In 1983 after losing his job and searching for new ways to support his family, Mike Gotfredson Sr. took a $10K loan and his love for health and fitness and launched Road Runner Sports Inc., the Kearny Mesa-based running and walking store chain.
Back then, Road Runner Sports was a direct-to-consumer shop, which Gotfredson Sr. operated out of his garage in Del Mar, after convincing heavy-hitters like Nike to invest in direct marketing through the mail.
Today, Road Runner Sports has 42 locations throughout the United States, including three in San Diego with around 300 local employees total, and is estimated to have a nine-figure annual revenue, according to IncFact.com, a New York-based research company. It is the largest privately-held retailer in the country, as per the company.
According to Mike Gotfredson Jr., current president of Road Runner Sports, Gotfredson Sr. created a business model then through which customers measured their feet remotely to ensure they received the perfect fit every time. Providing its customers with the right fit continues to be the company’s modus operandi today, he said.
“This vision of giving runners and fitness enthusiasts the ‘Perfect Fit’ and creating a customer-first family environment through our VIP program has been the forefront of Road Runner Sports since inception,” said Gotfredson. Back then, “we were able to capitalize on the fact that we were a direct marketing company selling performance running shoes through a catalog, so we were reaching people in many parts of America that did not have a strong performance run option in their physical area…
(Today,) the heart and soul of our stores (continues to be) our fitting process: The Perfect Fit System. This system revolutionizes the way in which customers are fit with shoes.”
Rather than guessing at their size and shoe needs, Gotfredson Jr. said Road Runner Sports experts scan customers’ feet via the company’s 3-D scanning system. This helps determine the person’s unique foot and gait, which store clerks analyze while customers walk or run on treadmills located at the stores, he said. This is followed by the molding of custom insoles that support each person’s specific foot structure, he added.
“After all this, which takes less than seven minutes and is a 100% free analysis, we suggest the best shoes and socks based on their activity, gait and foot type,” said Gotfredson Jr. “Finding a great fitting shoe isn’t easy. Our goal is to take the frustration out of that process and make it fun and informative. Our fitting process is unique and helps our customers truly understand what fit is best for them.”
Marviel Underwood, CEO and owner of San Diego-based Superb Sportswear, an urban athleisure apparel, accessories and shoe company, said Road Runner Sports was ahead of its time by focusing on comfort even before the shift in health and fitness that has taken place the last few decades.
“For Road Runner Sports to make (fit) their main focus is genius, especially with the tremendous focus and rise in the fitness culture,” he said. “People want to feel good when they’re training and have a product that is somewhat custom (fitted) to their lifestyle. Road Runner Sports has been filling that void for years and is only getting better with improved technology.”
Michael Belch, professor emeritus at San Diego State University, said Road Runner Sports’ focus on customer service has also kept the company in business all these years.
“Mike (Gotfredson Sr.) is a customer service type of guy,” said Belch. “If you didn’t like your shoes, he’d take them back…although that didn’t happen very often. As a result, he has a lot of repeat business. That is what companies want– loyalty on both directions.”
Road Runner Sports locations, including in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, feature a wide selection of running, trail and training shoes, said Gotfredson Jr., as well as top-of-the-line apparel, accessories and nutrition products.
KORSA Apparel Brand
Earlier this month, Road Runner Sports launched KORSA, an innovative performance apparel brand for running and training, said Gotfredson Jr. Road Runner Sports already had its own apparel line, R-Gear, which launched years back, but Gotfredson Jr. said he and his team saw room in their lineup for a more premium performance brand.
“We literally created KORSA based on years and years of feedback from our customers on what they were looking for,” said Gotfredson Jr., “and where the gaps in the market were. KORSA was made based on feedback by runners and workout enthusiasts, and then we took that blueprint and launched KORSA.”
KORSA features performance-driven technology, including KORflow to beat overheating, KORdri to fight sweat, FLEXknit for muscle-supporting compression and core stability, and KORfresh, a built-in deodorizing element. KORSA is now available exclusively in all 42 Road Runner Sports retail stores and online at RoadRunnerSports.com.
The company launched as an e-commerce business in 1983 and began to scale mid to late ’80s during a running boom. In early 2000s, it opened its first-brick-and-mortar store in San Diego and then Seattle. The company began selling New Balance, Asics and Brooks. Today, the company carries an even larger array of options, including Asics, Saucony and Adidas, among a long list of others, according to the company.
Not Slowing Down
Road Runner Sports is very bullish on the overall performance run and workout enthusiast market, said Gotfredson Jr. And, as more fitness studios, more running groups and more specialized classes continue to appear around the country, getting more and more people working out and running, he said his goal is to make sure Road Runner Sports continues to offer the best personalized fitting experience and to remain at the top of the minds of those looking for their next pair of running shoes or workout apparel items. Having the right shoes, socks and insoles is paramount to a successful running career and integral to experiencing daily comfort, he said, no matter one’s profession or activity level.
For now, Gotfredson Jr. said his focus is staying current with the trends that runners around the country want, which is ever-changing and is the toughest (yet, most fun) part of running the company.
“A few years ago, it was the minimalist shoes and barefoot running,” he said. “Right now, it is all about maximum cushion and a smooth ride, and Hoka and Brooks have really been the leaders in this space… as a company, we always have to keep our fingers on the pulse of what runners are looking for and then (provide) them the best possible experience when they walk into our stores, shop online or call our VIP Experience team.”