $440K, which is good for a Main Street business. However, we were not profitable and we were not able to pay off any of our loans at that level of business. The good news is that our investor (me) is really not expecting this to make money for me. The store is a work of passion and as I detailed above we seem to be hitting on all cylinders there. However I do want to get to at least break even this year so it does not require more cash from our savings.

With the economy signaling that customers will simply buy less this coming year, we need to figure out other sources of income to get to that breakeven level. We have several ideas. First is team sales. Ralph is heading this up and we have had some success so far with team sales at Moorestown, Cinnaminson, Seneca as well as an Army Reserve Unit. There is a lot of potential business out there – not just in Cross Country and Track, but beyond into other sports as well like Crew, Soccer, Field Hockey, etc. Since we represent all of the top brands like Under Armour, Nike, New Balance, Asics, Brooks, etc. we have very good capabilities of getting the right apparel for any team. And since we have the buying power of the three stores and a healthy team business in Haddonfield, we should be able to expand this channel of business by providing competitive pricing. Second, we are looking at rolling out new ways that we can help race directors with a variety of services. There are a lot of things we can do to help race directors that can also bring us additional revenue and make their races better. For a sneak peak, you can look at to see some of our ideas that we should be rolling out in January for the 2009 racing season. Finally, we will be doing some other experiments on the web to find new sources of income.

Joe, Ralph, Ed, Marc, Dave and I are very optimistic about the future of the store. We all love being a part of the running community and thank our literally thousands of customers for your continued support. We know we will be successful with the help of everyone! So keep spreading the good word and let us know if you have any suggestions on how we can serve you better…

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Moorestown Turkey Trot

The Moorestown Turkey Trot was a great success this year. We had about 150 people participate in the One Mile Fun Run/Walk. We had about 650 participate in the 5K. We raised nearly $7,000 to be used for the Moorestown Distance Running Club, which supports the high school cross country teams, the new middle school program and the building of the new Cross Country Trail we ran on. There are some pictures on the website, and hopefully some of the other photographers that were there will drop off a CD with their photos at the store so I can put them up as well.

We started this 5 years ago as a fund raiser and a low key event that would be a fun way to connect with others on Thanksgiving morning. It was designed to not be a competitive race since we do not do official timing. The event has grown quite a bit over the past several years – I thought we had kind of peaked last year with about 450 people, but it seems to keep growing, which is great.

We did a survey of people who attended this year and have gotten over 100 responses. You can see the results here.

At a high level, it looks like we are doing pretty well – with 65% being “Very Satisfied” and only 5% being “Neutral” of “Somewhat Dissatisfied”. Lots of nice comments like “Great Family event-something for everyone”, “The food was amazing and it is great to see the trot grow through the years”, “It is a nice small "home town" race”, etc.

I think most of the suggestions are related to the fact that we did not expect this much growth (we ran out of water, we did not have port-a-potties, etc.). We will fix those things next year. I thought it might be good to address some of the most common suggestions below:

Timing: We started with the premise that this is community event and a “Trot”, not something like an official USATF certified race – there are plenty of those. We wanted to keep the cost low, yet still be able to raise some money. Our assumption is that most people who really want to be timed run with a watch. To supplement this, we have the Stadium Scoreboard clock. We designed the race to finish so runners could see the scoreboard clock as they finished and people who are watching could see it. Finally, we have the low cost way of timing – we hand out place cards and have a simple timing device that prints off the place and time. We hang that on the wall of the concession stand afterwards to allow people to check their time.

All that said, we have several ways we will improve things next year. First, we will have more volunteers at the finish line, along with a real chute to make sure everyone gets a card. Second, we will scan the results and put them up on the website and post the originals on the window of the Moorestown Running Company. Third, we will update the brochure and website to be clearer that this is a Trot and to set expectations on timing better.

Crowds: Having 600+ runners on a cross country course is a LOT. I think we can handle this size crowd for a Trot, but growing too much more may force some changes. There are several things we plan to do this summer to help ease the several problem spots though. First, the start could be done so it has a longer straightaway for the crowd to thin out more. Second, we have plans to try to improve the spot around the corner of the tennis court and build that out a bit more, as well as put a little bridge over the stream to get behind the stadium. Third, we are looking at making a second trail in the woods after the mile and just before coming onto the grass behind the tennis courts. This would prevent people from running into each other there. If you are interested in helping, please let me know.

Logistics: Only two real complaints here. We needed more than 700 bottles of drinks (we thought we might have like 600 people rather than the 800 that showed). We also need to add some port-a-potties.

T-Shirt & Prizes: We want to continue to keep the cost low, so we are not going to give a T-Shirt, but will sell one next year with our famous little Turkey on it. As for prizes, it sounds like people have a preference for the finger puppets over the bracelets.