Welcome to Retailers Rule!, an interview series exploring digital marketing insights from the perspective of local retailers and the brands they sell. Our latest interview features Charlotte Walsh, owner of Charles River Running.
Opened in June 2012, Charles River Running is a brick-and-mortar specialty run and walk store located in the heart of Norwood, Massachusetts. They were recently voted one of Competitor’s Top 50 Running Stores in America.
Over the course of our conversation, Charlotte and I talked about challenges with direct brand competition, getting creative to drive customer engagement, and hopes for specialty run in the new year.
Start off by telling me a little bit about your business.
Charles River Running is a “fit and sit” store, which means it’s full service. Customers have their feet measured and are expertly fitted. They are attended to until they find the best shoe that’s right for them.
We’re really known for our selection and the high level of customer service that we provide.
Describe your typical day at work.
When the door for my business opens at 10:00 AM, we’re not only helping customers, but we’re also doing all of the buying, accounting, paperwork, and all of that other back-office stuff that needs to get done.
We’re always reaching out to potential new customers, too, like physical therapists, physicians, people like that. It’s super nuts here every day.
What types of trends do you see happening in the specialty run industry?
The biggest trend that I think all retailers are going through right now are giant increases in online sales and a flattening or a decrease in brick-and-mortar sales.
We’re trying to find our place in this new environment. We don’t really see big-box as a challenge because we offer something so much more different and customers come to us because of that. What we’re really fighting is Zappos and other large online retailers like that.
Right now, though, our fiercest competitors have become our own vendors. The brands are now going directly after our customers and then slashing prices on a lot of the apparel and shoes. That forces us to cut our prices for product that we pay wholesale price for.
It’s become a margins game, and it can be really challenging to get ahead.
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How do these adverse trends affect how you market?
Moving forward, I think I’m going to discontinue all print advertising. I just need to be really smart about where my marketing dollars are going, and digital is the place to be now. We’ll be getting deeper into Instagram and Facebook advertising. That seems to be where the bulk of my customers are.
We need to continue to be as customer-focused and as easy to work with as we possibly can. I really appreciate the fact that someone gets in their car, drives over to the store, walks in, takes out their wallet, and physically buys something.
Shopping is changing so much that you really have to deliver something special for someone to go through all of that. The in-store experience has to be really memorable and something that they’ll want to return to.
What other marketing tactics are you using to drive customer engagement?
We try to host six to eight events in the store per month. Every Thursday we have our regular running group of about 65 people. We do longer runs on the weekends leading up to big marathons and things like that. In the summertime, we do trail runs.
We also bring in vendors for product showcases and other events and physical therapists to talk about injury prevention. We’re always trying to get creative with how we can drive more people into the store.
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Are you doing any paid digital advertising?
I’ve used Facebook advertising, but I don’t feel like I’ve cracked the code on it just yet. Right now, I’m kind of just experimenting, clicking on different things, and playing around with demographic targets.
We’ve had people come in, though, and say, “Hey, I saw your ad… I saw that that product is on sale…” It’s working. I just need to continue developing and building out my audience.
How long have you been using Promoboxx?
A year and a half now. I got started on the platform with Mizuno, then jumped on board when New Balance joined, but we’d love to have more and more brands available to us.
We wouldn’t have to hunt around for images or content. It’s a pain in the butt to go to each brand’s digital portal for marketing assets. It’s just one more step, another password, another thing to do.
What is your biggest piece of advice for retailers just getting started with digital marketing?
Know who your customer is, which is easy to say, but it takes time to figure out. That just comes from experience. Know which social channels they’re hanging out on, too. From there, tailor your messages on those channels for their specific audiences. It takes more time, but I think it’s more effective when you really adapt.
Any predictions for the new year?
I was at The Running Event for my fifth year back in December. As unsteady as the running retail environment is right now as far as what’s going on with the industry and the channels, I saw the most people I’ve ever seen there, as far as other retailers. There was a lot of excitement around buying.
A special thanks to Charlotte for taking the time to speak with us! Be sure to check out Charles River Running on Facebook, Instagram, and their website.
You can make digital marketing easy for your specialty retailers.
With Promoboxx, leading brands like New Balance and Mizuno invite their specialty retailers to participate in marketing campaigns where retailers can promote campaign content across key digital channels, all co-branded to highlight both the brand and the retailer’s store.
By leveraging Promoboxx, brands extend national messaging and amplify brand awareness at the local level, all while providing their retailers with an effective, easy-to-use digital marketing solution.