Link to Mystery Shopper Report
From RUNNING INTELLIGENCE: News Analysis & Research of Interest to Running Specialty Store Owners, Volume 3, Number 3. February 2008.
Click here for PDF version >>
We Mystery Shop the Newest Road Runner Store and it's Damn Good
It's no coincidence that the same week the New York Times ran an article on how running specialty stores are thriving despite growing competition, Road Runner Sports opened its newest store in the shopping hub of Paramus, N.J.
The criticism on Road Runner Sports is that they won't make it in the brick and mortar retail business because they'll never be able to rereplicate the warmth, staff knowledge and customer service of a local independent running store. My visit to this store one week after it opened proved otherwise.
The store is located in a recently renovated strip mall along a busy highway in Northern Jersey that is also home to branches of Famous Footwear, The Sports Authority, Modell's, Nordstrom and several other national department stores. There are four good running stores in a ten-mile radius including Ridgewood Running Co., a New Balance store, On Track in Englewood and Fleet Feet Mahwah.
A large purple and orange sign makes the building visible from either side of the highway and as I entered the store, I noticed three smaller signs above the door that read "Running, Walking, Fitness."
I visited the store early on a rainy Saturday morning and was enthusiastically greeted by an attractive, fit blond woman who I later learned was a Masters marathon champ. She shook my hand, introduced herself and asked if I knew anything about Road Runner Sports. When I said I knew the catalog she asked if she could show me the store's "Shoe Dog" proprietary fit process. When I started to resist, she assured me it would only take 10 minutes and quickly my shoes and socks were off and I was stepping across a Presto Scan scanner built into the floor underneath a big red Shoe Dog sign. She quickly showed me images on a light box which confirmed my mild case of fallen arches. After a brief discussion, I was running barefoot on a treadmill and after that was looking at slow motion video of my feet pronating slightly outward.
The Shoe Dog process as administered by this woman was one of the best fit processes I have ever been through. It indeed took only 10 minutes and was administered in a well lit area. I also liked the Shoe Dog name, which was fun and non-intimidating. Certain other fitting processes I had been through were extremely serious and grave as if the fitter were looking for a disease, rather than a good fitting shoe. During some of those fitting sessions, I expected that I'd be told I had two weeks to live. At the Road Runner Sports store, the process was quick, easy to understand and upbeat.
After viewing the slow motion video, we headed to the shoe wall where my new friend correctly led me to the stability shoes. (I must interject here that I had just returned from a trip to the West Coast where I was gifted with several pair of shoes that I had yet to take out of the boxes.) I told the woman that I was in a good inventory position with shoes, but she cheerily dismissed that objection saying, "but now you'll have a pair that you know fit you just right. At Road Runner Sports, we believe everyone should have a pair of shoes that fits them just right." She said this with conviction and passion and at that point I knew I was not leaving that store without buying a pair of shoes.
She showed me a range of Stability Plus shoes, which she noted were appropriate for me because of my pronation issues and my size. After some brief discussion about my brand preferences, she came from the stock room with three boxes of shoes, all of which I tried on and wear tested by running around the 3,000 square foot store. I expressed interest in the ASICS 2130, which she enthusiastically confirmed as a good choice. She identified herself as a long time ASICS devotee, but also expressed a fondness for Brooks which she was wearing at that very moment. We also talked about Mizuno and New Balance and she ran back to the stock room to bring me a pair of each of those in the stability plus category.
Once we settled on the ASICS 2130s, she asked if I needed any apparel and extolled the virtues of the new Feetures! FX socks with silver fibers. As we talked, I mentally ran through the checklist of the items we use when we mystery shop stores for "The 50 Best Stores" evaluations and she was acing every one. And because she had the credibility of being a stud runner, her suggestions and ideas carried weight with me.
Before I paid for the shoes, she suggested that I run on the treadmill wearing them. The video showed the shoes stabilized my foot upon impact. Of course, most any shoe would have provided more stability than my bare foot, but I thought this was good post-purchase reinforcement.
At check-out, I was convinced to join the RRS VIP Club. The sales associate told me I would receive a 10% discount on all purchases and that after five shoe purchases, I¿d receive a $100 gift certificate. She kind of glossed over the fact the VIP club costs $19.99 to join, but what the heck we were friends by then. Plus, she said when a VIP customer buys a pair of shoes, they ring a bell by the front door. She let me ring the bell myself. It was all good fun.
When I walked into the store, I did not intend to buy a pair of shoes. But the woman who waited on me was so persuasive and enthusiastic, I ended up buying shoes and feeling good about it. I have shopped five other Road Runner Stores around the country and was underwhelmed by all but the one located adjacent to their headquarters. But shopping at this store was a great experience. If this branch of RRS can maintain the level of service I experienced and continue to attract dynamic, personable help like the woman who waited on me, this store will become a player in North Jersey for sure.