When you’re named the top running store in America, it would seem there’s nowhere to go but up.
That’s exactly where Fleet Feet Sports went — well, north, anyway.
Fleet Feet, a locally owned and operated store “dedicated to creating an inclusive environment in which all types of people receive outstanding service in the fitting of running, walking and cross training shoes as well as accessories and apparel for the active lifestyle” (according to its website) opened a second location in Market Fair North Plaza at 4136 Route 31, Clay, across from Great Northern Mall Friday, Nov. 1. The expansion was a result of expanding business in the original location in DeWitt, as well as a growing customer base in the north suburbs.
“We want to make sure we’re in our current runners’ backyards,” said Fleet Feet’s Liz Knickerbocker. “I know with me, when I need new running shoes, I need them two weeks ago. I don’t want to take out time to get them that I could be spending going for a run.”
The franchise, co-owned by husband-and-wife team Ed and Ellen Griffin, first opened in 2000 on Erie Boulevard. In 2010, having outgrown that location, Fleet Feet moved to its current store, which was about three times the size, on Bridge Street in East Syracuse.
Still, the business grew.
“In 13 years, we’ve had incredible growth,” Knickerbocker said. “The store is a good size. We’ve been getting a lot of business and Liverpool, Clay and Baldwinsville are developing areas. More and more people from those areas are coming into our store. We looked at our demographics and realized that was an area we could be better serving. So many runners live over there and come to our training programs. We’re asking them to come to us when we should be coming to them.”
So last year, Fleet Feet representatives started scouting the north suburbs for a second location. They found the site in Market Fair North, which would allow the running giant access to not only the growing Liverpool-Clay-Baldwinsville market, but Oswego and Watertown, as well.
“That location is so convenient to Route 81 and Route 481,” Knickerbocker said. “You can get right of the exit and get good footwear. We fit a lot of soldiers from Fort Drum, as well.”
So what accounts for the Fleet Feet phenomenon? They know how to fit a runner’s foot.
:Most of the shoes bought off the sales rack at Kohl’s, people think they’re great for running. It’s a brand you recognize — Asics or Nike or something — so you think it’s fine,” Knickerbocker said. “And every brand has a quality level. But your economy-level sneakers just aren’t going to give you the foam and technology to fit your foot properly. The right shoe can even determine whether you like running or not. People come in and get a good pair of sneakers and they feel motivated again. They run in them and go, ‘Hey, my feet don’t hurt,’ or ‘Hey, I’m not getting blisters. This running thing is okay. I think I can do this.’”
That’s part of the reason Formula4 Media named Fleet Feet the number one running store in the U.S. in 2012. The same year, the store was named the best small business by CenterState CEO.
And part of that good business sense is being involved in the community. Fleet Feet has always offered its community room for race packet pickup, and that’s a tradition it will continue at the Clay store, like for this year’s Turkey Trot in Baldwinsville.
“What I love about that is it allows us to be a part of every race in Syracuse,” Knickerbocker said. “We work with a lot of community groups to put on the local races, and we get to be a part of them. We get to really be connected to the community.”
In addition, Fleet Feet offers numerous paid training programs, including No Boundaries beginner 5K program, a Personal Best 5K program designed to help runners improve their speed, marathon and triathlon training, kids’ 5K and other running programs and more. The store also provides free in-store clinics with doctors from Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists twice a month, as well as weekly clinics on injury prevention and good running form.
For more information, visit fleetfeetsyracuse.com.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.