I don’t get Nike, New Balance, and other athletic footwear manufacturers. They spend billions on research and development creating and refining their increasingly sophisticated sneakers yet they are forever flatfooted educating customers about the competitive advantages of their respective products. The industry’s front-line product specialists are mostly kids working part-time whose only real knowledge and expertise is measuring feet and tying laces.
While the entire world has gone digital, the sneaker business is so last century. That ubiquitous sliding metal contraption used to measure feet? It’s call a Brannock Device and it was invented in the 1920s!
Buying athletic footwear was long a living hell for me. I have wide feet, a high arch, and a genetic bone impairment in my left foot that puts a strain on my tendons. I’m also a size nine, a measurement which seems in very short supply. On most visits to buy athletic footwear, the sales person would disappear into oblivion for about ten minutes and then magically appear holding a box and proudly declaring, “I couldn’t find a 9 wide, but I have a 9.5 regular.” Fitting footwear isn’t like horseshoes where almost is good enough.
Road Runner Sports, a California-based chain with locations in 11 other states and ships anywhere in the country, knows this.
I stumbled on the company a year ago when I called its Santa Monica store to inquire about a new running shoe I discovered while doing some research. An effusive woman named Angela fielded my call and knew the shoe I was asking about. “That’s not a good shoe for you,” she said after learning I wanted the shoe for cross training. Angela recommended some alternatives and surprisingly had my sizes in stock. I headed right over.
Road Runner is an athletic footwear Garden of Eden. They carry every brand I’ve ever heard of, including some I thought went out of business. I was taken aback meeting Angela because she was considerably younger than I expected but she clearly knew her stuff, was brand agnostic, and had unbelievable patience and focus. I tried on some dozen pairs of shoes, allowing me for the first time to do direct brand and design comparisons.
Athletic footwear manufacturers have mastered the art of planned obsolescence. If you are active and subject to pronation and other issues, it’s recommended you replace your shoes every three months (how convenient). Competition is intense, and almost every week someone is introducing some ground breaking innovation. Angela has since been promoted to run Road Runners’ store in Studio City, but Cyrus, her former boss and trainer, is also on top of the latest and greatest.
Tech enthusiasts will especially love Road Runner. The company has installed 3D-scanning devices that measure and provide detailed images of your feet, which eliminates the need for salespeople having to stick their noses within inches of your footsies. Road Runner also can make custom orthotics on the spot that are cheaper and better than the ones podiatrists have made me. I prefer the even cheaper off-the-shelf kind made by Superfeet, which Road Runner, to its credit, also sells.
Road Runner will match anyone’s prices except Amazon, which can sometimes undercut them because Jeff Bezos won’t send anyone from his tax subsidized warehouses to fit you. Buying from Road Runner is more environmentally friendly as it reduces the amount of cardboard and energy required in the distribution process.
Founded in 1983, Road Runner is a family-run business started in the San Diego County garage of Mike Gotfredson (a.k.a. Mister G and Chief Runner) after he lost his job. With three young sons and a daughter on the way, he wanted to create a business that would treat employees and customers like family. If my Santa Monica store experience is representative of company-wide practices and standards, he’s pulled it off.
Gotfredson doesn’t need my two cents, but I think the name of his chain is outdated as athletic footwear is no longer solely geared for runners. My new name nomination is Footwear Nirvana and my proposed slogan is “Putting your two best feet forward.”
Road Runner Sports
338 4th St,
Santa Monica, CA