8 Questions with Terry Schalow
As the executive director of the Running Industry Association, Terry Schalow has had a front-row seat to the cascading effects of the near-overnight changes in the industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated shutdowns. With stores facing huge declines in revenue and existential threats to business, the RIA has gotten to work, launching a resource guide, surveying the industry as a whole to determine needs and working to coordinate a response. The RIA itself hasn’t been immune from the shakeup: The second edition of the KICK show, scheduled for May in Denver, has been converted into a virtual event, with details still to come. Here, Schalow sounds off on the industry outlook, what stores want and what comes next.
To what degree is the COVID-19 crisis threatening the health of the run retail community?
“The COVID-19 crisis represented an existential threat six weeks ago, even though it was not entirely clear at that time how long stores would have to manage closure or dramatically reduced foot traffic. As the weeks go by and business remains dramatically restricted, the threat is even more acute.”
What are some creative things members of the run retail community are doing to succeed during this time?
“Retailers are doing a great job connecting with their customers through social media and accelerated marketing platforms like Upper Quadrant and Drive Media, and in making sales happen with e-com platforms like Fitted and Locally.com. One of the coolest value-adds in terms of actual one-on-one customer connection are the virtual shoe fittings that our stores are doing. These efforts are all helping retain some level of business to keep the lights on.”
What are the biggest challenges your RIA members are struggling with at the moment?
“The same question that is on everyone’s mind: When will business begin to open back up, and what will the landscape of retail look like as society and the economy attempts to return to some sense of normalcy?”
What are retailers asking of the RIA right now?
“Support and guidance. For some retailers, this crisis is deeply personal, particularly for those who have had to lay off or furlough staff. So on occasion, ‘support and guidance’ translates to simply taking a phone call, being a good listener and offering encouragement. Our macro focus, however, is providing as much information and tools as we can to support the run specialty community. Our platform for that effort is our COVID-19 Resource Guide, which we’ve set up as a one-stop shop for every piece of useful information we can find. The results of our retailer survey are there, as well as our brand reference guide, step-by-step instructions for applying for loan support, and several other useful topics. We update the reference guide constantly, so everyone can stay up-to-date with the latest relevant information. Find it online at www.runningindustry.org/resources.”
What effects of the shutdown do you see lasting once retail doors are open again?
“On a macro level, expecting sales to take off due to pent-up demand may be premature. Millions of jobs have been lost, and that will take time to recover from. When stores are re-opened to foot traffic, with the expectation that a viable treatment for the virus remains on the horizon, retailers will have to rethink how they engage with their store visitors. That means social distancing measures that may include restricting the numbers of customers inside the store and re-setting the store merchandising flow to keep people apart.”
Are there things that vendors and retailers can do right now to work together?
“We’re thrilled to see the spirit of cooperation and support from the brand community. Supporting e-com strategies and the willingness to work with retailers on cash-flow issues are two examples of how brands are helping out. Retailers need to understand the pressures that brands face, however, and be willing to work with brands to keep product flowing in to stores as much as is reasonable considering the circumstances.”
How do you think the specialty run community can leverage the effects of this crisis to get more people involved in running and walking?
“Using every resource to promote the benefits of running and walking in a safe way, when there isn’t much else that people can do right now, is a primary way the industry can leverage the crisis.”
What advice would you have for a struggling run specialty shop right now — maybe a single-door operator who has been financially blindsided by the COVID-19 crisis?
“First, keep the faith. This will pass. Second, take advantage of every financial-relief resource available, like applying for loans, getting lease and mortgage furloughs, and extending vendor invoices. Third, be sure to aggressively market to existing customers, and use online resources to keep sales going. Finally, constantly reassess and plan. This situation is so fluid that what makes sense one week may be moot the next. Be flexible.”
In these challenging times, it takes grit, ingenuity and a strong community to get through — luckily, run specialty retailers have them all in spades. We talked to 20 shops across the country to share their stories...
Read Part I | Read Part II.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated Snapshots from across the running industry during this time. From product launches to mask making and beyond, brands are stepping up. Read the full story.
The Survey: Consumer Expectations Post-Pandemic
As shops begin to plan for reopening and the new normal, the question remains: What are consumers — shaped by weeks of quarantine and confronting rising unemployment — looking for? See the full consumer survey.