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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 11, 2015 4 years ago

Athlete's foot

The Foot Landing has proved a good fit in Punta Gorda. Knowing what to stock is key in its success.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Sherri Lennon knows the difference the right fit can make.

While living in Reno, Nevada, back in the 1980s, she paid her first visit to a running specialty store and got fitted for a running shoe. “That fitting contributed to my quality of running,” she says. “After that I wouldn't shop anywhere else.”

Now Lennon helps Charlotte County runners find their perfect fit. She and her husband, Ralph, own the Foot Landing in Punta Gorda, which carries shoes from names such as Asics and New Balance, in addition to apparel and accessories. “When I moved here the closest running store was in Fort Myers or Sarasota,” she says. “And I've never liked shopping on the Internet, because half the time I end up sending stuff back. I want to feel what I'm getting and put it on.”

Lennon has learned lots of other people feel the same. In the three years the Foot Landing has been open, it has developed a loyal customer base that comes from as far as Venice, Englewood, and even Fort Myers. Lennon says the store's sales are “above the national average” for running specialty stores. She declined to provide specific figures, but the Independent Running Retailer Association says its 1,000 member stores nationwide have an average annual sales volume of $900,000.

The Foot Landing has been successful enough to support a move to a larger space at the end of November, just a few units over from its current location in the Herald Court plaza. The new store will be 1,700 square feet, an addition of some 500 square feet that will allow the business to add a juice bar and nutrition center and increase its clinic and coaching offerings.

Understanding its clientele has been a key factor in the store's success. “Listening to and studying my population determines my inventory,” says Lennon. “Being located in an area with an older population, customers' needs are going to be different. The shoes we sell here you may not necessarily see that many sales of in, say, Miami.”

Lennon worked in radiology for 17 years, and she's developed relationships with local doctors who send patients to her store. “I have one doctor who requested I bring in a certain shoe because it has a wide toe box; he's referring a lot of his patients to us, so I have,” she says.

Fortuitous timing has also been helpful. The store opened in December 2012 at a point when Punta Gorda was adding trails and pathways to the city, including Harborwalk and Linear Park. And people are taking more of an interest in their well-being, especially baby boomers retiring in the region. “We're seeing a generation of people who want a healthy, active lifestyle,” says Lennon.

While Lennon admits it can be challenging at times competing against bigger, national companies, she feels her employees offer a level of expertise and customer service the big guys often don't. And being an independent retailer has its advantages as well. “I don't have to go through corporate to make a decision,” says Lennon. “I can make a decision in a moment.”

Special events also help the store stay ahead of the pack. Its second annual Chocolate Fantasia 7K Night Run is planned for March 19; the 2015 run drew nearly 1,000 attendants. And its free Wednesday night Pub Runs bring out runners of all levels.

“I get over 100 Pub Runners every time,” says Lennon. “My reps have told me they don't see that in other cities. People come and interact with people in the community they wouldn't normally see in their jobs or schools. It's brought the community together. And we're just going to keep doing what we're doing.”

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