Running is an essential part of Simply Sports’ business. So much so that the Intersport member does not sell running shoes on its website – they prefer the customers to come into their stores to be fitted properly.
The business was set up in 1986 with its first store in Beckenham before moving on to set up in Reigate and Oxted. They have recently merged with Christopher Hull Sports in Tunbridge and Tunbridge Wells.
Adrian Pointer, managing director Simply Sports, said: “ We have invested heavily, in all four stores, in a gait analysis system and have just upgraded it. We believe if you want a pair of shoes fitted properly, that are correct for your biomechanical needs, then we need to see you and we need to see your feet.”
With a store in Reigate, and their love of running, it is no surprise that Simply Sports are heavily involved in the Intersport Run Reigate Half- Marathon and 10k and the Canon Kids Race.
The event returns to Surrey’s Priory Park on Sunday, September 17, for its fourth anniversary race. Set up in 2014 by local running enthusiasts as a half marathon, the event grew quickly to include a 10K by 2015 and a cumulative kids’ race by 2016. It is now a firm fixture in the diary for runners young and old, with fantastic community support and a beautiful route through rural Surrey on fully closed roads.
Such has been the success of the event that the Intersport Run Reigate Half Marathon won Gold for the UK’s Best Half Marathon (less than 5,000 runners) at The Running Awards 2017, the only independent awards ceremony celebrating the best of running and its culture. This follows its Silver award in the Half Marathon category in 2015.
Adrian said: “Race pack collection is done through the stores, the Reigate store in particular, so at the time of that event, and the lead up to it, there’s a real buzz around the shop. It’s absolutely fantastic, great fun, we really enjoy it.
“We have been involved with the Reigate Half-Marathon since the beginning. It has gained popularity over the years. The introduction of the 10k and then the introduction of the children’s race as well has seen it become a massive family and community event now.
“The children’s race, sponsored by Canon, is a fantastic idea to get the children, through their schools, to complete a half-marathon during the summer, logging when they do a half mile here or a mile there and then complete the last 1.1 mile in the park, on the day, and getting their medals.
“The partnership with Brooks Running has been absolutely key for us with Run Reigate they have been absolutely fantastic supporters of the event, especially this year. Of course winning the Half-Marathon national award has been a real boost, after three years we have something more to shout about.”
However, the running market has changed since Simply Sports first opened its doors.
The science and popularity of running has been on the rise. Pointer said: “The technology has changed, the cushioning, the weight, the look of the shoe has all changed, style has become more important now. People want a shoe that looks good.
“Consumers are also more informed now, without a doubt, they do their research beforehand. And , of course, when we first started there wasn’t this plethora of fun runs and themed runs. The London marathon was still in its infancy, so the idea of people actually going out there and running a marathon, half-marathon or 10k was still very much unusual. Now it has, probably, become the biggest growth area in sport, particularly with Parkrun, and Intersport being one of the key sponsors of it.”
However, the rise in popularity of the running sector has seen more companies wanting to get a piece of the pie.
Pointer added: “More and more people are trying to move into it now, especially with the athleisure side. Consumers should be wary of buying the wrong product. We still get quite a few referrals from physios, GPs, of people who have been out and assumed that a so-called sports shoe from a retailer is suitable for what they need and unfortunately they find out the hard way that that’s not the case.
“But the product at that price got them into it in the first place and for everyone that has got an injury through it there are many that are happy. So, they then go out to seek better products.”
And social media is playing a huge role in getting product and brands noticed by dedicated runners. Pointer said: “There is a huge amount of customer ambassadors out there now, and influencers, so that when you get something that works it spreads far quicker now with social media.
“Social media is making more and more impact. We are active on Facebook and Twitter every day and it’s growing for us. You have to keep working at it and we just passed our 1,000th twitter follower so that’s quite nice – we are starting to build up some kind of following now and you just have to engage as much as possible.
In the old days it was Yellow Pages and through your front door now it is very much a multitude of ways of communicating and engaging with your customers and you have to do it all.”