INTERVIEW WITH BROOKLYN RUNNING CO.’S MATTHEW ROSETTI

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Brooklyn Running Company opened its plate-glass doors in 2013 at the corner of Driggs and Grand Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The other day I got to chatting with co-founder Matthew Rosetti, who hooked me up with a cool-ass pair of New Balance Revlite 1500’s after patiently listening to my long-run footwear woes and helping me test-drive a half-dozen styles he’d pulled from the stockroom. I couldn’t have asked for a wiser shoe guru and was pleased when he kindly agreed to give us a little behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to create a runner’s mecca in the heart of Gotham.

So, Matthew, what on earth possessed you to start an NYC running store in this era of internet shoe and apparel outlets undercutting bricks-and-mortar retailers at every turn?   

Ahh, my blind passion for the sport got the best of me? Well, sort of. I continue to believe in two tailwinds that sustain the specialty running business model: 1) social trends toward a more active lifestyle and persistent growth in the sport of running continue to make it compelling, and 2) it is a business model that has strong social responsibility characteristics. A true specialty running store can do great things in its local community. And more than ever, people appreciate and reward businesses who operate in this manner.

In a way, you’re counting on your potential clients to buck some of the trends affecting, say, a big box retailer like Best Buy, such as the rise of the dreaded showrooming customer, folks who check out a TV set at a local store in person and then go home to order it online.

Bricks-and-mortar retail is being (overused word alert) disrupted. That much is certain. But not all bricks and mortar is the same. A running shoe or technical/specialty running apparel is much harder to buy online than, say, a flatscreen or a portable speaker. Running shoe companies tweak and adapt their models every year. Even if you stick with the same shoe, annoyingly, the next iteration will in all likelihood fit differently. Return rates for shoes bought online are through the roof (reportedly >35% at Zappo’s). The technology to lower those return rates will improve (Amazon just bought 3D tech Shoefitr, for instance), but this tech will never replace the touch and feel of trying something on in person. Layer in the strong community and loyalty unique to the best running stores and it is very much possible to turn back the online retail tide. Humans are wired to be social. And no matter how many Instagram posts we like, it doesn’t satisfy our interaction needs.

Why Williamsburg? You couldn’t find a more competitive retail environment.

The specialty running model resonates best in suburban communities (our first store, with co-founder Matt Byrne, was in Scranton, PA) where there is a strong sense of “shop local” loyalty, the populus is relatively less transient, and in many cases, the fixed costs are comparably lower. Williamsburg, however, is walking a fine line. It’s the big city, but it’s not. We firmly believe that by being a good, responsible local business which is absolutely obsessed with doing right by our customers, that we can build a loyal community of repeat customers. And it’s happening.

The specialty running business is a daily labor of love, proving your worth to each individual who walks through your door. One fitting at a time. It’s the long game. And who better to play the long game than distance runners? We weren’t the first wave in Williamsburg retail, but we are definitely one of the early movers (take that, JCrew, Apple, Starbucks, all who have since opened) so we feel we’re well positioned to take advantage of this neighborhood’s demo growth.

 I think you mentioned that your wife is in book publishing?

She’s an editor at Random House, yes. And I have a bit of experience in your space as well, having a published a book, The Worst of Sports: Chumps, Cheats and Chokers from the Games We Love, Ballantine 2007. Speaking of an industry under fire!

You said it, and that could help explain why the MacRunners team at Macmillan Publishing is filled with such dedicated plodders—we’re all taking to the roads and relying on our running to deal with the stress of our daily struggles being in such tattered and battered industry!

Matt on the move
Matt on the move

So tell us about your own story/goals as a runner.

It’s quite uninspiring, actually. Ran competitively in high school, then in college and continued to train while holding down a full time job, which so many aspiring distance runners in this country are forced to do. I had marginal success. Although I did win the 2001 NYC Corporate Challenge. Unfortunately, it was so long ago the Internet no longer maintains proof that it actually happened. Goals? Well, Olympian Bernard Lagat turning 40 and not slowing down has smashed all hopes of my Masters category–inspired resurgence and domination (I turn 40 in June ’15), so now I’m simply hoping to avoid becoming a “skinny fat guy” and get out for regular runs with customers and/or friends.

You WON the Corporate Challenge? In other words, you beat like 40 thousand other racers? That’s amazing and certainly a good reason to trust you with one’s racing footwear decisions!

Actually, our team is just starting to register this week for the June 3, 2015, JP Morgan Challenge in Central Park—we’re looking to have our biggest showing yet, and have 75 places reserved.

Speaking of races, I believe you guys have a very special event coming up later this month.

Great to hear, MacRunners! The Corporate Challenge is an awesome team-building event.

As for one of our events, yes, we’re sponsoring the McCarren Park Track Classic on Friday, April 24. It’s under the lights!  The marquee event will be the Brooklyn Running Company Mile. And the following weekend is our Sunday Funday Pub Run on May 3rd at 5:30pm. 4 miles, two bars along the way, then we end up back at the store for some giveaways from Saucony. We pick our spots and try to do things a little differently.

Registration is still open for the track meet.

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Folks can poke around your website but are there any particular services you offer runners that you’d like to highlight?

We’ve been hosting groups from all over the NYC on Saturday and Sunday mornings prior to our regular open hours. It’s by appointment only. Right now it’s simply a place for people to meet, drop their bags, go for a run and then socialize afterward in a great environment. We usually provide free hydration and some coffee. We’re putting in a shower and some lockers to make it a bit more accommodating. We’ve affectionately termed our not-so-glamorous stock room The Dugout.

Okay, a tired but important question: How often do you recommend shoes be replaced?

The old adage is to replace your shoes every 400-500 miles. The EVA foam simply breaks down. But even those not logging significant miles should be wary holding on to them too long. Shoes aren’t like fine wine; they don’t get better with age but actually break down simply sitting in a closet.

The best play from an economic and injury-prevention perspective is to rotate a couple complementary models simultaneously (i.e. one lighterweight performance trainer and one higher cushioned traditional model). By the way, we donate all used shoes to Housing Works. Keeping it local.

New kicks ain’t cheap. Do you guys offer any discount for loyal customers?

You bet. We offer a very simple Rewards Program: for every $300 you spend you get $25 toward your next purchase. In perpetuity. No confusing points system that obscures the true “value” of a dollar. And it applies to everyone. We don’t pick and choose which clubs or groups get private, wink-wink deals. Our return policy is also worth mentioning: most are hidden on the back of receipts in font sizes so small you need the Hubble telescope to read them. Never mind the customer-unfriendly details contained in the fine print. Ours is very simple: we stand behind our product line and customer service with confidence. If anyone is unhappy with the performance or quality of their purchase, for any reason, we ask that they bring it back to us and we will refund the purchase entirely. With or without the receipt.

What’s one of your favorite funky little running gear items that we can find at your store?

I’m a big fan of compression socks and/or or sleeves for recovery. They’re also great for those of us with jobs or commutes that require sitting for prolonged periods of time. They prevent the blood from pooling in our lower extremities.

All right. And last but not least, since we’re all big readers as well as runners, what’s your favorite running book, new or old?

John L. Parker’s Once a Runner. In a blowout.

Nice. Way to keep it real. Just like old Quenton Cassidy: “Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” Here’s wishing freedom for us all. 

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