Milestone: What Makes Brooks So ‘Happy’

Brooks Running Co. is doing just that, thanks to a simple mantra that worked its way into the brand’s mission statement back in 1999. Now brand officials said the “Run Happy” ethos reflects both business and pleasure, and is a key method for communicating with consumers.

“We take fun very seriously,” SVP of product marketing Dave Larson said of the brand. That commitment permeates everything from product to company culture and even how the label talks to its consumers. “It’s a position that defines us.”

Charm City Run, based in Baltimore, has been working with Brooks for 13 years, and GM Tom Mansfield said the sneaker company’s culture is infectious.

“They work extremely hard to stay ahead of the curve, and they have a great time doing it,” he said. “The ‘Run Happy’ slogan is so basic, but it works so well. It doesn’t matter if you’re slow or fast or anywhere in between.”

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Larson noted the slogan, which was relaunched in 2009, grew out of a new understanding of how running fits into people’s lives.

“We were dwelling on this old-fashioned model, where running is a chore or there is just a lonely solitary guy,” he said. “But when kids are running, there is such abandonment and fun, and a group of people can make it social. [We thought] it would be great to get a brand positioning that is more glass half full.”

Since 2009, the company has used that position to drive almost all of its communications with retailers and athletes.

“We found through research that ‘Run Happy’ resonates with runners from all segments,” said Larson. “Naturally, its sweet spot is the eternal fun runner, but even young runners are inspired by the ethos.”

One of the firm’s highest-profile partnerships, with the Competitor Group’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series, is the perfect example. For the past five years, Brooks has acted as a sponsor for 25 U.S. marathons and half-marathons that focus on music and an overall good time. For the race expos, Brooks turns its booths into a whimsical branding showpiece that has ranged from a carnival sideshow-themed “Calvacade of Curiosities” to a giant pasta bowl — all to get people laughing.

“It’s very crazy and wacky stuff,” said Larson. “We want to have fun first and then we’ll also sell you something.”

The unorthodox approach has another purpose: attracting new consumers. “At the end of the day, they want to go back and tell a friend how fun it was and what they learned [about Brooks],” said Larson. “The marathon series gives us a stage with more than a half-million runners. We produce all licensed merchandise and are able to show and sell our [product]. It gives us a forum to show ‘Run Happy’ over the top.”

Retailers said that approach pays off.

New York-based specialty store Jack Rabbit Sports has worked with Brooks for more than 10 years, and the brand has been the lead sponsor at the retailer’s Battle of Brooklyn race for about half that time.

“They always go the extra mile for our customers and our stores,” said Lee Silverman, president and founder of Jack Rabbit.

On the corporate level, Larson said, Brooks has made its focus on running (and, well, running happily) a mandate, down to hiring people who answer the phones in an upbeat way or are eager to take part in team activities. In fact, every Friday, a different department plans a themed run, like Cinco de Mayo, where participants sported sombreros.

Sonya Estes, president of Colorado-based Runners Roost Lakewood, said the Brooks team’s commitment to the sport and the lifestyle comes through. Currently, the brand is the top seller in her store, and she attributes that to employee satisfaction.

“When we meet with the sales team, you know it’s going to be exciting. They took us to a Sting concert,” she said. “Our rep is like a family friend, and they take that culture to the next level. They work happy and it makes you feel good about running.”

That message works worldwide, too, Larson said.

Down the line, Brooks aims to translate the “Run Happy” concept into a branded store, both at the new Seattle headquarters and on a global scale. “It’s not designed to compete with local retailers, but be a showcase of what Brooks stands for,” said Larson. “How do we take this [ethos] to different countries in a relevant way? That’s on our horizon.”

Even as the company grows, it aims to stand behind its message to both retailers and consumers. “It’s something we dreamed up and decided would be part of our company DNA,” Larson said. “It’s in everything we do and it’s more important than ever. It will always be true to our brand.”

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