Reputation, innovation, trust and a down-to-earth approach keeps Advance Performance at the top of their game.
With stores in Peterborough and Cambridge Advance Performance has thrived, branded as the running and triathlon store for everyone, they know that they have to offer more than a basic service to their customers.
Samantha Hale, Managing Director of Advance Performance, started her working career as a professional groom to a three-day Olympic event rider.
In 1996 that changed when, from her back bedroom, she formed her own sports-related retail business along with her husband at that time.
This grew and the business moved into its first premises in 1999, a shop in Fulbridge Road, Peterborough.
Their success saw two further moves in premises ending up in Titan Drive in 2010, doubling the size of the store.
The latest move has brought with it new opportunities in the guise of neighbours Greenwheel Cycles and Crightons Hydropool.
Together, as the Triathlon Centre, the three stores are offering additional products and services to triathletes, including specialist bike fitting, coaching, advice and wetsuit fitting.
Their popularity in the region saw an additional store open in Huntingdon Road, Cambridge, in September 2007.
Samantha said: “We have built the business with strong foundations and based every decision around the future. We never stand still and remain as passionate about the business today as we did all those years ago.
“We constantly innovate to remain ahead of our competitors but our whole reason for being is to take care of our customers, be a proactive part of the running community and to offer 18 people a rewarding career, as well as being a profitable and well-run business. We’re proud to say that our business is very well respected; whether that be from our suppliers, bank and accountants or from our customers and we always treat everyone how we want to be treated ourselves.”
Advance Performance were one of the original innovators of offering gait analysis within a specialist running store back in 1999; offering this free service with every shoe they sell.
They have continued to develop that approach and most of their team of 18 across the stores in Peterborough and Cambridge are qualified sports scientists, sports therapists, strength and conditioning or athletic coaches.
Samantha added: “We understand that runners of all ages and abilities need the same support as elite athletes if they are to achieve their own personal goals without becoming injured. With thousands of recreational runners participating in all kinds of events, each being very important to the individual, our customers can simply walk into Advance Performance and get instant and free advice on any aspect of their running, injuries, nutrition or fitness without an appointment.
“Despite the professional approach, we remain “the running and triathlon store for everyone”, with the emphasis on our staff being down to earth, friendly and approachable and we love looking after anyone who runs. Of course, we also sell technical running clothing, sports nutrition, gadgets of all descriptions and accessories too.”
Keeping people coming back through the doors is important to Advance Performance and well informed and knowledgeable staff as well as engagement with customers is key to the stores’ performance.
Samantha added: “We have a first-class reputation and we ensure that every one of our team offers exceptional levels of customer service. Our business continues to grow as a result of personal and professional recommendation and we don’t advertise. However, we do work at engaging our customers with frequent news, advice and promotion updates via social media, a dedicated phone app and a regular newsletter. We also operate a Loyalty Reward system. The company directors work hands-on in the business and our team remain loyal to us, so our customers know us and trust us.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Samantha in growing the business was that most of their competitors discount their products in order to sell them, which has bred an expected culture of discounting.
Samantha added: “This doesn’t give you loyal customers as someone else is always going to be cheaper. We’ve been brave and confident in our business model to not take that route and we don’t chase the customer whose main concern is price.”
And with that in mind it has driven how they select products for their store.
Samantha said: “We don’t listen to any of the marketing hype and we remain completely independent and owner-managed which allows us to make our own decisions. Our footwear buyer is one of the most experienced and respected in the industry and thoroughly understands the technologies behind each shoe and how they will work. This has given us the confidence to steer away from many apparently “must-have” products which we did not believe in. We offer trusted brands and make sure we believe in each and every product we stock and it has to represent good value for our customers. They in turn trust us and therefore recommend us.
“We only sell a product if we believe it is right for our customer and would rather lose a sale than make a quick pound or two. Often the products that are currently “on trend” aren’t what we would recommend so we ensure that our team are fully up-to-date with alternatives so that we can give an unbiased view. We support lesser known brands as often the quality and innovations they put into their products far outweigh the big brands.
“We always look for good value for money rather than buying brands which trade on being the “musthave” brand but poor value. We love the Ronhill clothing ranges as they have so many handy pockets, loops and holders for phones, gels and jackets and they are a lovely company to work with too. Any gadgets that are going to help people reduce their risk of injuries such as foam rollers are great too and of course our team are always on hand to make sure that people know exactly how to use them.”
Advance performance is constantly evolving and developing.
This year they have doubled the size of their Cambridge store to cope with growth and have a full business plan in place to grow further.
They are investing in the future in terms of their behind the scenes technology and are due to embark on an exciting branding project to enable them to scale-up the business.
They also keep a close eye on trends that they think will be a growth area for their business.
Hales said: “Triathlon continues to be big for us and a growing sport so we constantly develop the triathloncentre.co.uk, another part of our business, but also adventure, obstacle and multi-terrain races are inspiring our customers to try something different. This in turn ensures that we constantly broaden the range of products we sell.”