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Loyal customers, even those running, are the easiest to catch

December 3rd, 2010

Somewhere after Eschman Avenue turned into Waverly Road in Clay County a couple of weeks ago, I forgot that my actual goal was to log 20 miles of running at one time.

Normally, my Saturday runs are organized with dozens of fellow runners along the trails and through the streets of Ridgeland and Madison.

Yet, this Thanksgiving weekend, the peaceful surroundings of rolling hills, lakes and farmland made the training run like a Sunday afternoon drive.

Only near the end did I realize there was real effort involved in finishing this adventure.

All of this is part of the larger scheme of running in the Mississippi Blues Marathon in Jackson on Jan. 8.
I have always been a big fan of running and admired the ability of true professional runners. I have even done a little running from time to time during the years, hitting the occasional local 5K and 10K along the way.
However, my running exploits never lasted long enough to become a locked-in part of my life. I talked a good game to my wife and anyone else who would listen – if I run this way or that way, etc., I can lose weight – blah, blah, blah.

I talked so much that my wife even told me to either start running or shut up.

Finally in May, I began to jog a little to see if I was prepared to back up what I had been talked about for years and years.

And somewhere along the way, I guess like my run through Clay County on Thanksgiving weekend, I forgot this marathon thing was supposed to be hard work. It had become fun, actually enjoyable and relaxing, even when it was cold or raining or when my lungs screamed at me because we had run a little further and farther than we had before.

The hardest part became scheduling around work and family and friends and the everyday duties of life.
One of the things that has made the process easier has been the training program provided by Fleet Feet of Ridgeland.

Its “Running 201″ is a 25-week program designed to help you complete a marathon or half-marathon or improve on performance from previous races.

The design is to get anyone who wants to through 13.1 or 26.2 miles at the Mississippi Blues Marathon, and the program includes lots of nifty perks, like special shopping nights, gear and registration in the race.
There’s a support team of store staff as well as former participants in the program that help get you safely through two group runs a week. Even after the runs, there is always someone willing to provide advice or suggestions if you need it the rest of the week, when the runs are usually on your own.

The concept, obviously, is not new. However, the Fleet Feet crew does a great job and over the years, the process has helped build a significant running community in Jackson and even throughout the state.
What Fleet Feet has also done is put together a pretty good business model.

Sure, when I have needed help to get moving, there has been someone to provide a pat on the back or a kick in the rear.

When I needed to know if that pain in my knee should be cause for alarm, there was a responsible person there for an answer or a suggestion of where to go for a better answer.

And when I needed to change clothes from work before taking off on a run along the Ridgeland trails, there was a dressing room waiting for me.

But there is also lots of running and fitness gear to be bought, and Fleet Feet has done a great job of providing a service as well as a need for runners and walkers in the area.

If you participate in one of the many training programs and get to know the staff, it becomes difficult to buy shoes or socks or shirts anywhere. There’s a loyalty factor that is built in to the help provided for prospective runners.

None of this is a negative.

It’s proof positive that if you provide a worthy product along with good service and back it up with friendly advice and an inviting environment, customers are more likely to grow attached and want to spend their money there.

These training programs should serve as a model to other businesses, particularly small, locally-owned business.
Provide a quality product, back it up with service and become an integral part of the community you hope to sell to and there is success to be had, even in a down economy.
This year, more than 160 are part of the “Running 201″ program. That’s 160 more committed customers getting ready to participate in a community event.
How many more Fleet Feet training alumni will be running in the Mississippi Blues Marathon? The number is probably more than 1,000.

As for me, I will see you at the finish line.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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