By most measures, the economy is growing if only by inches. But at least one local business is growing by leaps, bounds and, well, feet; and fleet ones, at that.
Fleet Feet stores will enjoy a 100 percent increase in their Triangle inventory of stores over the next six months, adding two stores: one in north Raleigh and one near Southpoint Mall in Durham. The Durham location will be the second owned Brian and Tricia White, who also own and operate Fleet Feets flagship store in Carrboro, just yards from the companys corporate headquarters.
We do so much outreach in the RTP. Now were over there, Brian White said, And theres a limiting factor for customers coming all the way from there to Carrboro, so a lot of people just go to the mall or to the big box stores. We didnt want to miss this opportunity.
We wanted a strong presence throughout the Triangle, president and CEO of Fleet Feet Incorporated Jeff Phillips said. Weve always thought about the Durham market. This felt like the right time to do it. This really serves those folks on the western side of Raleigh that may not be able to drive all the way over to Carrboro.
Tricia White said that she felt like a new store would not cut into the pie shared by local fitness retailers but simply help to create a larger pie in the expanding recreation retail economy. While expansions slowed during the depths of the recession, Fleet Feet has kept its head above water and is now enjoying a surge.
Fleet Feet has 107 stores (in 33 states) as of this past week, Tricia White said. During the recession, we didnt open any new stores, but we acquired a couple. During the past few years, theres been a lot more interest; in the past 18 months, there have been more openings.
Fleet Feet Inc., www.fleetfeetsports.com, is the nations leading franchisor of running specialty stores. It announced the expansion plans in June. With one Raleigh location off Wade Avenue, a second Raleigh location will be added this fall at the Market at Colonnade on Six Forks Road. The Whites Durham store, likely opening around November 1, will be located in the Renaissance Center at Southpoint.
Carrboro represents our roots and our hub, Brian White explained, But people are coming from all over to our store to shop or for our training. Being right off the highway and where all of the shopping is, Durhams just a nice supplement.
Tricia White agreed: We really have a significant number of runners who drive here (from Durham) for our training programs, so wed love to be able to offer those over there.
There are a lot of stores at that tipping point with owners looking at a second or third store, White added, so having a multistore operation right here at the (corporate) hub is a key for us.
While the Whites vision thus far has proved successful at their Carrboro store setting, the new location will pose new challenges.
Its a major retail center. There, we compete on some level not only with other running stores but every store, even the Apple Store, Brian White admitted. We tell our staff here to imagine that someone coming through our doors has been at their five favorite retailers and to explain how our store is different. In Durham, customers actually will have just been to their five favorite other retailers.
Our service is going to have to be better than ever, Tricia White added.
The reality is that were all fighting for every customer, Brian White said, but were all doing it in our own way. When customers come in, hopefully were creating a culture and community through things like (social programs), training clinics.
Phillips had the utmost confidence in the Whites ability to apply their vision to the Southpoint store.
They just give us so much confidence that we can be successful with them at the helm, Phillips said. Weve all seen what a great job theyve done in Carrboro continuing to grow and expand a business that was already established.
The new store will also benefit from the initiative and expertise of general manager Katy Puckett, who has been working at the Whites Carrboro location.
The traffic is different and not really destination-based, but Im still excited to bring a fun, community culture to Durham, Puckett said. I want them to feel like its more than a shoe store; its a part of a bigger community. Even next to big box stores, I want it to feel like Carrboro when they walk through the doors.
Katys been in the industry a long time, Brian White said. She even trains visitors and potential franchisees when they come in to (Fleet Feets corporate headquarters); shes been phenomenal at that. Within our brand, shes one of the most talented people.
Puckett said store management was a perfect fit for her.
I didnt think (ownership) was the perfect path for me, she said. This allows me to advance my management skills and I can still bring a lot of value to the customer service side without having to do invoicing.
Scheduling and spreadsheets dont smile back at you, Puckett said, laughing. Now I can grow the brand from the front of the house, which I really prefer.
Further change is in store for the Carrboro location. After having recently relocated from the Carr Mill complex to the vacated VisArt Video retail location next to the Cats Cradle in Carrboro, the store will likely move again within the next year and a half, though only about 50 feet.
Eighteen months from now, were going to have a long-term home for our flagship Carrboro store and our corporate offices all in the same building; thatll be fantastic, Phillips said.
And while the economy inches forward, Fleet Feet is proving to be miles out in front of their industry.