Monday, February 10, 2014

Running Stores of the World: Runners Service Lab

This is a repost from 2011.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I would write about one of my favorite topics, retailers. Because I worked retail for more than 20 years I firmly believe the real running and running shoe experts sit in running specialty stores. They talk to more runners and the problems they have daily than any running shoe product manager or running shoe blogger will talk to in weeks. Interestingly I think most if not all will tell you that running shoes weren't built to prevent injury, they were built so you could run.

Today I write about the most impressive running store I've ever visited. Calling them a running store is selling them short. If you happen upon the Runner's Service Lab it would be the luckiest visit of your running life. The first thing is although they've been around since the first running boom, there is a sense that every experience with a runner is new to them. They welcome you in like you are the first person to walk through their door. And before you leave you'll know more about your bio-mechanics and about running shoes than you ever thought you needed to know. For the complete history click here and read.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is that the store looks more like a lab than a running store. The shoe wall is small and the selection is smaller. Although Jempi and his team research every running shoe in the market in depth, they only offer a small selection. Reasons range from what they believe a running shoe needs to be but also their ability to alter the shoe. More on that latter. Like I said what you'll notice is the lab like atmosphere.

Like any running store the first stop is the shoe wall. It's instinct to go there first. You will be addressed by one of the service technitions and asked to take a seat. They will talk to you about your running and your issues with running. Then they'll ask you to take your shoes off and head down to the end of the track. Yes that's right they have a 20 meter track in the store. As one technition sets up the computer the other will tell you what you are about to do. You are to run down the track and hit the sensor pads at the other end. You'll do it a couple times to make sure the readings they recieve are correct. This system is called FootScan and it's home grown. Jempi and his team developed this and continue to improve on it. Here they are measuring foot placement, force and movement in the foot. They can tell for instance if you land heavier on one leg or the other. From here they either do more testing or go to shoe selection. If you are showing extensive pressure on one leg or another you may  be directed to the back scan where they can see what's happening. It's a new quick way of scanning without radiation and without MRI.
The purpose of all this is to individualize the experience. The problem with running and running products is that we are trying to cover the vast array of running styles and the infinite body structures and running style combination with a few running shoes. What Runner's Service lab does is take that shoe platform and make it completely customized to you.

1. They may just set you up with the running shoe and the best lacing technique for your feet.
2. They may suggest a custom insole where using their scan the can customize the insole by length, arch height, arch length and softness.
3. They even have a full shop in the back to customize the actual shoe. They can pull the entire shoe apart, add or subtract from the midsole and then put it back together.
They don't just send you on your way. They ask that you run in your new shoes for a couple weeks and then return for updates you may need based on real experience. The custom insole is much cheaper than you may think. My memory tells me something like $20. Everything else, the altering of the shoe, the foot scan, back scan, the hours of time they will spend on you and your shoe is all included in the retail price of the shoe which is the suggested retail set my the manufacturer. In other words the service is free.

I was lucky to visit RSL twice. My first visit I spend 3 hours in the store just watching and asking questions. Everyone in the store is extremely knowledgeable. A huge part of that 3 hours was spent and the kitchen table in the back room, eating an amazing lunch and just talking shoes with Jempi. I learned more in that 1.5 hours at the table about running and running shoes than probably ever.
My second trip there was all spent with Jempi. He showed me slow motion video of Paula Radciffe running on the track and using a portable Foot Scan that he has. Paula came to Jempi because she was having hip problems. In the videos he pointed out how the problems got there and what he was doing to fix them. The first thing he was doing was sharing all of his knowledge with the team at Nike who made her shoes. He then uses that information to further enhance his service back in the stores.

One thing you didn't hear me mention was the treadmill. Their view on treadmills is that they are a great way for a runner to train or judge fit on a running shoe. They are a really bad way to analyze gait. Feet just don't act the same when the surface is soft and moving instead of you applying all the force on a surface that doesn't move.

If you are ever in Belgium look this place up. It's just not your typical running store.

 Runner's Service Lab

It's a good life...

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