The Miami-based athletic store and sneaker shop has been a fixture on the South Beach scene since 1973, when José (better known as Joe) Raij opened a denim store on Lincoln Road. Mr. R Sports added sneakers a few years later and hasn’t looked back since.
Now operating two adjoining locations — a sneaker shop and a performance-athletic store — the retailer is taking a new approach to merchandise and to serving its customers.
“We’ve been changing the whole time, and we’re always changing,” said Raij, who co-owns with his wife, Elisa.
Most recently, the larger lifestyle sneaker store has started to target Miami’s homegrown sneakerhead population, in addition to the waves of tourists who pass through the neighborhood every day. And Mr. R’s creative director, Clyde Edwards, who joined the company last spring, is spearheading the effort. Edwards, founder of the blog Inside the Sneakerbox, handles buying as well as promotion and marketing for the 3,800-sq.-ft. location.
Edwards stocks not only favorites such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Jordan, New Balance, Converse, Reebok and Timberland, but also more unorthodox choices including Lacoste, Sebago, Merrell, Onitsuka Tiger, Vibram FiveFingers, Ducati and Ferrari, as well as a soccer selection that includes cleats. The assortment of styles creates a vital differentiation between Mr. R and its competitors, particularly because Foot Locker and The Athlete’s Foot are located within feet of the stores and Journeys is around the corner.
“Mr. R Sports is one of the few customers [we have] that really matches the Puma brand as a whole,” said Curtis Charles, SVP of sales for the brand. “They do a great job of understanding the whole market down there, from the Latin influence to the tourists, and recently focusing on the sneakerhead subculture.”
Edwards also has added more limited-edition product and more daring colorways to build buzz. For example, the store recently sold out in three days its 60 pairs of Adidas’ Angry Mickey shoe, a collaboration with Disney.
“Before I started, the store was really [just] a tourist destination,” Edwards said, adding that Mr. R Sports catered to a mix of customers from Europe, Central America and throughout the U.S. “A lot of the locals and the enthusiasts and collectors didn’t know who we were, even though we were doing extremely well.”
To raise Mr. R’s profile, Edwards launched a website, designed a logo, started a phone-order system and gave the store a presence on social-media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
“When I joined, my goal was to create a brand with a logo and visuals that people can identify with [so we can] go after the consumers who are like me,” Edwards said. “Now we’re on every website, we’re on [popular blogs] such as Sneakernews.com and Nicekicks.com, and the phone won’t stop ringing.”
Edwards estimated that the customer base has shifted from being 10 percent or 20 percent sneaker enthusiasts to about 40 percent, with snowbirds and tourists making up the balance.
But all the focus on the sneaker store hasn’t overshadowed the performance shop, which opened five years ago to give running, tennis and training product a dedicated home. The 1,300-sq.-ft. location sells Nike, Asics, New Balance, Brooks, Mizuno and Puma. In the past year, Raij said, Vibram has also been a key player.
The store reaches out to new and regular runners through its three-year-old running club, hosted in conjunction with Nike. The club now counts 1,800 members.
Luis Navarro, project manager for New Balance lifestyle, said the retailer’s balance between performance and lifestyle is a major advantage. “Mr. R Sports has a dominant fashion-first consumer who is driven by iconic styles and what’s new in fashion athletics, but it also hosts a performance consumer in its stores who cares about the features and benefits of the products they seek,” he said. “And they have a consumer who buys both fashion and performance products because they’re available and displayed in a way that makes sense. The in-store merchandising of brands is top-notch.”
The combination has proved to be a powerful one. Sales have been up consistently, often by 10 percent, but sometimes as much as 30, and Raij said he’s forecasting an increase in the high single digits for this year.
Next up, the store will celebrate its 40th anniversary and release its first product collaborations. Raij said the company plans to ramp up the in-store events schedule to bring the party to consumers.
“We celebrate every opportunity, and 40 years is definitely a time to celebrate,” he said. “We have a certain passion for the business, and we love our footwear [customers]. We’re very fortunate.”