Picture this — you find yourself in an industry that is dominated by big chains at the top and crowded with online stores that keep popping up. How do you stay competitive?
With big chains having the advantage of scale and online-only competitors becoming increasingly agile, can SMBs still get ahead?
Well, as this Vend customer shows us, the answer is yes, you can.
Meet Will Hatton, co-owner of Pace Athletic, a specialty store for running footwear and gear. They now have 5 stores across Sydney, Australia (Crows Nest, Kings Cross, Manly, Mosman, and Rozelle).
Read on to find out how Will built a customer community around the Pace brand, and how the communities eventually became the business model that fueled the growth of 4 new stores.
It was in 2014 when Will and Pace co-owner Stuart had seen success from their first store in Mosman. Things were going fine, but they quickly realised they needed to do something different if they wanted to thrive.
Big chains were investing more in eCommerce, and new online-only competitors popped up at a much faster pace. Because of that, staying competitive was a challenge.
The Australian market for specialty running footwear was comparatively small, so Will and Stuart looked for inspiration from other parts of the world. That brought them to the US in 2016, where market size was 30 times bigger.
They then discovered a common aspect that successful and expanding US stores share — these stores put a lot of effort into building running communities around their brands.
Building an inclusive community, with love
Back in Sydney, Will and Stuart used what they learned in their US trip to build their own running community: the Pace Run Club.
According to Will, the most important thing they learned about building customer communities was this: know your customers well.
Really figure out who they are. What are their concerns, behaviours, and motivations? For example, Will was surprised to learn that beginner and intermediate runners didn’t really identify themselves as runners, the same way surfers of all skill levels think of themselves as surfers. Most runners were hesitant about joining a running club, thinking they wouldn’t be able to keep up with others.
So from the outset, Pace’s first Run Club was designed to be a casual, inclusive and social experience. “From the fastest runner to the newest” is the Run Club’s motto — no one is too fast, and no one is too slow; members support each other and everyone should feel comfortable running at their own pace.
That ethos proved to be successful. In the 2 years since the first Pace Run Club started, Will and Stuart have grown their business to 5 stores with the support of hundreds of members who also shop regularly at Pace. There are now 3 Pace Run Clubs in Manly, Mosman and Rozelle and a Pace team for races.
Investing in amazing imagery
Will understood the importance of high-quality photos. While resourcing is often a problem with small and medium retail business owners, Will made the decision to get professional photography done for Pace Run Clubs.
His decision paid off. Participation grew 200-300% last year since they introduced professional shots.
“Pace Run Clubs are moving advertisements for our brand,” said Will. “So of course we wanted to capture this great advertisement. The effort and costs were totally worth it.”
The professional photos also gave Will and Stuart high-quality content for Facebook and Instagram, which increased social media engagement. “We find that folks tag themselves and reshare our photos a lot more after we started doing professional photography,” said Will. “As our social media numbers trended up, we also saw more folks joining our weekly runs which was great!”
It even spurred them to create an online magazine that shares stories from run club members, tips and tricks from coaches and physicians, as well as useful information about upcoming races.
Reaping the rewards of having a strong community
When you’ve built an active community around your brand, good things start to flow. In the case of Pace Athletics, their community (and company) started getting attention from local businesses and shoe brands.
Other local businesses got involved, and to this day, personal trainers, running coaches and physiologists join the runs and offer support to members.
Shoe brands were quick to see the value in Pace Run Clubs’ closely knitted communities. In the beginning, brands would send staff down to join the runs. Later on, they started sponsoring Run Club t-shirts. And most recently, they started bringing a ‘demo fleet’ of newly released products for run club members to try out during the runs.
“Running shoes are an emotional purchase. No one wants their shoes to hurt or not work after the first run,” said Will. “The demo fleets are very popular with our run club regulars. In a way, everybody wins — regulars are confident that they’d be happy with the shoes, brands sell more shoes through us and we get more folks joining the run clubs because they want to take new shoes out for a trial.”
Brands now choose to launch new running shoes and stock limited editions and exclusives at Pace. “This has been an amazing side-effect, thanks to the Run Clubs,” said Will. “The launches and exclusives really help us differentiate ourselves against big chains and online stores.”
Enjoyed this post? Check out our free ebook, Retail Survival of the Fittest. This book serves as your practical guide to modern-day retail success. You’ll learn:
- How to design in-store experiences that delight customers and keep them coming back.
- How to automate or streamline repetitive tasks so you can be more productive and focus on serving your customers and growing your business.
- How to increase repeat purchases through creative loyalty strategies, clever use of data, and modern-day rewards programs.
Building a community around your business is an idea worth exploring. In an age where people can shop online and get pretty much anything they want with a few clicks, you need to find ways to stand out and authentically connect with consumers.
Having a community can help you do just that. We hope Will’s experiences and tips inspire you to take action and find ways to connect more with your shoppers.
About Karen Cheung
Karen is Vend's APAC Marketing Manager. With nearly a decade of experience working with high-growth, B2B software companies, Karen is highly skilled in various marketing disciplines, including direct, channel, digital, and content marketing. She has a proven record in driving demand through targeted, tailored campaigns for local markets has demonstrated success in building out regional field team & scaling out remote support.