By Mario Toneguzzi
Two or three years ago e-commerce was barely 1.5 per cent of the Running Room’s overall business.
After a significant investment that percentage has ballooned to near 10 per cent for the Edmonton-based retailer, which has stores across the country and into the United States.
“I really hope we’re going to hit that number by the end of the year. We’ve got an aggressive program. We want to have it 20 per cent in the next two years. That’s our goal,” says Jason Stanton, a partner and CMO of the company.
Stanton’s father, John, founded the family business in 1984 with its first store in a small room of an old house in Edmonton. Today, the retailer has 107 stores in Canada and nine in the United States.
“We started to take a look at our competitors,” explains Stanton of the company’s e-commerce push. “Certainly because of the landscape, borders aren’t as relevant. We started to look at some of our U.S. counterparts and what was going on and just realized that we needed to up our game and we made a really good investment a couple of years ago just to get our shopping platform more friendly and certainly catching up to what the consumers’ expectations were with it.”
That resulted in a much smoother process in how customers buy and pick up their merchandise.
“In the last six months, we’ve been seeing such a strong growth rate that we decided to really kind of double down and make sure that we are where our consumers want to purchase and how they want to purchase,” adds Stanton. “What we’re finding is they love shopping online but they really still love visiting retail. So we’re sitting at about 53 per cent of our online purchases are picked up at our retail stores which is quite unique.”
Six months ago the Running Room decided to add on another 5,500 square feet of dedicated dot.com space for its customer service group which is continuing to grow. Right now, it’s growing at a 25 to 32 per cent rate in the last six months and the company is really happy about that.
“Having a facility and a dedicated inventory for the dot.com has been a really big investment that’s been going on for us over the last six months,” says Stanton.
While there is joy in being and growing in the dot.com space, there’s no question the Running Room remains a very customer service-oriented company for products it sells.
“Overall we still feel there are opportunities (for expansion),” says Stanton. “We just had a store move in Victoria which we feel there’s lots of those type of opportunities, of stores that have done well for us.”
They will be strategic moves for existing stores but also the company will keep its eyes open for expansion as well.
“If there’s any oddities we see come up . . . then we’re for sure looking for that,” says Stanton. “We’re still committed to the U.S. as well but they have some pretty strong headwinds there with sporting goods and the run specialty (retail industry). So we’re letting those waters kind of calm down and making sure our stores are up to standard. And for sure the U.S. is a place we’re going to look to expand. We’re talking a bit of a 10-year plan.”
According to Statistics Canada, Canadian retail sales in June rose for the fourth consecutive month, edging up 0.1 per cent to $49 billion. That’s also a 7.3 per cent hike from a year ago.
Stanton says there have been some pretty strong headwinds for the business in the last couple of years but it is somewhat insulated because of what it does and what it offers. The Running Room is more than just a retail operation because it has running clubs and clinics and it is involved in many different events.
“Despite some economic ups and downs in retail that go on we still have our run clubs and clinics that are thriving and doing quite well . . . On the retail side, though, we’ve been fighting that plus minus two, three per cent for the last couple of years. We’re excited because the last six months we’ve seen some really positive numbers. Certainly out of Ontario. And Alberta has actually really weathered the storm quite well and is starting to breathe again quite nicely.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.