The internet may make shopping convenient, but The Running Store in Gainesville offers something the internet simply cannot: personalized service and custom fitting. When you walk (or run) into the store, you encounter a team of people who genuinely want to know all about you—and your feet.
"The endless aisles of online shopping can certainly offer a wide array of options, but at The Running Store we offer a curated selection of running or walking shoes,” explains owner Ian Connor. "We pick the best of the best. And then we spend time evaluating what you need to help you choose the best shoe."
The Running Store has been an independently operated shoe store since it opened in November 2007. Located in the Virginia Gateway Shopping Center, The Running Store’s knowledgeable staff and fitting process keeps their loyal customers coming back year after year, but Connor wants his customers to understand that The Running Store is for everyone.
"Many people think this is a store just for elite runners, but honestly, if you have feet, we can help you! Whether you are just taking up walking for exercise, have a job that has you working on your feet, or you are looking for more comfort in your shoes due to injury, we can evaluate how you walk and help you find the right shoes.”
The fitting process starts when staff asks customers about their goals and past injuries. They may also inspect a customer's current shoes to see the wear pattern. The next part of custom fitting involves two significant steps: an in-person foot analysis and a video gait analysis. The scanners and the treadmill in the store provide a full analysis of the length, width, and volume of your feet.
During the foot analysis, the staff member will visually inspect the customer’s feet and try to gain some insight by assessing the wear pattern on their shoes. Because feet vary from person to person, and because no two feet are exactly alike even on the same person, they obtain a length and width measurement of each foot, examine foot shape, volume, and arch type, and try to determine the distribution of pressure on the feet.
The video gait analysis involves the customer walking on a treadmill, so they can record the running gait or walking style to review, in slow motion, how the body moves. For example, do your feet roll outward or inward? Do they not roll at all? This video analysis offers clear-cut evidence of the motion of a customer’s feet as they glide or trudge through each step.
"Once we explain the findings, we start bringing you shoes to try out. Choosing the right shoe is the hard part. There is more to it than just trying on a couple of pair of shoes and picking one. When people come into The Running Store, I hope to teach them the Big 3: shoes, Insoles, and socks. All these elements are important in finding the right fit for your feet."
Prior to 2007, Connor was a traveling sales representative with a huge account base. After getting married and finding himself driving 1,500 miles per month, he wanted a change. Good friends of his, Jason Grant and Rob Dulin, hired Connor as general manager at The Running Store with understanding that within five years, he wanted to be the sole owner. The arrangement worked out, and the three are good friends to this day.
Like many retailers, The Running Store was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but then people started running and walking more.
"2020 was the worst year in our 15-year history, but then 2021 was the best year we’ve ever had. People started running and walking because it was something they could do outside during the pandemic, but then many of them continued that journey, and they knew they needed to invest in better shoes.”
During the worst of the pandemic, they were reduced to 10 people or less in the store, but they were allowed to be open. Connor applied for the federal PPP loans, so he could keep paying his employees. In the wake of the store’s successful 2021 season, he applied for and received the Prince William County Department of Economic Development’s Restore Retail Grant to invest in better technology and update the business’ website.
Since launching the Restore Retail grant in December, PWCDED has helped 305 businesses with $4.58 million in one-time grants awarded. With more than $1 million in funds remaining, eligible retailers should apply before funds are depleted.
"Our emphasis is always on service. That is how a Mom & Pop shoe store can retain its customers and keep them coming back.”
Connor and his team are involved in many community-racing events, like the Prince William County Turkey Trot and the Freedom Firecracker 5K.
"We’re thrilled to see these events come back after the pandemic. We don’t just work here in Prince William County. We live in this community, and we are passionate about being a part of it. Supporting our store supports local families."
Located at 7343 Atlas Walk Way, Gainesville, VA 20155
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