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Running and retail aren't necessarily two terms that you think of in the same sentence. But that's exactly what Matthew Rosetti put together with his business partner and Scranton High School track teammate, Matthew Byrne, when they opened Scranton Running Co. in August of 2010. But Rosetti, who first became interested in the sport at nine years old when his dad was training for a marathon, had dreams beyond his roots.
"The plan was always to start in the hometown—a smaller market with lower fixed costs—learn the business model, operate the store, and then expand it," Rosetti explained. Though going from Scranton to Brooklyn seems like an odd leap, he's been based here for 15 years and works a day job in banking in Manhattan. And so Brooklyn Running Co. opened on Grand Street last fall.
"This is our home where you come in and feel welcome—all ages, all ability levels, all experience levels," Rosetti said. "No runner ever gets left behind. That's not the culture that we foster here. Anyone can come and get involved." Read on to find out how the store's team engages with the community, the thought process behind the space's design, and Rosetti's wary view of e-commerce in the running world.
How did you go from having a passion for running to wanting to own a running gear store?
It's an interesting business for two reasons. One, I think there's strong investment opportunities in this particular space. It's getting more crowded, it's getting more competitive. We're seeing more sophisticated operators coming into it. But the social trends are great. More and more people are running every day. From a purely business and return perspective, we like that.
And at the same time, it's a platform that lets you do some really cool things in the community. We got into it because it allows us to stay more intimately involved with the sport. I noticed that when we opened the Scranton store, I was running more.
I wouldn't have done it if I didn't love the sport. And that makes us better operators, because of our accumulated experience over the years. We can talk to customers and share our experiences and share our wealth of knowledge.
Why did you decide to open a second store in Williamsburg?
Brooklyn, particularly Williamsburg, has a very strong sense of community. This "running specialty" business model thrives in areas that have that tight knit sense of community. And that's why I chose this spot.
Did you look anywhere else?
We've been looking all over. We've been looking at acquiring other running stores in Pennsylvania and beyond. We've looked in Long Island. But we really fell in love with Williamsburg. We've been trying to find our home, and we think we found one here.
How familiar were you with Williamsburg at that time?
Very, actually. I try to get out of Manhattan—that's where I live—on a frequent basis. I always knew North Brooklyn had a strong running population, so I spent some time over here. And it's been staggering to watch the amount of growth over here, commercially. So, from a business perspective, we kept our eyes on that as well.
Let's take about the design aesthetic of this space. What went into planning this look?
We put a lot of thought into this and practically killed ourselves trying to create a cool environment, because the reality is that if you're going to open a running store, or any retail business, for that matter, it has to be a very cool and unique experience. And that's what we tried to do with the track, with the brick, with the reclaiming of the wall—preserve the old aesthetic that this building presented.
This building is from the 1800s. I think it used to be an old grand bazaar of some sort—you see the cast iron facade on the front. We tried to use all reclaimed wood, preserve the brick, and use all local tradesman, craftsman.
The whole purpose is for people to come in and just say, "Yeah, this is the coolest running store I've ever been to." We're clearly biased, but I've been to probably more than 100 stores across the country and internationally, and I think we created one of the cooler running stores out there. Hopefully, people feel the same way.
My favorite part is definitely the running path.
Absolutely, from the Williamsburg Bridge. It's cool to see people going for a little jog on it now, because we spent some time on it.
The only thing missing is all the graffiti.
Exactly. We may have graffiti, where people come in and draw on the track.
So let's talk about merchandise. I see some of the regular brands that you see in running stores, but what else do you have that you may not find in other running stores?
There are a few brands in apparel. We're one of the only sellers in the entire NYC area of a brand called INOV-8. It's British—it started off as a trail shoe company, and now cross-fitters are wearing them, too. Because of their minimalist profile, people are digging it.
Outdoor Voices is a New York-based company that makes all their stuff in the U.S. It's got a cool urban fitness vibe to it, and people are eating it up.
Oiselle is another example. They're a Seattle-based women's running apparel brand that started in the last three to five years. They make some really, really cool pieces. Things that no one really has—that's what we're trying to go with our apparel.
What are some of your favorite pieces in the store right now?
Probably this wind-resistant Nike jacket. If you run down the street and this flashes on you, it's going to be hard to miss you. It's like a beacon in the night. Nike makes unbelievable products.
And I love some of the tights that we carry, "the running man sweats" from Outdoor Voices. They've been flying off the shelves.
And then from a footwear perspective, Adidas has quickly moved into the forefront of this category with this new boost technology that has an unbelievably responsive cushioning system, and people love it.
Does your price point differ from that of other running stores?
Price point hasn't really been an issue, just because of the inherent price points in the business. We have jackets that cost $250, but that's the high point. The shoes are in the range of $90 to $150. It's more about functionality and if it's the right product for the person, as opposed to price point actually being an issue.
Who are your core customers so far?
We can get someone who comes in who's never run a step in their lives. And that's really our core customer: the beginner. Someone that really needs our expertise to get started and learn how to enjoy the sport, or get the most out of it. But we also get the hardcore 5K guy who's looking to run his personal best next week. He'll come in and talk a little about his injuries and how many miles he's doing a week.
What we've seen here so far is mostly people that live in the immediate area that are walking around. It's very traditional retail. They see it, pop in, and say, "Cool, glad you're here, I'll be back." The runner is slowly starting to find out that we're here and making the trip, whether it be from Queens or the Lower East Side. We're strategically located near a variety of train stops, so it's pretty easy to get to our store.
In this business, it takes about five to six months, from what we've seen, to get up the awareness curve. And we're not big advertisers—we're very big on word-of-mouth. And if you service people, that word-of-mouth creates a very sticky, loyal customer base. So that's our approach, and we're going to stick to that.
You previously mentioned getting involved in the running community. How exactly are you doing that?
We've been talking to a lot of non-profits. We've only been open for 2 months, so we're still getting a sense of the right partners for us. But we're going to launch pretty cool stuff over this year.
We're definitely going to start a beginner's running program, probably in the early spring. We'll probably call it Barrier Breakers. It's a traditional couch-to-5k program. We think the beginner's sect is largely ignored in the running community in New York. We want to focus on introducing the sport to people, getting them going, feeling comfortable. That's the role we're playing.
Are there any expansion plans on the horizon?
You need to be wary of overexpanding and doing stuff too quickly. We certainly want to get comfortable in this particular market. But we're always looking to expand. Where? Tough to say. But it's safe to say we're looking at additional spots, both within Brooklyn and beyond. We absolutely want to expand in this market.
Are you doing e-commerce right now?
There's no plan to do that in the near term. It really conflicts with our business model. Given that the return rates for e-commerce footwear sellers are more than 30%, it shows that a lot of people are buying these shoes and they don't fit. It'd be a huge investment, and we'd be competing with some massive discounters. So it's not our approach. We're very much a local business, focused on community and a proper fit.
Why did you decide to start your delivery service via bike in January?
Well, it's in January because people don't want to leave their homes, right? We're willing to try things that are different. We want to show the community that we're trying to come up with ways to constantly reinvent ourselves and do things that make it easy for them. And particularly in the busy world that we all live in, if this is something that makes their life a little bit easier, we'll try and be there for them.
Is this something you're going to offer full-time?
Let's see how it works. Let's see what the reaction is. Let's find the pros and cons to it and if we want to keep it, maybe we'll launch it full-time. Or maybe we'll just launch it for a specific tier of customers. I don't know. There are logistical challenges to it, for sure. Riding a bike 50 minutes out to the far reaches of Brooklyn is not really an efficient use of time. But again, the point is to show that you want to go to great lengths to service our customer, and this is one example of that.
How has the response been thus far?
The response has been stronger than we anticipated. It's pretty neat to see the reaction. But when we actually have a larger platform, we'll see. Baby steps.
Speaking of baby steps, I read that you're working on running with baby joggers now. How has that been going?
It's horrible. I like going out with my daughter, and she digs it, but running with the baby jogger is just something I don't particularly enjoy. It's somewhat of an awkward push, so to speak.
How has that affected your pace?
It's definitely slowed down. But you get competitive and still try to keep up with people, even though you're pushing a 40-pound cart. So it's challenging, but it's a new phase in my life.
Okay, time for the lightning round: 8 a.m. or 8 p.m.?
Beer or wine?
Whiskey or tequila?
Not very runner-like answers…
Runners love to drink. Well, I do.
Beach or mountains?
Cats or dogs?
Favorite vacation destination?
Anywhere with a good trail run. If I had to be specific, Italy.
Favorite neighborhood lunchtime spot?
Margo Patisserie on Driggs.
Favorite happy hour spot?
I have a one year old, so my couch. Is that fair?
Rap or country?
Scandal or Homeland?