IDYSM: Hey Chris, you’re a man with quite a reputation in the sneaker game, tell us a bit about your background and your latest venture ‘The Running Company’.
Chris: I’ve been really fortunate in life, I love sneakers and I started off my addiction playing basketball when I was growing up in Adelaide. I remember my mum bought a pair of Air Revolutions, I was so in love with those shoes! When I was starting uni I got a job at Bailetti Sports in Adelaide, then Rowe and Jarman. It was from there that I met Paul Crough who was a footwear product line manager at the time at Nike, I told him I was going to travel Europe and he knew the HR manager at Niketown London. I ended up working almost a year there which then took me onto the Product Line Co-ordinator job with Nike in Melbourne, then EKIN* for NSW, SA and ACT (medical and technical rep, you should know the product back to front) and my final role at Nike was the National account exec looking after all Athlete’s Foot stores for Aus and NZ. I was really on the cusp of taking my next step in life and as life does, everyone comes to a fork in the road at one stage or another, mine was, do I move Overseas and work for Nike in Oregon in footwear development (what a dream job!) or I saw an opening in the Australian marketplace for what a good running store should be which wasn’t currently seen here. I seriously had been sick of travelling so much for work and really wanted to build something for myself, my closest friends and family whereby they can employ their passion and impart this and their knowledge to help runners achieve their goals here in Australia. I took the latter and here I am, about to make the next big move in my life…
IDYSM: I don’t think I’ve spoken to many people more knowledgeable or passionate about shoes in their field. Where does this passion and knowledge come from?
Chris: I don’t know to be honest with you, I just love shoes, people and the rawness no bullsh*t that running is. It doesn’t matter what your surname is, how much money you have, running really brings everyone together with a common bond. The knowledge is just built up over time, I’ve been so very fortunate to work with people like Rob Flick, Scott Nicholas and everyone at Nike who all have amazing history with the brand and experience but are also amazing people, I’m very fortunate to be able to call them great friends, for me, it’s all about the people and the product.
IDYSM: You’ve previously worked for Nike and been involved with some iconic shoes such as the Free (you were in fact responsible for getting me into my first pair!), how great is it to be able to be involved with the design of a shoe, then actually see first hand the benefit it can have on people?
Chris: The FREE project really changed and challenged everything for me and a lot of other people too, I was just lucky to be upping my running and challenging pre existing thoughts around my time as I got the Ekin role, I actually think that I was the first person to do a marathon in a pair of FREE’s, it also happened to be my first marathon as well! It feels great to have been able to help people learn more about their running etc through the FREE as a training tool, I know of a lot of people who have foot issues due to either brain trauma or old age who have benefited from wearing them. The problem is that the pendulum has almost swung too far the other way and a lot of people who are wearing them don’t understand the concept as a lot of the retailers don’t care about their clients and just want to take as much cash as possible. In store we do a lot around Natural Motion and progressive adaptation and to be able to help people improve and stay injury free is the biggest thing for us, we love talking to and running with a lot of our customers who are doing this.
IDYSM: Running shoe sales are up year on year (increasing 6% in each of the past 2 years in North America alone), what do you think this boom is down to?
Chris: The GFC has really challenged a lot of peoples economic, family and social values, health and fitness has really become a focus and all you really need to do is get a good pair of wheels and you’re off. A lot of people have had that gym membership which cost them so much money but now have canned that, bought a good pair of shoes and they’re off.
Also marathon running, cycling and Ironman is now the new golf so more and more people are getting amongst it.
IDYSM:Running shoes seem to offer more choice than ever before – what’s going on?
Chris: 7 years ago, 1/3 of our current footwear selection didn’t exist, natural motion was something that only Nike had just ventured into. The other brands have seen this and have taken their own spin on natural motion, which I feel is a good thing as not just one brand can cater to every runner. Brooks have done well, Andre K who used to work on the Bowerman range at Nike now heads up Brooks and has brought their natural motion range of shoes called the “Pure Project” to life, this has seen Brooks really expand their product range and capture more sales and new runners. It’s like a tradies tool box, they won’t do all their work with just 1 pair of pliers, runners if they can afford it won’t do all their running in just 1 pair of shoes.
IDYSM: With brands each striving to offer shoes that are lighter, more flexible, and more colourful than anyone else’s, are we in a phase of seeing gimmicks sneaking into the running game?
Chris: Potentially and that’s our job to help sort the wheat from the chaff and keep them honest so that the consumer only gets genuine products which will help benefit them as a runner. There’s more connectivity than ever with digital now merging with the real world in every part of our lives, just look at Garmin connect, strava and Nike plus, so long as it’s motivating people to move, then I’m all for it, if it’s not, then it’s a gimmick.
IDYSM: How much of an influence have lifestyle trends started to effect running shoes?
Chris: Plenty! Brands are now starting to hone in on and cater to very specific demographics and their products show this. On top of this, the colour palate options now becoming available to the Australian consumer is being driven by the consumers hunger for more colour as opposed to the Seinfeld plain safe colours of black/white and blue. If people can have a functional running shoe which looks like more of a casual shoe as opposed to Jerry Seinfeld, we’re seeing them gravitate towards it.
IDYSM: What does the future hold for you, and the store?
Chris: Plenty! We’re really fortunate, we’ve seen rapid expansion from day dot but this is all based on people, it’s the key point of difference from the net. I’m in the throws of developing the next store, put it this way, my house is 5km’s from one of Australia’s premier wine regions, runners need to hydrate right?
IDYSM: I have to ask – why are you known as ‘Chicken’?
Chris: It’s my famously skinny runners legs! Before I started running, they were even skinnier than what they are now – that’s bad!!!
IDYSM: And, last question…what’s on your feet right now?
Chris: Flyknit Lunar one+. The upper is amazing, I’ve dropped ½ size as the fit is like a glove and growing up playing football, I love my shoes to fit like a snug soccer boot, it’s ridiculously comfortable!
* EKIN is someone who knows NIKE backwards.
For more info on The Running Company click here.