Supporting Independents: How West Stride Is Reaching Customers Online

In the wake of the pandemic and economic fallout, independent retailers are facing serious challenges. In a new series, FN will spotlight store owners who are taking smart steps to weather the storm.

Open for more than a decade, Atlanta’s West Stride has had to overcome several roadblocks. For instance, the run specialty shop opened during the Great Recession in 2008, which presented its own set of challenges, and three years of construction around the store hampered store traffic.

“Coming out of the 2008 recession, I was a very new business, and we were able to bounce back from that situation because running is low cost of entry, a great stress reliever — it’s a sport for all,” said owner Genie Beaver. “So I’d like to think that [people will] slowly ease back into [shopping].”

Here, Beaver offers insight on the road ahead.

On seeking government assistance: 

Genie Beaver: “I applied for the PPP loan, so I’m optimistic that will be helpful to us. It just seemed like something I should go for because most likely I will be able to meet all the criteria to make that either a forgivable loan or at least significantly forgivable. I have four full-time staff that’s working, and for my part-time staff, I applied for unemployment for them. For the Georgia Department of Labor, there was a piece I had to do for this particular type of unemployment. If we end up having any extra hours or we start to get busier or have additional projects, I’ll bring [the staff] back. But I’m not terribly optimistic about that until we can get some people through the doors. When this started, we didn’t know if it could be two weeks, four weeks, six weeks. In Georgia, our governor in the last news conference put our stay-at-home mandate through mid-May.”

On keeping the business going: 

GB: “We built a [store on our existing] website that just launched; we were not selling online until this went up. We put everything we owned on the internet — no small task. It had been on our to-do list for several years and had been a priority, I would say, for the past six to nine months, but we hadn’t pulled the trigger. We also have been upping how we communicate with customers on Instagram and Facebook. We’re on the phone and texting customers because a lot of people still want that individual service touch, and we are talking with people on Zoom and FaceTime. We’re helping them figure out what shoe they need or what shoe they had. Primarily, it’s our current customers. I don’t know how many are brand-new customers. Our YMCA has reached out to us wanting to help us as well, and there’s some gyms near us that we’re going to do some cool marketing campaigns with. And we’ll start being a little more aggressive, trying to grab more business now that we have the website.”

On keeping cool:

GB: “I’m exercising. I’m definitely making sure that I walk, I do yoga, I try to run as much as I can. My husband and I, we’re both owners of businesses, so we have a lot going on. I don’t know if I’m keeping cool as much as I’m just recognizing that this is not a West Stride problem, it’s not a me problem, it’s not an Atlanta problem, it’s not a United States problem — it’s a global problem. I don’t take comfort in that, but I know that we’re doing the best we can. I have a sister in England and her life is no different right now — it’s probably more similar than it ever has been. Our days are more in tune with one another right now than they have been in a decade or more. But I’m optimistic that this will pass.”

On staying busy:

GB: “We’re cleaning out the shop, we’re redoing the stockroom, our files, the group running maps. We’re taking the opportunity to clean up, to really sharpen up our operations and anything that’s customer facing. We need to put a fresh coat of paint on things; that’s our next project. There’s a lot you can do if you look at it with the right perspective. I try not to think too far ahead, though, like about a week at a time. Our doors are closed, no customer comes through our front door anymore, and it has been that way for the better part of a month, so we only have two people in the store at a time — a guy or gal in the back and a person up front — and the person in the back is the one that’s helping with inventory and getting the website up and running. The person in the front with assisting customers, and we’re alternating them every other day pretty much.”

On business expectations post-coronavirus:

GB: “Some people may come out of this unfazed, but not too many of us. I don’t know how people will look at possessions or how much disposable income people are going to have. I think everyone again will be more appreciative of experiences and the ability to be part of a community. But I’m not like the Gap or like a fast food restaurant. With the exception of events, we didn’t congregate massive amounts of people, we could have five or 10 people an hour. We will not be hosting a 100-person group run with a shared water stop anytime soon — I’m pretty darn sure of that. I don’t even know if we’re going to need three months of inventory. So maybe that’ll be something that comes out of this, inventories will be even tighter.”

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