Footwear shop is home for the local marathon community

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Have you had your pronation checked lately? If not, you’re not alone – hundreds of runners and athletes out there pound the pavement on feet suffering in less-than-perfect footwear.

Local runners, walkers and joggers who do understand the importance of proper foot and shoe alignment know it can mean the difference between a fast, strong race and a slower, more painful event. Just ask The Colorado Running Company’s store manager, John O’Neil, or assistant manager, Tracy Dorshak. After extensive personal experience and training from Nike, New Balance, Avia and other shoe experts, they both appreciate the importance good shoes and running gear are to peak performance. And just to make sure they give customers a proper diagnosis, they’ve installed a treadmill to test individual shoe clients.

Founded in Spring 2000 by Pikes Peak region marathoner and long-time running enthusiast, Jeff Tarbert, the Colorado Running Company benefited early on from recommendations from a series of four focus groups. Each group consisted of members of the running and non-running sectors. Tarbert incorporated many of their comments and suggestions into his final business plan. Now fast approaching its third year in business, the retail shop has found a ready audience among the Colorado Springs’ fleet-of-foot community.

“I started the business to deliver the service and products a runner like me needs,” Tarbert admits. “There are lots of places to buy running shoes in town, but their focus is more on selling shoes than on helping a runner or marathoner maximize his or her performance. At the Colorado Running Company, that’s what we’re all about – knowledge and service.”

Dr. Fred Gnadinger, a local CEO and high-tech developer agrees. He was surprised on his first visit to buy a new pair of running shoes. “They actually had a treadmill to test my running stride and pronation. No one has ever asked me the questions they asked – and I ended up with the right shoes. I was really impressed.”

In its first two years, the store has faced some competition from established downtown retailers and from an out-of-town dealer off Austin Bluffs. To date, however, revenues continue to grow and CRC has developed a reputation as the headquarters for everyone from neophytes to Boston Marathoners. Part of that growth Tarbert attributes to his management team’s proactive involvement with the community and to his store’s convenient location.

“We specifically wanted to be located where the runners are,” he adds, noting that his store is on the southeast corner of Cache La Poudre and North Tejon, across from Colorado College. “That way we could capture the attention of runners on their way to Monument Valley Park for a noon jog.” So far his location-focused strategy has paid off as a traffic generator – and has helped the company build a sizeable client database.

Some of the Colorado Running Company’s community participation includes sponsorship of Colorado College’s annual Sports Hall of Fame dinner. CRC also donates to many programs at the College, including the Collegiality Golf Tournament and the All Campus Art Show. The company also puts on four annual All-Corner Track Meets in June and July at the Colorado College Track, benefiting the school’s cross country and track teams. Tarbert also installed what has become a familiar oasis along the Monument Valley five-mile running trail – a cooler filled daily with water and cups. “I get all kinds of comments about that,” said Tarbert. “It has been a great public relations tool.”

The Barr Trail Marathon, with proceeds and entry fees benefiting local charities, was also a brainchild of the CRC management team and is in its third year. “We found sponsors to cover our costs.” said Tarbert, “and have developed a High School Challenge that rewards each high school team that mans an aid station along the race with $1000. The best aid station (based on a vote of race participants) wins $2000.”

On Labor Day weekend 2001, Colorado Running Company earned its way into the history books by sponsoring the first ever sanctioned American Discovery Trail Marathon in Colorado. The course began in Palmer Lake (at 7300 feet) and followed the official American Discovery Trail south along I-25 through the USAFA grounds and on in to Colorado Springs Memorial Park at under 6,000 feet of elevation. After only its first edition, the marathon was named one of the top twenty trail marathons in the US by Runner’s World Magazine. More than 300 runners started the race and 280 finished.

This year more than 400 runners are expected to descend on Colorado Springs for the Labor Day 26K. “What the participants really enjoy,” says Tarbert, “is that there’s so much else to see and do while they’re here. Many extend their vacations to take in the Colorado Springs Balloon Classic or the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. Along with the Pikes Peak Marathon, the American Discovery Trail Marathon is putting Colorado Springs on the running map.”

“Our website is under construction,” Tarbert said, adding that e-business has not played much of a role in sales to date. “I do hope to expand our service to work with high schools and middle schools throughout southern Colorado for everything from athletic or running shoes to team uniforms, caps and gear.” At present, he says that robust market remains underserved.

CRC customers range in age, background and ability – and the company plans to do its part to increase wellness and participation levels by partnering with organizations such as Penrose St. Francis Hospital’s Walk for Health. The program is designed to build activity into one’s day by counting steps. The goal: 10,000 steps a day, as laid out by the American Council of Sports Medicine in its guidelines for an “active person.” Pedometers of all types are available for sale – along with educational tips from CRC’s staff on the proper equipment and preparation necessary to reach that threshold.

Earlier this year, Colorado Running Company also became the center for a Carmichael Training Systems pilot walking/running program. The focused series can convert a couch potato into a marathoner in 26 weeks, Tarbert says. In addition, Colorado Springs Fit, Team Diabetes and Joins in Motion are all using CRC as training headquarters.

Tarbert, who admits to a competitive streak, also enjoys his store’s role as a sponsor of quality events and education. CRC is already planning to serve as event headquarters for two new races – The Cheyenne Mountain Sprint Triathlon and The Winter Triathlon. His advice to other entrepreneurs: deliver great service and get to know your market. Based on its track record so far, that marketing strategy is working well for both for Colorado Running Company and for its customers.