Store of the Future   //   June 7, 2023

Why Champs Sports developed a local running club in South Florida

After opening a store in South Florida about a year ago, Champ Sports created its first local running club to connect with local athletes. 

The Champs Run Club, which started with 40 attendees last year, now has an average of 200-300 people participating. The run club holds themed events monthly, such as Latinx Heritage Month, where attendees ran a 5K with their home country’s flag. Its concept store in Pembroke Pines, dubbed Homefield, serves as the starting and finishing point of the events.

More recently, retailers have been making a more concerted effort to use concept stores to host their localization strategies. South Florida, a hotbed of active athletes, presented the ideal environment for Champs Sports to cultivate a community of runners. Through the run club, the Pembroke Champs Sports location has become a third space for these athletes to socialize with other members and connect with the brand. 

“For us, it’s all about cultivating a relationship with the communities that we’re in and that we serve,” said Jonathan Krusewski, vp of marketing at Champs Sports. “We’re in it for the long haul. We don’t want to be here and gone.”

Krusewski declined to share specific numbers but said that the Pembroke store sees an uptick in store traffic and people are spending a longer amount of time in the store on days when an event is happening. Champs Sports, which was founded in 1984 and owned by Foot Locker, generated $328 million in sales during the first quarter. As part of Foot Locker’s “Lace Up” strategy, Champs Sports will shift its product assortment to include more athleisure and performance products. Champs Sports has 481 locations as of April.

At 35,000-square-feet, the Pembrooke store became Champs Sports’ largest store at the time of its launch and features a try-on treadmill for running shoes as well as an indoor basketball and multi-sport court. During run club events, the store becomes the place where runners cool off. The retailer offers participants recovery lounge services such as massages, cupping therapy and yoga, among others. 

“The end goal is ultimately to bring the customer in and make the store part of the 5K journey,” Krusewski said. “We can’t have them run through the store but we certainly have the store play a major piece within the day of programming.” 

The Champs Run Club is free to join and, while participants can register online before the events, it isn’t required. The events are developed by a Champs Sports community marketing manager down in South Florida. The company also taps its vendor partners — such as Crocs, Adidas and Brooks — to make special appearances during the events and have special giveaways.

The Pink Carnival 5K, which celebrated breast cancer awareness month in October, was the highest-attended event with 303 participants. In May, the Champs Run Club held The Miles We’ve Run 5K in honor of the club’s 1-year anniversary and it also celebrated Mother’s Day by handing out bouquets of flowers to the moms who joined the run.

Dan McCarthy, assistant professor at Emory University’s Business School, said that by setting up events around a local store, like that of Champs Run Club, the retailer is able to stay top of mind for shoppers in the vicinity. Cultivating personal connections among runners could help Champs Sports convince people to make repeat purchases, he said.

“One of the main perks is just continuing to stay relevant and remaining within the consideration set,” he said. “People have a lot of options for things like running shoes and other running equipment. And so, you have to have a hook to be able to get those people to continue to come back to your specific store.”

Retailers often use in-store events to introduce the store to more people, but it can be hard to give people a reason to keep coming back. Organic grocery store Natural Grocers, for example, mixes up its events to attract people to its stores, including seminars, cooking demonstrations and health fairs. Footwear retailer The Athlete’s Foot held a live performance from rapper Baby Tate when it opened its Atlanta neighborhood store.

Athletic retailers have been increasingly incorporating experiential aspects inside the store, many of which appear to invite shoppers to be active inside the store. Sporting equipment company Wilson, for example, has play/test areas like a basketball hoop and hitting wall at its new Santa Monica store. Dick’s Sporting Goods’ House of Sport store concept is equipped with a rock-climbing wall and a high-tech batting cage.

McCarthy said that although these events can be beneficial to the local store, these initiatives might not scale very well. “It would be by construction, a very regional initiative so it wouldn’t potentially have much of an impact beyond that one specific store,” he said. “It also requires a certain level of authenticity to really make it a success.” 

At the moment, the South Florida store is the only location with a run club attached to it. However, Krusewski said the company is continuing to “explore potential opportunities.”

“It’s certainly something we’re considering,” Krusewski said. “I would certainly say we are very optimistic about what’s next for Run Club.”